Tokyopop brings back <i>Bizenghast</i> — what's next?

Remember when Tokyopop shut down its publishing operations? The pioneering manga publisher closed its doors two years ago (although it didn't entirely go out of business), but recently it announced it would co-publish Hetalia as a print-on-demand book with the anime/manga retail site RightStuf.

Now there's another book on the horizon: The eighth volume of M. Alice LeGrow's Bizenghast. Where Hetalia was a Japanese manga, Bizenghast is an OEL (Original English Language) manga, and Tokyopop has struck a similar deal with RightStuf to publish it. The book was originally scheduled for publication last year, and I'll make an educated guess that all the production had already been done, as was the case with several other books.

Which raises the question: What other books might we expect? Daniela Orihuela-Gruber, who was a freelance editor for Tokyopop, wrote in September that production had been completed on new volumes of Maid Sama, Gakuen Alice and Skyblue Shore, all Japanese series. Others were in various stages of production; looking at the books in the Previews order forms for April and May 2011, one could make an educated guess that Vol. 4 of Aion, Vol. 6 of Deadman Wonderland, Vol. 3 of The Secret Notebook of Lady Kanoko, Vol. 13 of VB Rose and Vol. 10 of Silver Diamond would be close to ready to go. With the license fees paid and the editorial work done, these books could be quickly brought into print -- some may have already been printed, in fact.

The licenses are the sticking point, however. Bizenghast is an OEL manga, so the license isn't an issue. Tokyopop was able to come to an agreement with Gentosha, the Japanese publisher, for Hetalia. There are two possible problems with licensed manga: The licenses may expire soon (if they haven't already) and additional negotiations might be necessary in order to co-publish with another company.

Would it be worth it? Bizenghast was a fairly solid seller for Tokyopop; from a quick glance at the Bookscan charts, each volume sold between 4,000 and 5,000 copies when it first came out but fewer than 4,000 copies in succeeding years (i.e. not enough to make the year-end charts). I don't have the 2010 chart, though. Bookscan only covers bookstores, but it's a safe bet that they each sold another 1,000 or so in comics shops. Of the Japanese manga mentioned above, Aion and Maid Sama seem to have done the best. That's just back-of-the-envelope reckoning, though, and the licenses would have to be in order.

Even if these particular volumes are easy to publish, there is the question of subsequent volumes. Is the print-on-demand model going to work well enough for Tokyopop and/or RightStuf to hire editors, translators, and production staff for books that aren't already in the can? If not, why bother to put out one more volume of a series that won't be completed? The answers to these questions will determine whether Tokyopop is aiming for a new publishing model or just looking for a return on work that has already been done and paid for.

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