Tokyopop was the internet’s front-page news amidst the English manga-industry circle this week as news came that they’ve just recently laid off several staffers. Those given this very unfortunate and quite unexpected axe was Lillian Diaz-Pryzybl, Troy Lewter and Asako Suzuki – all three prominent editors of Tokyopop’s manga line-up.
Brigid Alverson (of MangaBlog.net) wrote a really well articulated article on the matter over at Robot6. She focuses heavily on company president Stu Levy and paints a pretty accurate, and unfortunately manic, picture of his management methods and a history of similarly poor timed lay-offs.
People losing their jobs is never good and as many have said, my sympathies go out to those who’ve lost them. This news also doesn’t paint an optimistic picture of the company itself. When I first read this, what immediately came to mind is that Tokyopop has now completely done away with their manga ‘face’ – the side of their company that really looked to me like it focused on the books as their primary focus. Stu Levy has never been about the manga to me – he’s always been the ‘face’ of the other stuff, all those little pet-projects and admittedly odd but flamboyant social projects he engages in for reasons I won’t dismiss but also won’t try to fathom understanding (ie: not intended to target consumers like me, such as their recent America’s Greatest Otaku reality show).
Though it doesn’t seem their manga line-up is taking any direct blows in terms of any more dropped titles (and in fact they still have a handful of new titles starting this year), it’s hard not to wonder what this really means. Are they going to be slimming things back we just haven’t heard it yet? Are those people remaining just getting really, really overworked? Are they hiring new freelancers on who they can pay less for the same work? Will the marketing disappear? Will the quality be affected? It seems hard to believe they could let-go such integral staff members and have things be business as usual.
On top of that, it was announced just yesterday that Blizzard (the company who owns the popular Warcraft franchise), is severing ties with Tokyopop. For years Tokyopop has published graphic novels based on the Warcraft world and, to my knowledge, they’ve always been some of the more consistent sellers with a cross-appeal outside the regular manga readers. Blizzard has since stated this dissolvement isn’t due to the recent cutbacks and was decideded some time ago, which makes me think that this news actually is the opposite effect some will assume simply from the timing of this announcement – that Tokyopop’s lay-offs are in fact (in part) because of Blizzard’s disconnection and not the other way around. All that’s been specifically said so far for reasons is that Warcraft can’t commit in full to the project any longer, which seems fair enough considering the game itself is definitely their bread and butter. Why read it when you can play it? (Though that’s certainly never my personal philosophy!)
It seems safe to say the biggest factor of these Tokyopop cuts, past Stu Levy’s often fickle-seeming management style, is the recent bankruptcy of the American bookstore chain, Borders. It apparently owned Tokyopop a lot of money which it now can’t pay back. Having never been in a Borders before, I can’t say I’ve personally seen the effect, as the closest we have is our Indigo chain of bookstores here in Canada (Chapters and Coles bookstores to many of us). However the pricing has long since become so terrible on buying books from chain stores instead of independent shops here that I’ve long since gotten a disconnect from that kind of manga buying. Still, remembering how huge a part Chapters used to be in my manga-buying binges until the Canadian dollar shot up, I can definitely see how if Borders was that to thousands of readers across the United States, then the loss is pretty huge.
It’s a shame this has all happened, Borders closing creating such issues for so many readers and publishers. What’s even sadder about Tokyopop’s situation in particular is that the loss of these jobs, unfortunate enough in itself, are more additions to a teetering tower within Tokyopop’s industry that is proving from internet response that people’s faith in Tokyopop is shakier than their history.
Tokyopop for me is still a huge part of my manga-life – I’ve probably got more books from them than anyone else, their titles shaped my early manga-buying days. I loved their title choices, their presentation, their pricing and yes even the sheer quantity that meant a lot of mixed quality (but you can’t knock the chance to choose from them all!) – I owe them a lot for the books I’ve been able to enjoy over the years. But now with Lillian in particular gone (never had I felt more in-touch with TP than via their webinars), and the continued production of money-sucking events I don’t really understand, I really have to question if the Tokyopop I love is still even the Tokyopop that exists today.