Earlier today, TOKYOPOP announced that they were starting a print-on-demand service for manga. This strikes me as an interesting approach to the manga business, as it offers a few new possibilities for the publisher.

An on-demand approach allows TOKYOPOP to bring titles to print that titles that normally wouldn’t sell, and thus wouldn’t escape from the digital domain. In addition, this would be a perfect outlet for titles that the company cancelled mid-circulation over the years, like Satisfaction Guaranteed, Initial D, or Aria. Given the right schedule, these orphaned series could generate a fair amount of revenue and goodwill from the customer-base.

However, the more exciting possibility in this is that an on-demand approach could lead to a revival of the company’s out-of-print (but still in demand) titles. Titles like Planetes, the Welcome to the NHK novel, and Paradise Kiss could see a new lease on life, with this new opportunity to actually obtain volumes of these titles that are gone, but not forgotten, for a sane price.

The only really sticking issue I can see in this offering is the price. Like most on-demand services, individual volumes are pricey. Each edition is currently retailing for $15.99. While this may be a bargain for some titles, where a particular edition can cost upwards of $50, it certainly isn’t an ideal fit for all series. In particular, TOKYOPOP decided to kick off the service by highlighting Fruits Basket, Gorgeous Carat, and Liling-Po. These are all pretty easy to obtain for under $4 a book, and certaintly don’t show the actual value of such a service. In addition, the actual search interface is pretty terrible. A brief search pointed me to the three titles listed, plus .hack//CELL. There are other titles available, but the site offers no real indicators as to which titles are on-demand and which aren’t.

This approach has the potential to take off. However, they will definitely have to beef up their selection to include a few harder-to-get titles, if they want to be taken seriously by increasingly frugal fans.