Leading the way in the U.S. manga revolution
by Jonathon Walsh
America is known for its big, bold, brashness, but when it comes to the multi-million dollar manga market, it’s small fry. That was until TOKYOPOP Inc. CEO Stuart Levy — a U.S. native — decided to grow the mammoth industry in his native country. Manga is now the fastest growing segment in the U.S. publishing industry. Founded in 1996, TOKYOPOP is the leading North American publisher of manga, and has achieved success in manga publishing, development of manga related film, television and digital entertainment on a global level. Levey shared his insights into this rapidly growing market with EA-Tokyo on Feb. 7.
The popularity of manga in Japan is astounding. In 2004, a staggering 1,384.2 million manga publications were sold, for a total of ¥504.7 billion. With such homegrown popularity, it was only a matter of time before manga rocked the outside world. Sure enough, sales of manga in the U.S. have exploded from $5 million to $300 million, with sales tripling from 2004 to 2005.
Levy and TOKYOPOP have been making moves to capitalize on this explosion in popularity. Most of TOKYOPOP’s product lineup has been in book form, until now. Though the company sells hundreds of different titles in the U.S., the U.K., Germany and more, they have no titles in Japan, where TOKYOPOP mainly works with artists and publishers. “Books are what has built the company but we are now taking TOKYOPOP in some very exciting directions,” Levy said. “Our business focuses not just on the core product but ancillary products such as Cine-Manga, DVD, and turning our manga into film. In the U.S. we have built a brand name that is very well recognized especially among young people. The appetite of American teenage girls for this expanding media is a key driver of growth.”
The Real Deal — Authentic Manga
Levy explained how “Authentic Manga,” a concept rolled out in 2002, was instrumental in helping TOKYOPOP shift gears to the next level. As a niche market, manga sections in bookshops were quite inconsistent. “In the stores, there was a tiny little section we were able to convince retailers to create (for TOKYOPOP publications). But between TOKYOPOP and other publishers, the manga books sizes and prices were all different and that always bothered me,” explains Levy, recalling the early years. Noting how Playstation and Nintendo have standardized their product branding, Levy came to the conclusion that consistency was also required in the manga business. “So we came up with Authentic Manga,” he explains, referring to a consistency in branding that has proved very successful. “We made one price-point, created in-store displays that were very brand-oriented, and… it worked.”
Where’s the Talent?
Manga is nothing new, generations have grown up on manga, and there is no shortage of artists dying to be published. Capitalizing on this need, Levy started The Rising Stars of Manga competition for aspiring manga artists. “We have now just finished our sixth competition and are finding potential artists from all over the world,” says Levy, who has also used the competition to scout out new talent. If their work is good enough, entrants often find themselves with a contract.
North American Market’s Got Kick
Ever the innovator, TOKYOPOP has many projects in the pipeline. Levy described one of the recently launched key company ventures — using the internet and other digital formats to not only promote manga but also to serialize it (35-40 titles free online to members). “I think we are going to see digital based technology expand this art form even further than anyone has ever dreamed of so far,” he says.
Levy said another big upcoming push for TOKYOPOP is the States-side mobile business. “In Japan, it has already started, and in the States, 3G networks are being installed throughout the country. People are (finally) starting to realize they can use their phones for more than just talking,” says Levy.
Ultimately, Levy hopes manga will infiltrate Western consciousness completely. “We want the word to come into popular usage in a similar way to how ‘sushi’ has. We really want to turn it into a lifestyle — where it affects fashion and attitude; it’s a global thing, it is beyond just the entertainment content itself.”