Tokyopop eases State-side kids into manga with a license-centric strategy

Cracking the U.S. market with an untried concept may be tough, but as L.A.-based manga publisher Tokyopop has discovered, a little licensing goes a long way.
May 1, 2003

Cracking the U.S. market with an untried concept may be tough, but as L.A.-based manga publisher Tokyopop has discovered, a little licensing goes a long way.

‘We wanted to see if there was a way to ease younger readers into the [manga] genre,’ which can be confusing to the uninitiated with its right-to-left page format, intricate art and complicated stories, says Tokyopop’s founder and CEO Stu Levy.

The cine-manga concept takes a popular kids entertainment property – be it an animated series, live-action show or feature film – and gives it the manga treatment. ‘An episode of the show is laid out with the script using existing tapes and film in a fun, graphic format,’ says Levy. ‘So you’re reading it like manga, but it features the characters you’re used to seeing.’

Of course, no winning format is developed without a few market lessons. Early last year, Tokyopop tested its first cine-manga title – Cardcaptors – which sold in bookstores for an SRP of US$14.99 and had a page count of 150. But the price point was a bit too steep for the coveted mass-market retailers, so Tokyopop reduced the specs to US$7.99 for 96 pages.

According to Tokyopop VP of sales Steve Kleckner, those slight tweaks have made all the difference. Indeed, the first two cine-manga titles off the presses in March 2003 – Kim Possible and Spy Kids 2 – widened Tokyopop’s distribution swath to include the likes of Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy, with Target reporting higher sell-through for these books than popular kids series such as Lemony Snicket. While Tokyopop was unable to divulge specific sales figures due to pre-existing agreements with its licensors, the company claims that sales volumes for the revamped cine-manga titles were four to five times greater than the Cardcaptors test.

Additional cine-manga titles due out this year include: Lizzie McGuire (this month), a second Kim Possible release (May/June), Power Rangers Storm (June), Jimmy Neutron and SpongeBob SquarePants (August) and Jackie Chan Adventures (Q4).

The 2003 cine-manga release list’s slight girl bias was intentional, says Levy. ‘Our reader base for manga tends to be heavier on the female side, with some of the studies we’ve done indicating numbers as high as 70%,’ says Levy. ‘We like to look at shows that will at least cross over to girls, if not be primarily girl.’ Jackie Chan Adventures and Power Rangers Storm are two titles that Levy believes will skew towards boys, and he is curious to see how they perform against girl-targeted books like Kim Possible.

Since cine-manga tends to incorporate a lot of text, preschool titles do not appear to be in the cards. That said, Tokyopop is investigating a brand-new book format for preschoolers in an effort to cover all age demos, and it will be launching a title for its first preschool property, Stray Sheep, this year.

At press time, Tokyopop was in negotiations with licensors on a few more properties and was working on a couple of titles with soon-to-be-announced partners.

And across the pond, Tokyopop has established a new London-based unit – Tokyopop UK – which will explore the cine-manga format in the British book and retail markets.

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