For over a decade publisher Tokyopop has catered to American manga fans, introducing such bestselling manga titles as GTO, Chobits, Cardcaptor Sakura, FLCL, and .hack to the U.S. manga market. 2008 brought challenges to manga publishers across the industry as sales slowed. For Tokyopop this meant a restructuring that included laying off roughly 35% of its staff and cutting its manga releases by 50%.Tokyopop's problems were compounded after Japanese publisher, Kodansha, one of the largest publishers of manga in pan, decided to allow a number of its licensing agreements with Tokyopop to expire.
Despite these market challenges, Tokyopop is back with a new marketing campaign called the, Tokyopop Tour, best described as the otaku version of MTV’s reality show, Road Rules. In this case a group of six otaku (or super fans of Japanese pop culture) will travel across the country in a bus with Tokyopop founder, CEO and COO Stuart Levy. The tour will stop at manga and anime conventions across the country and footage of the visits will be broadcast online. Levy answered a few questions about this new endeavor and explained to PW Comics Week how the otaku fanbase is still the most important thing in manga.
PW Comics Week: What exactly is the Tokyopop Tour?
Stuart Levy: The Tokyopop Tour is actually two things with one united purpose. It is an outreach program and also a reality show called "America's Greatest Otaku". It's purpose is to meet fans nationwide.
PWCW: You’ve got a Ning social network set up for this. How long has this network been live?
SL: For a few months—we used it to host the auditions but we'll be turning it into a more full-featured site for the Tour experience.
PWCW: What is the schedule for the tour?
SL: It's a summer tour that will go from July 1 through the end of August.
PWCW: How did you choose participants?
SL: We have the "Otaku Six" on the bus with myself and our crew. These six are college students who were selected in an online competition amongst fans to intern on the bus for this tour. Another group is supporting from our offices (called the HQ Crew). We will be selecting a Greatest Otaku to represent each city we visit. These Greatest Otaku will apply online and then will be filmed in the America's Greatest Otaku show. At the end, fans will vote for the ultimate winner.Of course all fans can come out to meet us, play some contests and get swag.
PWCW: What are the participant responsibilities?
SL: The Otaku Six are my crew and cast for the show, my team. They will work with the HQ Crew to find the Greatest Otaku candidates, to research Otaku Spots in each town, and to produce the show with me. They'll learn marketing, production and how to live on the road in tight quarters.
PWCW: How does the Tokyopop Tour fit into Tokyopop’s overall objectives as a publisher?
SL: We are more than a publisher—we're a lifestyle and media brand. This is core—it's about reaching out to our fans and getting to know who they are. They are the reason we exist.
PWCW: How have Tokyopop’s objectives changed over the past 5 years?
SL: They haven't. The overall goal has always been the same—to build a global brand and character franchises that reflect the otaku lifestyle. The tactical approach of how to accomplish that goal has evolved as technology affects the way we consume media more significantly. We are all in a transition from print to digital, and in our company from manga to movie as well.
PWCW: I imagine that the main function of the tour is to promote the Tokyopop brand. But in order for a brand to stay afloat financially, the company behind it has to get merchandise/service associated with the brand into consumer hands. How will the Tokyopop Tour lead to sales of Tokyopop merchandise?
SL: It may not directly affect merchandise sales but we hope for an overall halo effect as fans reconnect with the brand and learn about the way we're evolving with them and for them.