Robot 6

Tokyopop lays off senior editors [UPDATED]

Last one left at Tokyopop, turn off the lights.

The news that Tokyopop has laid off senior editor Lillian Diaz-Pryzybl, editor Troy Lewter and manga line editor Asako Suzuki means that the beleaguered company, which has already risen from a near-death state once, is eating its seed corn. Diaz-Pryzybl was in large part responsible for the company’s most recent comeback (as was marketing director Marco Pavia, who was laid off in an earlier wave), and Suzuki’s hand could already be seen in an unusually strong March lineup of new manga.

Meanwhile, just yesterday Tokyopop Stu Levy blithely Tweeted:

Wow #GDC2011 [Game Developers Conference] is blowing my mind. Why have I been stuck in such an old-school, out-of-touch industry for so long?! (yes I mean books!)

To which one is tempted to reply, “I dunno, Stu. Why don’t you just leave?”

Not only does his tweet show an appalling lack of tact, but Levy’s ADD has always been the biggest obstacle to Tokyopop’s success. To give him his due, he comes up with great ideas — Tokyopop was way ahead of the curve on many things, from unflipped manga to the iPhone — but he seldom sticks with them long enough to bring them to fruition. It’s been obvious for years that he is bored with books; I remember watching him at NYAF a few years ago, dashing around with a film crew, making a mockumentary about cons. Remember that movie? No? Me either. This past summer, he sunk what must have been a boatload of cash into a bus that he (or someone) drove around the country with a bunch of college interns, promoting his America’s Greatest Otaku “reality show” (currently running on Hulu). Then he lays off one of his most experienced editors. The short-sightedness of this is mind-boggling. To make money, you have to sell something people want to buy. Tokyopop has teetered on the edge of irrelevancy for a long time, but good editors and marketers keep pulling it back. And then they lay off the editors and marketers.

Books may be old school, but once upon a time, Tokyopop did them quite well. I remember those days. My daughters were 10 and 11 when Tokyopop was pumping out volume after volume of Fruits Basket, Tokyo Mew Mew, Marmalade Boy and Kodocha, and they bought them all. That was back when manga was the fastest-growing segment of the comics industry, and Tokyopop was one of the top two players, bringing a whole new cohort of readers (teenage girls) to comics for the first time in decades.

Then someone came up with the idea of making their own manga, an idea that was roundly mocked at the time but has actually turned out pretty well. Tokyopop signed up a slew of young creators, gave them three-book contracts, and then … the creators who worked with Lillian got very good guidance and editing, but some of the others got no guidance or, even worse, bad advice. Aside from a handful of titles, the books didn’t get much support, either. Some were terrible, some were quite good, some would have been good if they had been edited properly. And then, as part of one of the periodic purges, Tokyopop dropped most of their global manga series, leaving a number unfinished — and thereby rendering the early volumes unsellable. (But also holding onto the rights to a lot of the books, so the creators couldn’t repurpose or continue them on their own.) A year or so later, Tokyopop announced, with great fanfare, that they were going to finish those series on the web. They did put some of them up, and you can find them if you know to search on the titles, but there wasn’t much promotion and after a volume or two, they quietly stopped posting. And Marco Pavia, the director of marketing, whom I interviewed in that linked article? Laid off.

Tokyopop was ahead of the curve on digital manga, but they blew it. In the beginning, they had a simple, easy-to-use site, and they posted a chapter a month of three or four different global manga there. Then they pulled that down and came up with the worst website in comics, a horrible mishmash of unedited social media that completely submerged their books in a welter of plagiarized fanart and idiotic conversations. The best thing about the site was that they hired some knowledgeable fans to write regular columns, and they briefly had a requirement that their staff write a blog post a week, which resulted in some interesting content, but that all faded away, too. Meanwhile, they were developing cell phone manga and even iManga, motion comics formatted for the iPhone, which were so far ahead of their time that no one even knew what they were. Again, these initiatives withered on the vine for lack of attention. You could read the first chapter of Dramacon on your cell phone, your iPod Touch, or your computer, and you could hear it dramatized as a podcast, but if you can’t get the second chapter, what’s the point?

Former Tokyopop editor Rob Tokar, who was a lot closer to the whole thing than I am, commented at The Beat:

If only Stu and Kiley would have left long ago the company would be a great success.

Stu’s ego destroyed TP and Kiley was clue-less.

Someone chided him later in the thread for being mean, but it’s hard to feel warm and fuzzy toward the Tokyopop leadership any more. [UPDATE: Tokar contacted us to say that he did not post that comment; someone else was using his name.]

I have been covering Tokyopop for almost six years now, since I first started writing MangaBlog in 2005. Over the years I have talked to a lot of Tokyopop people, both editors and creators, on and off the record. The amount of talent that has been laid off by Tokyopop is staggering. Some of these people were heavily invested in the company. When Tokyopop attracted mass derision (some of it unjust) for its Pilot Program global-manga contest a couple of years ago, two editors, Paul Morrissey and Hope Donovan, went out and defended the program against a sea of angry internets.

And then Stu laid them off.

After the last Tokyopop restructuring, they suspended a lot of series, including some that had avid fan followings, which of course pissed off a lot of people. Lillian put together a series of webinars in which she interviewed editors and creators, took input from fans, and, eventually, announced that some of the series would resume. Lillian wooed back a whole sector of disgruntled fans.

And now, Stu has laid her off, too.

Along with Asako Suzuki, who turned CMX Manga around after they almost self-destructed, and apparently, the marketing person.

What’s left, according to the talk on Twitter, is a handful of executives and a stable of freelancers, some of whom are former employees. Now, this is not a rap on freelancers—I’m a freelancer myself, after all—but you can’t run on freelancers alone. Someone has to guide them. And firing people then rehiring them at a fraction of their pay and no benefits may be the modern way of doing business, but it’s a terrible way to reward your employees for their loyalty.

The best thing I can say about Tokyopop is that it turned out a whole generation of talent, from creators like Svetlana Chmakova, Eric Wight, and Amy Reeder to editors like Lillian, Paul Morrissey, and Tim Beedle. The graphic novel scene today is filled with Tokyopop alumni, and maybe it’s better in the long run that they moved on. It’s just sad to see people who took their work seriously being treated so badly by a company that seems to put more value on a direct-to-Hulu reality series than on their core product, a solid line of manga that really did change the graphic novel market and the reading habits of millions of readers—myself included.

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Comments

35 Comments

I’m never getting those final six volumes of Aria, am I? *sigh* All the other series I read from TokyoPop were eiher already concluded or cancelled but I kept hoping that somehow… somehow… Ah well.

That’s a pretty jerky thing to tweet when you just laid people off.

wow this situation is all around shitty for everyone involved…. oh well, i guess vertical is hiring

As far as I know, Marco Pavia didn’t get laid off. He left of his own accord to pursue his interests. (One of which, I was told, was writing a book.) This was coming from someone else in the company, so I feel it’s reliable information.

Wow, I had no idea about all those other initiatives other than the OEL manga that Tokyopop took part in. My biggest complaint with TP was that it seemed more interested in trying to sell their manga because they’re TP manga, not really because of the strength of the title.

Also “lol” at thinking that the video game industry is any less out of touch than any other industry.

While I agree with most of this article, to be fair, he did finish that mockumentary. It was posted on hulu. It wasn’t very good, but he did finish it.

I guess I’ll never see the end of Suppli.

And I’m glad I have scanlations of the rest of Aria. I was buying the Tokyopop volumes anyway in hopes they’d keep printing it, but that keeps seeming unlikely.

Stu Levy may have more great ideas in one week than I’ll have in a year, but his lousy follow-through and total disregard for his employees are staggering. And those vanity projects! I can think of few things that interest me less than his mockumentary or reality show. Please, Stu, sell the company to someone who actually cares about books.

I think it’s important to understand TP’s business model has always in large part been planned around participation from outside investors. Veture capitalists don’t want to help a company stabilize a small interest like publishing, they want in on the ground of the “next big thing.” OEL, digital manga, documentaries, reality shows–the motivation behind these come-and-go initiatives is getting NEW money. So I don’t think the money for the bus COULD have been spent to save an editor–it’s basically earmarked. That being said, it begs the question as to whether such a practice is the best way to use the assets of focus and time–but that’s always been TP’s game.

I’m not one who’s particularly followed Tokyopop, or even manga, that closely but I was surprised when I first heard Levy speak last year. He came across as enthusiastic, but fairly egotistical (though strangely not in an arrogant way) and with not very much business-savvy. I hate to throw around terms like ADD when it’s not someone’s actual medical condition, but it seemed like there was at least a touch of that present. Ultimately, I couldn’t reconcile that with what I’d heard/read about actual Tokyopop titles.

And then when the recent layoffs were announced literally days after their hyping up and actual launch of “America’s Greatest Otaku”? Makes me wonder if we need to start including Levy in with Ghadafi and Sheen when we talk about the apparently recent rash of delusional folks that are self-destructing in front of an international audience.

I am not one bit surprised. I also was not surprised when Kodansha and Dai Nippon invested in Vertical. It just happens to be that Vertical makes smart long term choices, and Tpop, well, doesn’t.

angelynx-prime

March 2, 2011 at 2:27 pm

…wow, I really did not know this. I naively thought the “Greatest Otaku” tour deal meant they were doing really well.
I guess we never will see the last volume of Saiyuki Reload then….

Wow Brigid. This was a pretty good examination of the past few years of TPop. I tried to ignore a lot of Levy’s shenanigans over the years, from the mildly amusing/seemingly harmful ["DJ Milky"] to the bizarre [this Otaku reality show] to the sad [layoffs]. This last round of layoffs that saw Lillian and Asako, and apparently others if Heidi’s latest update is right, is just sort of the breaking point. Curious how they can spin it all, given they just laid off the folks who’d been fixed up all the past messes.

Ooops… seemingly harmless that is. This was a pretty shocking turn of events overall. Hope people are smart, and pick up TP’s assorted ex-employees who were really adept at getting the right books out there, and many of whom also had good skills at editing original content in addition to translated content.

Brigid Alverson

March 2, 2011 at 2:59 pm

Thanks, @Paploo! I do think Stu has done a lot of great things, which is why it’s so frustrating that it has come to this.

I’m glad someone finally said this. Thanks for laying it out for everyone.

Thank you Brigid for totaling up the pluses and minuses. I could not agree with you more. This was a bad short-term decision that will have cataclysmic long term consequences for Tokyopop. If I had investment money, I’d scoop up Lillian and Asako faster than it took me to write this and I’d never let go.

This is sad, especially because it really seemed like Tokyopop was on it’s way to being a really solid company again. Man, Stu Levy is just doing some annoying things (including dyeing his hair…you’re in your 40s, act & dress like it!!). What will they gain from America’s Greatest Otaku? I doubt it will actually bring any new readers to manga. That damn bus, the camera crews, & other production costs just seem like wasted dollars. That money could’ve gone to new licenses! Or, you know, paying the employees that were breathing new life into a dying company!

naokotakeuchi

March 2, 2011 at 4:33 pm

Not even mentioned in the long line of Tokyopop/Mixx blunders is one of their very earliest ones: how they managed to mess up one of the biggest and most profitable licensed properties of the past generation with legally-questionable activity that angered Naoko Takeuchi so much that to this day she has vowed to never allow *any* American publisher to touch her work again.

And don’t get me started about the short-lived abomination that was Mixxzine…

In retrospect, it’s rather boggling how the company survived the first few years considering how many blunders, missteps and mistakes they made early on. I guess that’s really a testament to how much potential there was in the “early” days of manga publishing that such a dysfunctional company could do so well; now that times are leaner there’s not so much leeway for such flubs anymore.

I think it’s dangerous when a person running a company comes to see it as an extension of their personality. While the passion this requires can lead to success, it can also unravel very quickly if a passion for the business becomes a desire for self-promotion or if an ego keeps the company from growing properly — or if the person whose personality and passion keeps the company afloat stops caring or passes away. I’m thinking of Comic Relief in the latter case — the relationships that Rory Root built kept the store going, but once he was gone, the new manager could not sustain the business.

They discontinue a lot of good books, but for whatever reason they keep publishing “Bizeghast”. The story, art, dialogue, all of it is AWFUL.

Damn I just emailed tokyopop a few months about the last few comics of Loveless, too. Said they would be coming but I highly doubt it now. :( I guess scanlations is the only way to go but I really wanted to finish the book collection…

Cassidy- Bizenghast sells, which is why it kept going while many others were discontinued. While it wasn’t my fave of their original titles, it did have a really distincitve style, which improved with each volume. An 8th volume is apparently scheduled for July.

I can understand people having issues with TP, but I think it’s lame that they use it as an excuse to bash domestic comic creators who’ve had work published by them. OEL-bashing is old, tired, and with the success many of these artists have had with other publishers since TP’s heyday, often unwarranted.

Brigid’s complaints above are pretty valid, though I think it’s a disservice to view this as a bashing oppoptunity for anything and everything Tokyopop. A lot of good people have worked there as staff [and many of those who've left are still working in comics], and did a lot of good work, publishing a lot of good titles, be they korean, japanese, german or domestic. TP freelance editor and blogger Daniella Orihuela-Gruber posted a sensitive take on all this that I think is worth reading http://www.allaboutmanga.net/2011/03/02/life-of-a-rookie-editor-love-and-job-security/

I think it’s best to just be sympathetic to those who lost their jobs, and criticize the more valid complaints like Brigid has. Not use it as an opportunity to bash books you don’t like.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at this after seeing the impractical abomination that became the TP website.

Back when manga was the next big thing, I remember TP being at the top of my list. They released fairly consistently, their manga was well edited and translated, and they didn’t pull any tricks like changing the gender/name of a character in order to make it more marketable. (At least they haven’t so far as I’m aware.)

Its a shame really. They were once a really great company.

Amen to this. I appreciate you calling the TP execs (i.e. Stu) out on their bull.

I was one of the interns involved with the “AGO” project (which I still support the idea of, though not the flagrantly inappropriate timing of such a costly endeavor), and thus I spent my summer at the Tokyopop office. We all knew that Tokyopop was having some difficulty, but at the same time wanted to defend the company because there were so many truly brilliant people there. I admire so many people that I got to meet in the Tokyopop office – Lillian chief among them.

And now every single one of them is gone.

All I can say is that I hope everyone that has been dumped by Tokyopop has or will find employment with a company that actually recognizes their talents. As for Tokyopop itself, the future looks grim.

Stu Levy Whining about haters

March 3, 2011 at 1:35 am

“Hey everyone!

I don’t know about you guys, but I noticed there are some very negative haters posting comments on Hulu or Twitter, etc.

I’m sure all of you have also experienced negativity from haters, either at school or elsewhere. It’s emotionally draining – and depressing – but the best thing to do is stay positive. Be yourself. Believe in who you are, your passion and what makes you happy – that will give you strength.

For me, I love Japan. I love the fact that I brought manga to America. I love seeing so many “genki” and positive otaku here in America. And if there are haters and negative people out there, that’s part of life. It won’t get me down – I enjoyed creating, directing and hosting the show, working with an awesome team, meeting all of you who I got to meet (both in person and online), and being inspired by all of your passion.

So, together we can overcome it all.

Ganbarou!!

http://americasgreatestotaku.com/profiles/blogs/haters-1

There’s one thing that keeps bugging me though.. That post from Levy about “haters” and the like seems so calculated to exploit the naivete of young fans which more or less seems in character with my longtime view of TP. It has always bothered me to see so many talented people (creators and editors) seemingly willing to look the other way so long as they were getting theirs. I am NOT saying these folks deserved what they got but I am saying that I think there is potentially a worthwhile discussion about the professional responsibility of individuals in shaping an ethical industry. Hernandez and O’Malley were professionals that did their best to steer people away from a bad egg and call out TP. The whole discussion started in fact when Hernandez turned down an offer from TP. On the other side they were met by creators and editors happy to prop up or defend TP so long as it was good for their career and a comics press that often seemed happy to let Levy brush off these concerns and provide a promotional platform. It’s easy to blame entirely on Levy but folks like him are always only able to do what they will so long as readers and professionals are willing to go along. I realize that is a little simplistic but the complexity of the situation is exactly why I think it deserves examination. The industry is rapidly changing, bring in a lot of new talent from various quarters and it seems to me that holding industry players to an ethical standard would be a very worthwhile thing as opposed to letting the same crap get repeated with each new generation.

“…against a sea of angry internets.”

My hat is off. Poetry.

Thank you for this analysis of the Tokyopop Problem. As an outsider, I’ve always had a few thoughts (to say the least) about Tokyopop’s cultural impact and tactical moves. This is the best picture of the organization that I’ve yet read.

This doesn’t surprise me in the least.

Stu Levy threatened to sue me for libel/slander when I was a 2L in law school because I complained that the Mixx translations of Sailor Moon were so awful. I think I still have the emails somewhere. He claimed he had a law degree, yet I had to explain to him what a tort was.

But, that’s what the guy is like. I had no idea he was still at the helm. It explains so many things about Tokyopop over the years.

This is Rob Tokar, former Editor-in-Chief of Tokyopop. The post attributed to me on this page was made by someone using my name and I have had it removed from the page on which it originally appeared (http://www.comicsbeat.com/2011/03/01/more-layoffs-at-tokyopop/). As I posted there, I don’t publicly comment on my employers or co-workers, former or current, no matter the circumstances. Anyone who actually knows me can verify that this is true.

I’ve been following this here as well as on the other blogs and thought I’d chime in. I’ve met quite a few former and present Tokyopop staff over the years and have always found them to be nice, creative and talented. Based on what I’ve seen and heard, I don’t think the current Tokyopop challenges are because of Levy’s personality or even business judgement. Granted he’s not subtle, but it seems to me the challenges directly relate to financial issues in the industry. I have heard that all comic book publishers – not just Tokyopop – in fact all book publishers are really struggling. This happened in music a few years ago as well. Putting out more books into a sinking market doesn’t save a company.

Anybiody else remember this?

http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/press-release/2006-03-27/harpercollins-tokyopop-announce-co-publishing-sales-and-distribution-agreement

“As of mid-June, HarperCollins will begin selling and distributing all TOKYOPOP books to the North American trade book market. All back office functions including customer service, warehousing, billing and credit will be performed by HarperCollins.”

Anyway, I hope everyone who got laid off by Tokyopop gets new and better jobs, and I hope everyone whose books were released by Tokyopop gets the rights back instead of having Tokyopop stop them from coming out in English (that goes for people writing in Japanese, English, Korean, German, Chinese like Orange and Remember, French like Luuna, everyone!).

InuYashafan102

March 13, 2011 at 1:52 am

You guys are being too hard both on Levy, Tokyopop, and the industry period.

The internet has destroyed a lot of industries over the past half-decade. Combined with a bad economic and demographic profile and its no shock we’re in the mess we’re in now.

Whether it be the used CD market, of which my friend had to close his store in 2006, or used VHS market, the music industry, or any support industries of that industry, the DVD industry, movie companies, even medium to small online retailers who couldn’t keep up with ebay, amazon and larger companies who outprice them. And then big book retailers from Barnes and Noble to the now bankrupt Borders, Waldenbooks, Books a Million, etc, newspapers, magazine companies, even writers of fiction and nonfiction and book publishing companies have been hard hit by the transition to the internet.

The anime/manga industry is now different. Used sites like ebay sell used manga and assorted anime merchandise for dirt cheap, undercutting stores like Fye and Sam Goody, that sell entertainment and magazines and things like that.

Total anime sales, and that includes posters, action figures toys, key chains, DVDs, etc. fell from over 5 billion dollars in 2003 to 2.5 billion in 2010. If you adjust for inflation, it’s even worse.

TP’s profits were linked to sales of hard books. As things went digital scanlations and fansubs destroyed the anime industry the same way pirated movies, scanned books, pirated music, etc. are destroying ALL industries dependent on intellectual property law and concepts.

Basically if something can be ripped and traded for free online, whether it be scanned manga, scanned novels, magazine articles written on blogs(which limit the need to buy paper magazines), online news(which negates newspapers), music(which kills CD sales and online for-sale downloads), pirated movies(which kills both movie rentals and movie purchases).

Basically, if you’re an independent book store or music store or pop culture store that sells manga, anime, books, CDs, DVDs, etc. — you were tombstoned in this past decade due to the internet making your hard media obsolete overnight.

The problem was there was no smooth transition from hard media to digital media, and entire industries worth into the hundreds of billions of dollars weren’t ready for the changes and when they lost massive sales overnight they sued people and used thuggish tactics that while although good, only created a sense that the corporations and businesses were the bad guys.

Somebody else in the comments section mentioned something correctly, Levy TRIED to make a transition to a digital company. He saw Borders and Waldenbooks collapsing. He knew he was losing revenue from declining sales of hard print media. He probably hired analysts to tell him how to transition and they told him to do the documentary and podcasts and all these offlandish things that don’t really give solid profits.

Case in point, I don’t even own an ipad or an ipod. They’re too expensive. I don’t make enough money and even if I did, I have so many student loans and other bills I wouldn’t think of spending so much money on something trivial.

When I could invest in say, a mortgage, a motorcycle, a better, more fuel efficient car.

Levy tried his best to adapt and keep his company afloat in the most vicious economic downturn since the creepy 1930s.

i’m a layperson and I can figure this out. Levy is probably trying to woo funds from investors due to drop offs in revenues from his print media publications.

Levy didn’t do anything wrong, he just couldn’t survive the, no pun or offense intended, the economic tsunami we’ve been in since 2006.

I hope he can turn the company around. And probably he can, but it will take decades. And for at least the next decade foreign sales will have to pick up the slump from where our sales dropped off.

America’s economy peaked in 2007, not shockingly, so did TP’s fortunes around the same period.

I’m not a fan of such corporate types but I really truly believe TP and the industry in general are the victims of forces and effects far outside their control. Levy acted as any CEO would do.

But you can juice so much blood from a turnip before it turns totally into pulp.

InuYashafan102: Tokyopop should have seen these developments coming

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