Robot 6 on Why Anime Companies Have Been Dropping Like Flies

Yoinked from: Robot 6

Admittedly I’m not really an “otaku” or into much Japanese media besides anime but thankfully a few people I know or follow on twitter are, so it’s a shout out to Faith Erin Hicks for the tip on this article.

Posted on the Robot 6 blog over on Comic Book Resources is a surprisingly balanced analysis of exactly why things in the anime industry are in a state of flux at the moment. The entire post is definitely worth a few minutes of your time, even if you’re not really into anime or manga.

The gist of it is that thanks to the internet, so-called fansubs of anime series’ are being made available (through illicit means) well before established companies or even the rights holders can do the same.

The post takes a good look at this and why certain companies (such as ADV and Tokyopop) have gone south in recent years, namely being forced to market content that otherwise wouldn’t be economically viable as well as being restricted in terms of adapting to new delivery systems.

What it comes down to is this: It doesn’t matter how much it costs you to make a product; you can only charge what the market will bear. The way out of this is to offer the iffy manga and anime at a low cost, which generally means digitally, and put the premium content onto physical media at a premium price. If people just want to get their weekly fix of some second-rate anime, but don’t want a special edition to treasure forever, well, let them watch it via streaming media, sell some ads, and make some money you wouldn’t have otherwise. This also solves the other structural problem in the anime industry, the delay in getting shows to foreign markets, because digital is obviously faster than physical distribution. Just as water seeks its own level, consumers will find what they want. The only question is whether they get it from publishers or pirates, and publishers have a lot more choice than they realize. Most of the people watching bootleg anime won’t pay $30 for it anyway—that’s not a lost sale. But put it online, throw in some ads, maybe paid memberships for the hard-core fans who want higher quality and fresher content, and now that anime is making money from new viewers.

This is the crux of the issue. The reluctance of studios and networks to adapt to the market in order to better serve consumers is the real reason people are becoming “pirates”.

The important lesson is that consumers will do what they want. You can educate them, coerce them and entice them. But at the end of the day, if they can get something that you are either unwilling or unable to provide, they will look to other means, even if it means becoming a “pirate”.

This scenario contains lessons for the American animation industry. Being as expensive and complicated as it is to produce, is it wise to stick to the old, established ways and watch as your customers leave you behind? Why are shows like My Life as a Teenage Robot only coming out on DVD now? Why are they still not online (in the legitimate sense)?

These are all questions that studios and animators should be asking themselves. Are you catering to the changing market, or are you clinging to the old ways? Is that downloaded short film a lost sale? Or is it a sign of an under-served consumer?

The anime industry is just one of many that is undergoing similar issues, they are not unique. What is interesting though, has been what anime companies that have responded have done.

Smart localizers are catching on. Crunchyroll, a former pirate site that has gone mainstream in the sense of going legit and paying its content providers, seems to be doing quite well with streaming anime. Digital Manga has formed the Digital Manga Guild, which publishes enjoyably trashy yaoi manga digitally for less than the cost of a print volume and keeps prices low by using amateur translators. Viz is making the boldest move of all, putting Shonen Jump magazine online at a relatively low price and posting episodes of the top six series in within two weeks of their Japanese debut.

This ultimately means that:

The speed scanners will still beat them to it—for now—but…..manga and anime fans are basically decent and like to support the creators. Given a legitimate, inexpensive alternative, and a bit of education, many if not most will do the right thing.

This is true of any consumer. They are all for the most part, decent. if they weren’t, we would have seen at least on major studio go bankrupt by now. Be nice to them and they will reward you in return.

The Robot 6 post concludes with this great quote:

….by charging champagne prices for a beer product, anime and manga companies are sinking their own ship, and they don’t need the pirates to do it for them.

American studios take note.

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