There are a lot of things I could say about the recent round of TOKYOPOP restructuring/layoffs
...that I won't.
But there are a few things I will
say, for the record, that ought to be taken into careful consideration:
- Short of total collapse--and as long as Levy wants a multimedia corporation--TOKYOPOP will not and cannot exit the book publishing field. Book publishing is the only place where the company has a firm toehold and name recognition, and the company will want the money generated there to bankroll other endeavors. However--
- Multi-platform delivery a la cell phone manga is one thing (and no, not a sure thing), cross-media adaptations another entirely. And I just don't see the latter ever really taking off under any circumstances. I alluded to this dynamic about a month ago in a different context--there are some basic structural contradictions that are liable to prevent TOKYOPOP from mining its book content for, say, film content.
- Ask anyone in trade publishing; it is not the most lucrative of businesses. Even publishers' thin profit margins are wrested from the field through fierce competition with other book publishers. (And buying up other publishers, but that's a different story.) Competition hasn't been a big problem in the manga industry while it expanded, but now that things have matured it's already starting to happen. It will, I promise, become a defining feature of the manga industry, as it is in trade publishing generally, in the future.
- This competition with other book publishers will lead to better deals for creators. Okay, so Marvel and DC own the content they publish, but remember: TOKYOPOP will be competing against book publishers, not comics publishers. And book publishers such as Del Rey--not to mention all of the other U.S. book publishers eager to bite off a piece of the graphic novel/manga field--are going to be much more willing to allow creators to retain, let's say, film rights. This bidding war is one they've been waging for years in other categories, and I imagine that the manga industry will soon incorporate the practice. And besides, Random House does books, not movies! In other words, TOKYOPOP is going to be forced to become more generous over time with regards to its contracts--for diminishing returns in a saturated market that will neither bankroll a film studio nor provide it with much adaptable content. (Unless TOKYOPOP promises creators a combined book+movie deal or something, but even then the contracts will still have to become more generous...and the problem of liquidity remains.)
- Thus do media conglomerates hatehatehate having book publishers in their portfolios. They don't make enough money! Those conglomerates that do hold on to publishers tend to be family-owned groups that "believe" in books as a category with value apart from dollar signs. So in the future, what we are likely to see is a Red Queen Effect: Manga publishers such as TOKYOPOP running faster and faster just to stay in the same place. Does TOKYOPOP love books enough to stay on this treadmill indefinitely? Now that is a question.
- We already know that stingy contracts have led to ill will between publisher and creator. Firings lead to ill will between publisher and employee. Neither is a good thing. Content (and attendant creators), monetary profit, and brand recognition aren't a publisher's only resources. Its fourth resource is its employees and the expertise, contacts, and experience they bring to the table. Firing people may be necessary from a bottom-line perspective, but remember that it also creates distrust. Publishers don't just compete for content; they compete for employees, too. It can only be bad if the people you've taught the ropes up and decide to leave you for one of your competitors (or strike out on their own), capice?