In a startling move that not only highlights the sales potential of book format comics but also gives almost every major New York publishing house a significant graphic novel program, HarperCollins will take over the distribution of the Tokyopop manga list to the North American book trade. But this is also a publishing deal. Tokyopop and HarperCollins will develop manga adaptations of selected HarperCollins titles beginning with the bestselling young adult novels of Meg Cabot. And on top of everything else, HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman said she wouldn't rule out getting involved in publishing licensed manga at some point.
HarperCollins will take over the distribution of all Tokyopop titles in North America beginning in June of this year. The announcement of this publishing and distribution deal comes on the heels of February's Tokyopop announcement that the manga publisher intended to continue its distribution agreement through Perseus Books and CDS.
The copublishing agreement between the two houses will begin with adaptations of Meg Cabot's young adult novels--including such series as The Princess Diaries and Avalon High--which have sold more than 6 million copies. The two houses plan to collaborate on as many as 24 manga works that will be based on HarperCollins prose novels, the first of which should appear in 2007.
Sources have told PWCW that CDS was notified of Tokyopop's distribution switch less than an hour before the first press releases announcing the deal went out. Indeed sources have also said that Tokyopop had approached a number of New York publishing houses about a possible copublishing deal. And most observers see the publishing aspect as the most important part of the deal. James Killen, graphic novel buyer at Barnes & Noble, said, "considering where Tokyopop is moving with OEL [original English language manga], this gives them access to titles with a bankable presence. That's really the biggest change here and it's a change for the better."
Tokyopop will now be distributed by a major trade house, much like its competitor Viz Media, which is distributed by Simon & Schuster. Some observers suggested this might help the manga house get its titles into more independent bookstores, which continue to lag behind the chains in accepting manga.
Contacted in Bologna, Italy where Tokyopop executives are attending the annual children's book fair, Tokyopop publisher Mike Kiley said the cancellation of the previously announced Perseus Books/CDS distribution deal, "wasn't due to anything interesting or controversial. Stuff happens. These deals are never glamorous. They're extremely complicated and even when you think you've got a deal, things can fall apart." But Kiley was quick to point out that "the publishing partnership that HarperCollins offered was of a different magnitude. To be able to publish with these guys is a great opportunity. "
Kiley also took exception to using the word "adaptations" to characterize the Tokyopop/HarperCollins plan to turn HarperCollins titles into manga works. "We don't regard them as adaptations," Kiley says. "We don't retell stories, we make stuff up. We're going to take these properties and we're going to bust them open and do them in new ways. We've reached a creative meeting of the minds with HarperCollins and we're going to make these books into new stories."
But the new program is going to require still more competent manga artists. Asked how the new deal might affect its current OEL publishing program, Kiley said that "there are not an unlimited number of homegrown manga artists. It will be challenging to nurture a sufficient number of artists to produce these new works. We're going to be selective. This isn't about volume. It's about quality and innovation and picking properties and authors that will expand manga's appeal."
HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman said she has been talking with Tokyopop for months about the copublishing deal. "I've met [Tokyopop CEO] Stu Levy and Mike Kiley and we clicked. I've been interested in manga for a long time."
Friedman said she's been interested in publishing manga for awhile but she didn't want to set up an in-house manga publishing unit. "We've been eager to enter the manga marketplace and I can think of no more powerful way than to join forces with Tokyopop." Friedman said the house would look at its children's and YA list for likely candidates for manga adaptation. "We've got great YA and children's authors and we're going to take a careful long look at that list."
While licensed editions of Japanese manga continue to dominate the U.S. market, Tokyopop has been aggressive in publishing OEL manga, original manga titles created by non-Japanese artists. They plan to release more than 100 original manga over the next two years. Friedman said it was the Tokyopop original manga program that got her attention. "They are setting the standard for original manga," said Friedman. "That's why we're going to work with them to build the category and do it right."
Asked if she reads any manga herself, Friedman said she's tried, "but I think this deal will mean more to my grandchildren."