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TOKYOPOP on Publishing in Japan

An exclusive interview with TOKYOPOP editor Lillian Diaz-Przybyl about Tpop's latest venture in Japan!

So as I recently reported, TOKYOPOP has licensed some of its manga out to Softbank, who is publishing the materials in Japanese. I sent off some questions to the company, and editor Lillian Diaz-Przybyl just got back to me fresh from looking at the sample books to answer those questions. Enjoy!

Anime Vice: So, my biggest question is: flipped or unflipped? Have sound effects been left in English or translated? Are there translation notes?

Lillian Diaz-Przybyl: "Unflipped"--Dramacon & MBQ read left-to-right, the way they were drawn and published in the US. In the End is right-to-left, because, for whatever reason, a lot of the German artists wanted to draw backwards. The sound effects are in English (with little subtitles below in Japanese)--no
translation notes that I noticed, but there are new letters from the authors in the back, just for the Japanese release. (Svet's is super cute!)

AV: What is it like being in the role of the "approver" instead of the role of the "localizer"? Is it nice to see the other side or is it a pain?

LDP: We've actually been doing foreign editions of a lot of our OGM from day 1--Dramacon, for instance, in available in German, Finnish, Russian, Hungarian, Turkish, Spanish, French, and I've lost track of what else. So we've been acting as "approver" for a while, really. But honestly, there isn't much to do. There are some general rules that licensees are supposed to follow, so I pretty much just check to make sure that everything's in the right place, names and titles are spelled correctly (which can be a challenge for languages with non-Roman alphabets--and Dramacon is "DraManga" in French, since "con" is a mild swearword of some sort, or something?). I've gotten a couple of translation questions (mostly from our German office), but I only barely have enough Spanish to appreciate that translation, let alone Hungarian. (Svet did get to review the Russian script, though. :-) )

But it's super, super awesome to see a foreign edition of anything you've worked hard on (it's getting shared world-wide!!), and it's an extra treat to see it in Japanese, since we were pretty much all originally inspired to do what we're doing by what was coming out out Japan.

AV: How will we know how well the titles are doing? Short of it appearing on Oricon's top-seller list, anyway-- or maybe some doujinshi appearing --will TOKYOPOP report on how it's sold at all?

LDP: That's a good question that I don't entirely have an answer to. There isn't really a Bookscan for Japan the way we have here (beyond Oricon, as you mentioned). We usually judge foreign sales through royalty reporting, but it's going to be a while before we get any of that. As for how we make it public and promote it... That may be more of a question for Kasia. :-) If you left it up to me, these would all be the "best-selling Original Global Manga in Japan EVER!" That is, until we hit #1 on Oricon, which will of course, speak for itself.

AV: New manga in Japan often gets noticed thanks to being in an anthology with similar titles. If TOKYOPOP's titles are coming out in tankoubon format from the get-go, they won't get that boost. How is Softbank marketing the titles to ensure that it gets picked up? Has Tpop given them any advice on the matter, since almost no manga gets the anthology treatment here in North America?


LDP: Well, while these series haven't been serialized in print magazines, these editions are based on cell-phone manga that our Japanese branch was running for several years. So these series (plus a good chunk of the rest of our library) have been out there for consumers to enjoy and get excited about--just not in Shonen Jump or Hana to Yume. And to be honest, I wonder how much the magazines really drive book sales beyond the top few brands. Felipe having a series running in Morning 2 is obviously fantastic all around, but I think curious consumers who are looking for something new and different will find these titles just fine. It'd be awesome if Dramacon suddenly outsold Fruits Basket, but one of the benefits of the Japanese market is that the pressure we get in US publishing to sell in big, and then sell through big (and fairly quickly), lest you face painful returns, isn't really there--I think this is a more modest first step, and our expectations are correspondingly modest. The fact that it's happening at all is exciting enough for me, really. :-)

I'm sure you know this already, but Japanese bookstores organize everything by imprint and publisher, rather than in genre categories, or just plain alphabetically as we do here--so these three titles will be in the Softbank section of the shelves. The spines have the TP Robofish on them, and there's a bit of additional branding on the back saying that these are "Neo Manga," with a little flag for the creator's nationality. Where we took pains to emphasize that everything TP was the same ("manga"), regardless of origin, the unusual source is a bit of a selling point in Japan, it seems.

But no, we didn't really give out any marketing advice--the Japanese consumer operates differently than the American consumer, and the Japanese retailers are different from American retailers. We trust that our partners know best how to reach their target audience. :-) How they arrange for books to get shelf placement (face out on the tables, etc.), whether there are ads in the anthology magazines, or whether there will be shelf-talkers to draw attention to them (I believe so, but I'd have to check with my counterpart),
that's all up to Softbank.

AV: Can you tell us what other titles are in the process of being sent to Japan, or are being considered for it? If not, can you tell us if there ARE other titles in the works, or is Softbank waiting to see how these sell?

LDP: This is a bit of an experiment--like I said, we've been doing cell-phone manga in Japan for a while now, but this is a newer, bigger initiative. There are other titles in consideration, but as you may guess from the initial series selection, I think we're all curious to see which flavor of TOKYOPOP catches on. :-)

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