After nearly five years working under a copublishing and bookstore distribution agreement with HarperCollins, manga publisher Tokyopop is switching the distribution of its titles into the general trade to Diamond Book Distributors. As part of the deal, former Tokyopop president and COO John Parker will move to Diamond Book Distributors and take the position of v-p of new business development. The distribution deal is effective beginning in July.
This new distribution deal comes after a year in which DBD lost Marvel Comics’s book trade distribution to Hachette (although Diamond Comics continues to distribute Marvel to the direct market). Diamond Book Distributors v-p, sales and marketing Kuo-Yuo Liang, called the new pact “a big deal,” for DBD. Tokyopop publishes about 150 titles a year in addition to maintaining a backlist of about 2000 titles. Tokyopop titles will also be distributed into the direct market (aka comics shops) by Diamond Comics Distributors.
The new distribution deal marks the end of a 2006 distribution/publishing venture between Tokyopop and HarperCollins, inked during a period when sales of graphic novels and manga were booming. The original copublishing pact between the two houses led to a series of manga adaptations—produced by Tokyopop and distributed by Harper—of such popular Harper prose properties as Erin Hunters’ Warriors series (which sold very well) and author Meg Cabot’s Young Adult Avalon High series (which did not sell quite as well). Indeed the deal marked a time when so-called OEL, or Original English Language Manga—original comics works influenced by Japanese manga but created by non-Japanese creators for the English language market—was a big part of Tokyopop’s publishing efforts and a big topic of contention between manga fans.
Five years later, Tokyopop has gone through a series of layoffs, downsizing and a reorganization; the house has lost a number of high profile manga licences and OEL is barely a topic of discussion. After years of booming sales growth, the manga category has matured and sales have declined in recent years. According to pop culture trade news website ICv2.com, while total graphic novel sales have declined from $375 million in 2007 to about $370 million in 2009; manga sales have declined much more—down 33% in the same period, from $210 million in 2007 to about $140 million in 2009.
“Tokyopop, along with Viz, is a dominant player in the manga catory,” Liang said, noting that he expects sales in the manga category to stabilize after three years of decline. “Our believe is that we’re nearing the end of the ‘correction’ phase [of the current market], where all the publishers weeded out weaker performing titles, and have learned more effective ways to market the books,” Liang said. “We believe we will buck the trend and see Tokyopop and other manga titles that DBD distributes rebound this year.
Liang said that Tokyopop would be DBD’s second largest publisher after Dark Horse. “We also believev this helps DBD and all of our manga publishers—Bandai, Digital Manga, Netcomics, Udon and Dark Horse—because now we have enough critical mass to go to a retailer like Amazon, Transworld or Wal-Mart and build a manga program, similar to what we have done for years with [conventional western] graphic novels.
He noted that Tokyopop has a New York Times bestselling manga title (Hetalia #1) and the house will republish its Priest series as a movie tie-in manga title this summer when a film adaptation of the manga is released. “Tokyopop is an innovative company,” Liang said, “using technology to publish and promote their books. I see them being a key player as we move into digital distribution.”