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The Return of TokyoPop? AX Panel Explains Hetalia Plans and Beyond

By July 2, 2012

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Hetalia Volume 3Entitled "TokyoPop: Past, Present and Future," TokyoPop's panel with Right Stuf scheduled for Saturday evening at Anime Expo 2012 at the Los Angeles Convention Center attracted a full house of curious fans. They came hoping to hear the latest news from TokyoPop founder Stu Levy, freelance editor Daniella Orihuela-Gruber and Right Stuf marketing honcho Alison Roberts.

What did they get? Well, they got some hints of things to come, but if anyone came hoping that this new version of TokyoPop would resume things right where they left off last year... well, they probably left disappointed. Yes, TokyoPop is back, thanks to their team-up with Right Stuf, but from the sounds of things, they have a steep slope to climb to get their North American publishing operations back to even a fraction of what it once was last year.

Things got off to a rough start, as the one-hour panel started 10 minutes late. Then, Levy kicked things off by explaining TokyoPop's history and when/why it closed its North American publishing operations in June 2011. Explaining TokyoPop's past and the hows/whys of the closing of their Los Angeles offices last year, unfortunately, took up most of the allotted panel time. By the time he got to talking about TokyoPop's current and future projects, the one-hour time slot was done, and there was no time left for Q&A with the audience.

While the Q&A didn't happen, fan Rose Stern cornered Stu Levy after the Anime Expo panel, and filmed his responses as she asked him some pointed questions about the fate of other original manga series from TokyoPop. Check out the YouTube video for yourself and see what he had to say.

WHAT IS TOKYOPOP MANGA PUBLISHING WITH RIGHT STUF?
So what did we learn from the panel? Here's a breakdown:

  • TokyoPop logoTokyoPop is teaming up with RightStuf and Gentosha Comics to publish Hetalia Volumes 1-5 - Gentosha Comics is the Japanese publisher and licensor of the Hetalia series by Hidekazu Himaruya. Right Stuf Inc. is a North America-based retailer and distributor of manga, anime and related goods like toys and games. This collaboration with TokyoPop and Gentosha project marks their entry into the world of manga publishing, and print-on-demand distribution.

  • You can buy Hetalia Volumes 1-3 now from RightStuf - Hetalia Volume 1 and Volume 2 are available now via RightStuf's "print-on-demand" service, which means that each volume is printed as ordered, via some as-yet-unnamed POD print service. The POD versions are printed on "70-lb heavy white paper" and the contents are black and white only (no color pages) for a regular price of $15.99, or at the currently discounted price of $10.99.

    RightStuf logoHetalia Volume 3 is available now, via mail order from RightStuf. This edition is offset-printed, and thus has color pages. Once this initial print run runs out, then subsequent editions will be only available as POD editions, and will not have the color pages. As of yet, there are no set release dates for Hetalia Volumes 4 and 5. What is the difference between offset printing and print-on-demand printing? I'll explain that in a bit, but let's get through the rest of the TokyoPop/Right Stuf announcements first.

  • Possibility for more Gentosha titles to be added later - While Hetalia is the only confirmed title that will be published through this arrangement, according to Levy, "I don't know 100%, but I'm pretty sure we can put out other Gentosha titles." It's unclear if this could include Chibisan Date, another title by Hidekazu Himaruya that was previously announced as a licensing acquisition for TokyoPop, but was never published. Also unclear if this could include new Gentosha titles or would just include Gentosha titles previously licensed by TokyoPop.

  • Bizenghast Volume 8Bizenghast and Psy-Comm will be published by TokyoPop/Right Stuf - Through this arrangement, TokyoPop and Right Stuf will also be publishing Bizenghast Volume 8, the final volume of M. Alice LeGrow's gothic fantasy series this way, as well as Psy-Comm Volume 3 by Jason Henderson, Tony Salvaggio and Ramanda Kamarga. Both Bizenghast Volume 8 and Psy-Comm Volume 3 have never been available in print before. Bizenghast Volume 8 is available for pre-order now, and will be released on July 16, 2012. Psy-Comm Volume 3 will be released in late August.

  • TokyoPop Newsletter with Nerdist - Otherwise, TokyoPop is publishing a newsletter about Japanese pop culture in conjunction with Nerdist, and are maintaining their Facebook page to share news and random bits of Japanese pop culture silliness.

  • Free Hetalia iPhone Game on iTunes - For a limited time, they're also offering the Hetalia iPhone game for free via iTunes.

  • Got more questions for TokyoPop? Ask 'em on Facebook - In lieu of the Q&A session at Anime Expo, TokyoPop has promised to hold a Q&A session on Facebook this week. Visit and like the TokyoPop Facebook page to get more updates on that.

WHAT IS NOT HAPPENING WITH TOKYOPOP?
Now, before you get all excited about TokyoPop resuming publication of any and all series that were cancelled in mid-run when they shut their North American publishing operations last year, you should know a few things:

  • No other Japanese publishers have agreed to this arrangement with TokyoPop / Right Stuf... yet - TokyoPop licensed titles from many Japanese publishers. The licensing rights to publish all of these titles have lapsed. If TokyoPop wishes to resume publishing these titles, they need to renegotiate new licensing contracts with each company.

    So far, only Gentosha has agreed to work with TokyoPop / Right Stuf this way. To publish other frequently requested titles like Gakuen Alice and V.B. Rose (Hakusensha), Deadman Wonderland and Future Diary (Kadokawa Shoten), TokyoPop would need to come to a similar, separate agreement with those respective companies.

  • Tactics Volume 9Several Japanese publishers have already made alternate plans to publish their titles - One company that formerly worked with TokyoPop, MAG Garden, is currently publishing some of their titles digitally via JManga.com. This includes volumes that were never available in print from TokyoPop, including Tactics Volume 9 and The Good Witch of the West Volume 7, and the first time ever digital publication of series like Your and My Secret, Animal Academy and Monochrome Factor.

    Other former TokyoPop titles have been picked up by other North American publishers - For example, Alice in the Country of Hearts have been picked up by Yen Press. They published 3 double-sized editions of this series, which include the never-before published Alice in the Country of Hearts Volume 6 (this volume is included in Volume 3 of the Yen Press edition). Loveless by Yun Kouga has been picked up for publication by VIZ Media. They'll be releasing double-sized editions that will include the contents of Loveless Volumes 1-8 in four volumes, starting from October 2012.

SO WHAT MIGHT TOKYOPOP DO NEXT?
Levy hinted at a few possibilities that he's considering.

  • Publishing / completing various original manga series published by TokyoPop in the past - This would require agreement from the original artists/writers, as well as fan demand, which TokyoPop is gauging from fan feedback via Twitter and their Facebook pages. However, because they own the rights to these series, this is much easier for TokyoPop to accomplish compared to getting the rights to publish titles from Japanese publishers.
  • New original manga series from TokyoPop - This is an ambitious goal, perhaps, given the general ill-will in the artists/writer/readers community generated by TokyoPop's past original manga publishing efforts. They'd have to do some serious public relations repair work to overcome skepticism from the creative community on this front to make this a reality. They'd also likely need to hire full-time editorial staff. Right now, TokyoPop is operating on a bare-bones staff of freelancers, which is hardly the way to re-launch a serious publishing effort.
  • Kickstarter campaigns to fund future TokyoPop publishing efforts - Levy mentioned this at the panel, but did not confirm whether this is something TokyoPop will definitely do in the future, and the type of projects he has in mind to fund this way. That said, he also acknowledged that Kickstarter campaigns require a lot of effort to be successful.
  • TV and movie deals based on TokyoPop original manga - This has been happening in the background for years. This is the one aspect of TokyoPop that didn't shut down when they closed their North American publishing division. No new updates on previously announced deals regarding Lament of the Lambs or The Dreaming, but we'll see when we'll see, I guess.
  • New original video series on the web - "Web video is something we're looking at doing more of," said Levy. He also expressed his hope to do a second season of America's Greatest Otaku someday. The first season of TokyoPop's reality show is currently showing on Hulu.com.
  • TokyoPop-branded t-shirts and accessories - "We're thinking about doing a bunch of t-shirts and stuff," said Levy.

WHAT IS PRINT ON DEMAND PUBLISHING?
So now that you know that TokyoPop is teaming up with Right Stuf to bring some TokyoPop titles back in print, you might be asking, what the heck is "print on demand?" There are basically two (main) ways you can print manga. Offset printing, which is the traditional way, and now print-on-demand or POD for short.

I've tried to break down the differences in my quickie intros to offset printing and print on demand printing.

To sum things up, the upside to offset printing for publishers is that if they print a lot of books at one time, then the cost per book is much less than print on demand. Offset printing also allows for fancy features like embossed or foil-stamped covers and color insert pages.

However, it's not cost-effective to print small quantities of graphic novels this way. Print on demand addresses this need. It allows buyers to order and purchase a book, and the publisher/distributor only has to print what's ordered - no more, no less. Although the per-copy cost is higher than if the same manga was published via offset printing, the publisher doesn't have to pay the higher cost of print set-up, shipping and storage for larger quantities of books that they may or may not sell. The higher cost per book is why the regular (non-discounted) price for the new TokyoPop/Right Stuf print on demand editions of Hetalia are $15.99.

Right Stuf has posted a video explaining how their print on demand program works for Hetalia. Right Stuf Marketing Manager Alison Roberts explained Right Stuf's rationale for taking on this program as basically a new way to meet fan demand for titles that are out of print and hard to find, but don't quite warrant a full print-run. Here's what she had to say:

"'Why are you doing this?' My boss likes selling you stuff. There's nothing that frustrates him more than someone coming to our site and looking for a particular manga, and they can get every volume, except, say Volume 3, which is out of print, and you have to pay some crazy price like $100 for a $10 book. That bums us out as much as it bums you out."

So this is one way, we've been looking at it for a long time, we've done a lot of research, and we finally found something that gives us a product that we're happy to put out there. This way, you can buy the manga you want, at a price that you can pay.

"But what about other series? If you want to see other series published this way, please encourage other companies to work with us. If you buy Hetalia Volume 3, then that lets us know that you're interested in something like this."

So there you go. The ball is (somewhat) in your court regarding where Right Stuf's grand print-on-demand manga experiment will go next.

So now that you've heard what TokyoPop and Right Stuf have had to say about their plans, what do you think? Add your comments below!

Also, if you're curious about what else was said at the TokyoPop panel at Anime Expo, check out this transcript that was posted live as the panel was happening.

Image credits: Hidekaz Himaruya / GENTOSHA COMICS, TOKYOPOP, Right Stuf Inc., M. Alice LeGrow / TOKYOPOP, Sakura Kinoshita, Kazuko Higashiyama / MAG GARDEN

Comments

July 2, 2012 at 6:36 pm
(1) Steven Kunz says:

It is good to see a publishing company try to rise from the ashes like this, but it seems more like they’re a publishing start-up at the moment. I would like to see them grow to a bigger company, though I think if they really do have ambitions to create OEL-manga again, I feel they would need a spokesperson of some sort, like their first OEL-manga artist acting as the face of their OEL publishing campaign.

July 2, 2012 at 6:47 pm
(2) s-girl (@whirlyshirly) says:

I will say one thing. As a long time anime fan and customer, I’m well familiar with RightStuf and comfortable buying from them. This is a good choice for TOkyopop and as such, I will gladly order through them because I believe that they care about and understand the fanbase.

Selfishly, I hope RightStuf is fully successful in this partnering effort because I think POD is important to the future of print manga for those of us who really want a paper copy in hand and understand that the printed format is itself generally struggling across the publishing landscape. (I also want RightStuf to perhaps open their model up to promising independents for direct publication, but that’s just me being selfish xD).

What I think surprised me is that there was no comment on a digital platform. I recall that there were a few random tweets or posts a few months back that they were considering the digital delivery model.

If TP Germany still holds the license and the contracts did not bar digital delivery, then it seems that TP should consider the models that Shonen Jump Alpha, YenPress and Seven Seas have undertaken to put back the serial magazine format online.

That said, I don’t know if these are bleeding money. So far, have seen very little coverage on these companies moving into the sub based delivery platform but I imagine it must be promising.

In particular, it seems YenPress and SEven Seas have largely moved towards showcasing “OEL” . If those two groups are doing alright, then TP should try hard to look at what is working well in those models and see if there is anything for them to emulate.

Anyways, I believe that ultimately creators and readers are served by more publishers in the field. I wish TP success.

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