Are we on the cusp of revolution?

Justin Sevakis recently wrote a rather interesting article that was posted on Anime News Network. He basically states that the only people who can save the anime industry on both sides of the Pacific are the companies of the anime industry on both sides of the Pacific. DVD sales are way down and there is no appeal you can make to fans to keep them from downloading fan-subs. The only tactic to fight the prevalence of down-loaders is to make their own affordable downloading alternative. Anything else will result in a continued downward trend in sales for American anime companies. The anime companies have to stop blaming the down-loaders and start doing something to give them an attractive alternative.

I agree with many point of his article, but I can’t agree with everything he says. I totally agree with the fact that the Japanese have to embrace digital distribution over the Internet. The music industry was forced into it kick and screaming and they got nothing out of waiting so long. They could have had much greater profits if they had just embraced the idea in a reasonable manner. The anime industry seems to be doing the same things. No one can stop piracy. What you can do is minimize its effects and give people a superior or more convenient product and sell it at a reasonable price.

This article makes a lot of sense. Anime fans are some of the most up on technology fan-bases, just because of the general age range. So you have to use the newest technology to reach them. However, I think it is a mistake to not appeal to fans to look inward about what is going on. I agree that the anime industry is the one that has to do something about it, they have to change, but I don’t think it is right to excuse greedy, impatient, and over-demanding fans that want everything for nothing. There needs to be big changes, on both sides of the fence.

The main problem I see is that the Japanese companies are extremely hesitant to embrace any sort of change. If the American companies can’t convince them to change their minds about downloadable episodes, then there will be no downloadable episodes. When an American company licenses a show from the Japanese, their licenses always clearly state how and where a title can be released. As I understand it, except for a few rare cases like Death Note, the Japanese are dead set against letting their shows be downloaded online. American companies aren’t exactly racing to make downloadable shows super affordable but at least they seem rather interested in the idea.

Ask John pointed out that there are streaming methods of watching anime in Japan but they are blocked internationally. And that is the biggest issue, American fans want to watch what Japanese fans are watching right now and who knows if that will be possible anytime soon. American companies have started streaming and there is are already 10 series available on iTunes. Steps are being taken, good steps, but that doesn’t equate to watching anime fresh off the presses (well you know what I mean).

My main problem with the article is that it seems to imply that if you put an affordable download out there you will stop anime fans from downloading fan-subs and get profits back where they need to be. I think this might well be a faulty assumption. There is a certain segment of the anime community that has and always will refuse to pay for anime. If you could download a whole 26 episode series for a dollar, it would still be too much for them. These fans are almost nonconvertible and not worth talking about. The main problem is without some fear of getting in trouble for downloading fan-subs I think many anime fans will stick with their free alternative because it’s cheaper and, for the most part, quicker.

I have been wondering the same things. Is a $1.99 unreasonable, no. They even have entire 26 episode seasons for under $40.00. Sounds like exactly what the doctor ordered. People on the internet are talking about $0.25 an episode. Sorry but that is insane! Even legitimate network shows don’t sell for that cheap. So, how do you get people to want to pay for something they can get for free? Well, you have to convince them that what you have is better. It is like bottled water. Which I don’t buy, but tons of people do, it is a big business. Companies have to get people to believe fan-subs are inferior again.

Fan-subs on anything popular are out on the Internet within hours of being played on Japanese TV. The quickest speed subbers are often sloppy and unprofessional in their translations, but quality subbers only take a few hours to a day to put out a more professional sub. Can the industry really compete with that rate of subbing? Any fan-sub group that I can think of is a group of amateurs. That does not mean that they cannot do a good translation job, nearly as good as their professional counterparts, but it does mean they are free from certain restrictions and bureaucracy that a legitimate translation would involve.

They aren’t exactly free of it, but they over look it. You can watch just about every new show out this season and no one else can give you that. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. That seems like the only way for everyone to win in this situation, but even if that were feasible, which I don’t think it is, that would take a lot of comprise on both sides of the Pacific.

For a legitimate release, companies would have to pre-license a show sight unseen. They would also have to arrange with the animation studio to get the raw episodes to match the release schedule of a fan-sub group. I’m not sure that without great effort that would be at all possible at this time. If you don’t do that, then a legitimate release will always lag months behind a fan-sub release. That means there are going to be a bunch of people who will take whatever comes first or at least close to first. Lots of times people will download a horrible fan-sub just because if comes out a few hours earlier than a good fan-sub. Those same people will be more likely to download, watch, and refuse to buy a superior legitimate release.

The whole thing comes down to timing and money. Fan-subbers don’t risk any revenue by picking up a dud that only 100 people download but an anime distributor does. And you can’t really blame them for not wanting to do that. The thing that has to happen is for Japanese companies to take up the fan-subbing banner. They would have to release decent (not great, just understandable) subtitled episodes available internationally the next day after it airs on TV. And it would have to be streaming for free with advertisements. In my opinion, that is only thing that can compete. And quite frankly, I don’t know if that is enough. Not to mention that fan-subbers get their raws from Japan, people in Japan uploading. If they want to chomp down on fan-subbers the people they have to look at are the raw uploaders, not the fan-subbers for the most part. If raws continue to appear on the internet, someone is going to fan-sub them and someone is going to watch them. In my opinion, everything really falls into the hands of the Japanese companies. The American anime industry can kick and scream but at the end of the day all eyes are on Japan for turning this around.

The other thing is, I feel on a certain level, one of the reasons people started using legitimate music download services like iTunes was the fear of being sued. I think a lot of people would still be downloading music if it were not for the waves of lawsuits that came out when the RIAA was taking on Napster. There are a large group of people who would pay for legitimate downloads but only if they felt they might get in trouble if they downloaded fan-subs. Does the industry have to crack down on fans to get them to buy legitimate releases or will it just breed a large amount of ill will. Japan seems to have started to crackdown on fan-subbers and scanlators in Asia but how long until they start suing people in America. Should they even try it?

Well, the whole music thing blew up because it was so highly publicized. For weeks you couldn’t go a day without hearing something about Napster and the lawsuits. And even though it was a bit of a red herring, people did feel like it was something they could really get in trouble for. Because you couldn’t turn your back without someone talking about it. And there were even those bunch of young kids that got in trouble. I think if the anime industry were to say throw the whole thing into the limelight, it might make some sort of dent. However, I don’t think anyone cares quite frankly. They would have to get the big guns, like movie studios to join the fray. But then what does that do to the market? I think everyone is being a scaredy cat. They are worried that fans will be mad, and they will be, but I think they will get over it. A bunch of people will say they will never watch anime again, some of them really won’t, but I think most fans are fans because they love it not because it’s free. I mean people still buy music don’t they? I think the industry would also have a better idea of their consumer market, knowing how many people are really out their buying.

After a lot of things I’ve been reading, I have to wonder if fan-subs are really the biggest issue. A number of places now have written that the largest amount of fans prefer dubs. Where does that leave them in this fight? They clearly aren’t the crowd watching fan-subs exclusively. They are the ones buying the most DVDs. So exactly what does fan-subbing have to do with them? I think that the split between fans who prefer dubs and those who prefer subs must be closer than what we’ve been told. For so long is has been said that subbies are the minority, but that can’t be true. Or perhaps we are just the crowd buying (or not buying) niche series. And what about the booming manga market? Doesn’t it seem that many fans have been pulled over to their side? In Japan, there isn’t as much competition between anime and manga but in the states they are opposing forces. I think fan-subbing is a huge issue but there have to many other factors leading to this downfall.

I feel this is a complex issue that has so simple answers. Nothing will stop fan-subs. Nothing will 100% be so cool that everyone will give up free easily accessible anime. Nor do I think DVDs are a dead format for anime as well. Heck, there are still people who collect and trade vinyl records. As long as there is some benefit to an old media, people will still use it. The problem is, the anime industry is dragging their feet. Just because the downloadable episodes are not a perfect fix does not mean it’s not something that need to be done for the health on the industry. If something is not done and soon I think we shall see a significant shrink in the output.

Narutaki Currently!
Watching Glass Mask
Reading Banya the Explosive Delivery Man
Listening to Porno Graffiti

Hisu (Brainwasher Detective) Currently:
Watching Future Police Urashiman
Reading Samurai Deeper Kyo
Listening to Rinbu Revolution by Okui Masami

Top 5 shows I watched fan-subbed and then happily bought after they were licensed
5. D.N.Angel
4. Innocent Venus
3. Paradise Kiss
2. Revolutionary Girl Utena
1. Berserk

3 thoughts on “Are we on the cusp of revolution?

  1. Lothos says:

    This idea of mine would probably hurt the American anime market, but would (possibly) help the Japanese market. It’s a pretty simple idea. Have the production studios in Japan simply have translators on staff who, as an episode is being produced, translate it (and do a good job of it) into english to provide subtitles. These subtitled episodes would be released to coincide with the Japanese airing of the episodes on TV. Now, the production studio then puts those episodes on their website and offers them as streaming video that can be viewed for a nominal fee.

    This would provide fans outside of Japan with access to episodes immediately once they’ve aired on Japanese TV, subtitled in English. No fan subbing group could compete with a subtitled release coinciding with the first airing of the episode. It would just be highly important that both the video quality and translation quality were decent enough to please the average fan.

    Now, comes the downside. First, the American distributors could potentially lose money because fans could get their episodes straight from the source and as quickly as possible. Second, the Japanese studios could potentially lose profits if the American distributors end up not licensing as many series due to the fact that people aren’t buying them here (this all depends on how well this approach works, it could be possible that the Japanese studios actually make higher profits with this method since they take in the revenue of each episode watched on their site). The final part is crucial. The Japanese studios hosting the streaming video would have to enforce strict methods to both prevent their episodes from being illegally downloaded and distributed, and impose penalties on those who illegally download and distribute those episodes. Otherwise you end up with groups just getting the video and then tossing up a torrent and everyone downloading it for free. Of course this could not be totally stopped, that’s why they would need to impose very hefty fines on offenders AND do their utmost to pursue all offenders. Once people get the idea that getting the episodes illegally is a potentially bad idea they would likely feel more willing to dish out the $2 or whatever to legally watch the episode.

    I find it interesting that it seems that many Japanese companies are extremely innovative with the introduction of new ideas, but once those ideas become successful they are highly reluctant to alter the original idea, even if it means that it would bring them more success.

    A perfect example would be the minidisc technology. When it was first introduced it was great and a huge success in Japan and got a fair amount of succes in other countries. Sony developed the ATRAC format and then further improved upon it, offering higher compression ratios with minimal loss to audio quality (it’s actually quite superior to mp3, even variable bit rate mp3s). However, they did everything they possibly could to hold on to that technology and force minidisc users to HAVE to use their format, despite the fact that the mp3 format was obviously the format of choice for the consumers. What happened? iPod took over the world and the minidisc has become antiquated. Sony made a press release saying that they were foolish to leave out on board mp3 decoders in their minidiscs for so long. Their final line of minidisc units (released almost 2 years ago) finally allowed people to transfer mp3s on to their minidisc, without have to re-encode them in the ATRAC format. But, it was too little, too late. Now the technology is pretty much dead, despite the fact that minidisc units offer quite a few advantages to other portable music players (they are still the players of choice for audiophiles and live music fans). All of this happened because the companies behind the minidisc refused to change their original idea, eventually making them fall out of pace with the world around them.

    This…made me a sad panda.

  2. reversethieves says:

    It sounds like a good idea, but as you said, the Japanese are very odd about change. If someone pioneers a successful idea like the one your proposed, it might get popular but it takes one company taking that risk to innovate.
    The other problem is, the Japanese are infamous for having no clue of how to correctly market to America. They would really need some sort of American liaison to make it work; otherwise, you will most probably get a great product no one knows about or a product that does nothing to address American tastes or needs. Toei’s horrible Air Master and Slum Dunk DVDs speak for themselves. Haruhi seems to be doing fine but that’s because Kadokawa is leaving most of the ground work in America to Bandai Entertainment.
    Oh well. We shall see.
    – Hisui

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