November 26, 2007
Continuing to think about my last post, I started thinking about what kinds of things might be done to bail this situation out.
First and foremost, we have to understand that the big problem is in Japan. This can't be solved in R1, though if a solution is found it's going to involve significant changes to how the R1 market is handled.
The animation companies in Japan have got to change the way they handle their own market, especially in how they sell DVDs. Their prices are too high; they've isolated themselves with price to a small market of fanatics. That can't go on.
To help their production costs, they used to go to Korea for cheap labor, but one of the points is that these days it costs about the same to do animation in Korea as in Japan. One answer is to look elsewhere for cheap labor, and it seems to me that the two most likely places to look are China and the Philippines. Myself, I think I'd prefer the latter, but either would be fine. Creating reasonable animation companies in either place and recruiting adequately talented artists willing to work for "moderate" wages is a challenge, but they did it in Korea and there's no reason to assume they couldn't do it in either of those other places.
In terms of changes in R1, the most important change needed is to make releases here more timely. That can't happen unless the Japanese market changes radically enough so that the anime companies are no longer afraid of reimportation, which is why we won't see it until after the revolution across the ocean.
I think the industry would benefit a lot if R1 licensing changed from fee+royalty to a straight royalty basis. But that's going to require a serious psychological shift in Japan, and it seems unlikely. But if it happened, it would reduce the risk for R1 companies, who would thus be willing to license and release more titles.
By far the biggest production expense for R1 companies is dubbing. Cover art for one DVD is a day or two of work for one artist. Subtitling four episodes is two people working for a week and a half. Mastering the DVD is a couple of days work. (He says, pulling all those numbers out of his ear, waiting for Avatar to show up and correct him.) I may be off on some of that, but not very much.
But dubbing is a team effort, involving anything up to 15 people at a time, and it takes a couple of days per episode if you accept poor quality and really rush through it. Try to do a good job, and the expense is huge. Dubbing is also a production bottleneck.
So as mentioned, I think one of the things we'll start seeing is sub-only releases. But I don't think dubbing is going to go away. I think we'll see the market in R1 bifurcate.
Eventually what we're going to see, I think, is dubbing primarily targeting titles intended for cable broadcast, which would also be released on DVD.
You'll also see titles that only come out on DVD, and I suspect an increasing percentage of those will be dub-only. Media Blasters is already experimenting with this, with Ramen Fighter Miki.
It will reduce sales, some, but it also reduces expenses, a lot. I suspect that it is actually a win. Ramen Fighter Miki is a good choice for that because its humor relies quite a lot on Japanese in-jokes which would only really be funny to Americans who know a lot about life in Japan -- and those are also people who either speak Japanese, or who (like me) prefer subs over dubs anyway.
But none of those things can happen until the Japanese companies find the gumption to reexamine their business models in light of the new Internet reality, and change how they do business. That won't happen until a bunch of them have gone under. Then the rest will get the fear of God put into them, and start moving.
(I just hope that J.C. Staff is one of the survivors.)
UPDATE: There's a compromise position halfway between fee+royalty and royalty-only, which is royalty-only but with a non-refundable advance against eventual royalties. But for that to help R1, the advance would need to be smaller than existing fees have been, which presumably would be offset by a larger royalty percentage. Doing that shifts some risk away from the R1 release company to the Japanese company -- but it also increases the market in R1, so overall it's a win.
I'd also like to point out that the very existence and success of the fansub "problem" proves that there is a considerable audience here in R1 for sub-only releases.
UPDATE: It's more fun to yell at one another when you've got facts. I just spent a couple of hours putting together a table showing how long various series took between Japanese broadcast and R1 release, and it's below the fold.
|Title||Japanese Broadcast||First R1 release||by||delay (months)|
|Ai Yori Aoshi||4/2002||2/2003||Pioneer||10|
|Shingu||5/2001||3/2005||Right Stuf||26 46|
|Petite Princess Yucie||9/2002||11/2004||ADV||26|
|UFO Princess Valkyrie||7/2002||3/2006||ADV||42|
|Ah! My Goddess TV||1/2005||9/2005||Media Blasters||8|
|Happy Lesson TV||4/2002||2/2004||ADV||22|
|Crest of the Stars||1/1999||6/2001||Bandai||29|
One of the strange things is that Geneon has been the best, consistently, at bringing out titles fairly rapidly. Most of the titles that came out in less than a year were by Geneon.
But I suspect they had to pay a license premium in order to do that, and that's part of why their business eventually collapsed.
Also, no surpise to see that ADV is the worst.
Posted by: Steven Den Beste in General Anime at
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Not that I've had time to even watch a single series this year, but if there was an ITunes model in place, I'd be more likely to make the effort.
As it is... wait years to spend a lot of money on something I might not care for, sight unseen? That's kinda hard to get excited over.
And while there are a few dubs I really enjoy (GitS, Tenchi, what I've seen of FMA), there are even more dubs that should be burned at the stake (CotS). But then, I don't mind reading my TV.
Posted by: BigD at November 26, 2007 08:10 PM (JJ4vV)
The real problem you run into is that dubbing is death at retail. The big retail chains don't carry sub-only stuff, by and large. Back in the day, when we had VHS, dubbed versions almost always outsold subtitled ones. (There's a few exceptions, including a couple anecdotes that show that even then, fansubs had some negative impact on the market...) These days, buyers for chains like BB or Wal-Mart or Media Play or what have yez aren't interested in a title unless it has a dub on it. So if you don't dub it, more than half your sales go "poof!", before you've even lifted a finger.
(That's not so much of a big deal if you're hardly moving anything through the big-box retailers to begin with. But that's not a market solution, that's just adapting to a bad situation...)
I don't get the "timely" comment, though. I mean, what, is the show getting stale? Are the fans sitting around and waiting until they just can't restrain themselves anymore? Hell no, things are getting fansubbed just as fast as they can do it as volunteers, and the only reason we don't see zero-day subtitles anymore is because most of those volunteers have at least a little pride in their work. (Also because they're generally big groups of people, so time is lost as the episode gets handed off from translator to editor to timer to the subtitle placement guy to encoder to proofer and back... but that's another post. ;p)
That kind of comment makes sense if you're talking years and years to release, but not for only a few months, and not for the "sure thing" licenses.
Posted by: Avatar_exADV at November 26, 2007 09:31 PM (LMDdY)
"Only a few months" for DVD releases in R1 is a very recent thing, and only for a handful of titles (e.g. Haruhi, or AMG season 1). When it happens, it's noteworthy, because it's the exception rather than the rule.
Even today, if a title gets licensed at all (alas, Magipoka) it's usually between 1 and 2 years after Japanese broadcast, and release is delayed another year beyond that. And sometimes it takes even longer.
The more typical case is Magikano, which was broadcast in January of 2006. It was announced for R1 last May, 16 months after Japanese broadcast, and the first DVD of it will be released here in about two weeks, 23 months after Japanese broadcast. As such things go, that's probably faster than average.
Another, more typical, example: Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha originally broadcast in October of 2004. Its sequel, Nanoha A's, broadcast in October of 2005. I hear tell it's being subbed right now. We probably won't see DVDs here for another four months, which would make it three and a half years for the first series.
Whatever that is, it isn't "timely".
If we'all here didn't have access to the material from Japan, then we wouldn't know what we were missing. But we do. And we really are talking about "years and years" in the majority of cases, not to mention "never" for a lot of them. I was really impressed with Dai Mahou Touge. I think it's really good. But I think there's a snowball's chance in hell that it will be licensed here. It was broadcast April of 2006. If we see it at all, it'll be 2009.
It's true, these days, that the fansubbers have become very dedicated and have their processes down and their staffs in place enough so that they can release in a week, if not less. But that's because they've had lots and lots of practice, and plenty of demand. Four years ago I doubt they were that fast.
They've gotten better and faster because demand was great and there was no attempt made by the companies to satisfy that demand. If R1 releases were routinely 4-6 months after Japanese broadcast, which is entirely possible technically (especially if you're talking about sub-only), and if they had been that timely since about 2002, there wouldn't be much of a fansub market, and the fansubbers wouldn't have gotten that good or that fast.
The current situation is like it is because the companies (mainly the Japanese companies) have had their heads up their nether regions essentially forever, and have treated the R1 market as third class citizens. We're the anime market equivalent of "steerage".
And a lot of the reason why so many people are willing to work on fansubs, and are willing to download them, is because they're returning that contempt. There's very little guilt involved in screwing someone else over when they're perceived as actively trying to screw you over.
The reason the situation is dire now for the companies is that they didn't address this situation starting in about 2002.
(Avatar, I'm not down on you about this; it ain't your fault, and I don't want you to feel as if I'm directing any of this annoyance your direction. You're as much a victim in this as we all are.)
Posted by: Steven Den Beste at November 26, 2007 11:34 PM (+rSRq)
The difference is that watching a series a month later, there's a lot of information about it out on the net. You have a pretty good idea of what a series is about, if there are any major twists, if it's any good or not. There's a Wikipedia article out there that includes all the information you would ever want to know about the article.
Compare that to watching a series, week-by-week, as it airs in Japan. I'd argue that the aspect that's missing from DVDs is the element of surprise. There was something cool about watching series like Gurren-Lagann go in a completely unexpected direction. Or the WTF-ness that happened when Haruhi started airing episodes in a random order.
Even the latency imposed by waiting for four episodes to air so you can collect them on a DVD is enough for much of the surprise to go out of a series.
A problem is that there's nothing like TV for anime in the US. Sure, there are anime episodes airing on TV or on-demand. But those often come out after the DVDs, and well after the Japanese release. The zeitgeist has been set, there's no reason to talk about it around the virtual water-cooler the next morning. So there's not the surprise one gets when watching the premier of an episode of, say, Avatar or Battlestar Galactica.
Sure, fansubs are killing the anime market... but I think part of this is driven by blogs, wikipedia, the whole web 2.0 thing... that makes everyone want to talk about the newest stuff. For the anime-blogging would, fansubs are the way to talk about new things, by and large.
As for solutions... probably some sort of itunes like service, which sells episodes cheaply within a day or so of their premier. There's a problem with getting people to pay for series that may surprise them (and not in a good way)... so the episodes would need to be cheaper, or perhaps advertising subsidized.
Posted by: renpytom at November 26, 2007 11:45 PM (vkkAp)
Forget the individual DVD releases. Get it up on iTunes, sub only, within a week of it airing. $2 an episode.
Then for the shows that sell well, do a full season dubbed DVD set.
Posted by: Pixy Misa at November 26, 2007 11:47 PM (PiXy!)
Posted by: Pixy Misa at November 26, 2007 11:49 PM (PiXy!)
Posted by: renpytom at November 26, 2007 11:52 PM (vkkAp)
I've suggested the "parallel development" solution before. Problem is that the Japanese companies operate, more or less, on a "just in time" production schedule (occasionally, not in time... Lost Universe, heh!) Moving the US production before release would shift the production model from initial investment to airing a few months back, which would require radically different capital solutions. Basically, this is short for "the Japanese TV networks who pay for this stuff wouldn't go for it."
At the end of the day, though, I don't know that a sudden amount of "doom and gloom" is called for. The Japanese industry has always been on the brink of catastrophic collapse, the US industry has always operated off tiny margins, and a lot of the business reverses of the latter can be attributed to unfortunate (or, if you're being unkind, stupid) business decisions. On the Japanese end, things would have to get significantly worse before we saw a real reduction in the number of shows, and if you're gonna argue budgets and animation quality, I just lived through Nanoha StrikerS recently (and that was a sequel AND a commercial success, even though at times it looked to have been animated by blind arthritics suffering from withdrawal.)
The biggest problem on the US end is that it changes the business model some. Time once was, it was possible to carry a significant amount of production staff and keep 'em busy, take what hits you could get, and everything would keep rolling. These days, though, there's a limited number of hits and you HAVE to get one, because you can't fund your operation off the second-tier shows. But that means the asking price of those hits keeps going up (especially as the Japanese companies scrap harder and harder to get their share, occasionally in spectacularly idiotic fashion!)
Ah well, I mean, I shouldn't complain. I did finish my degree, and with not a whole lot more work I'll even have it paid for; there's people who take a lot less out of two years of their life. And it's not like I'm starved for anime here either...
Posted by: Avatar_exADV at November 27, 2007 12:07 AM (LMDdY)
- Shows that the Japanese think are hits, but the US market won't go for. Original Gundam. Anything based on a popular ero-game, like Kanon. If the Japanese want the moon, but the US companies don't think it can sell, it'll take time for the market to adjust. (Not least of which being that adjusting the perceived worth to the market value of the show requires that the Japanese company admit the estimate of the market value was incorrect; this value is already on the financial spreadsheet of the show as "income"; thus the admission is a loss. Of course it's not going to get better for waiting, but tell that to the bubble market...)
- Shows that the US companies just don't want. Plenty of stuff is... I don't want to say "too weird to sell", because weird sells just fine. But some shows, for whatever reason, just won't fly over here. I'd say "Koikaze" here, but Geneon actually did license it. (OTOH, Geneon. Heh.) Kodomo no Jikan fits solidly into this category. Nanoha doubtless caught a piece of that too.
Posted by: Avatar_exADV at November 27, 2007 12:14 AM (LMDdY)
And considering how it ended, I suspect School Days won't get licensed.
But I've been surprised before. I'm still astounded that Popotan got licensed.
Posted by: Steven Den Beste at November 27, 2007 12:24 AM (+rSRq)
The thing is, I think most people define "timely" as "the week the show airs in Japan".
That's probably true now. It wasn't true five years ago, and if the companies had responded to the R1 market with 4-6 month release schedules, I think it wouldn't be the case now either, for most people.
But when 10 months is the best we can hope for, and when 18-24 months is more typical, the attraction of fansubs is all the greater.
Posted by: Steven Den Beste at November 27, 2007 12:30 AM (+rSRq)
Posted by: Jim Burdo at November 27, 2007 04:57 AM (/48y/)
Live-eviL started releasing the series but then AnimEigo licensed it, and they stopped subbing it. That was two years ago...and we are still waiting for Yawara! from AnimEigo. And this is for a series which was made in the 1980s.
AnimEigo has a history of doing this; they sat on the rights to Kimagure Orange Road TV for years before they finally got around to releasing it.
Posted by: atomic_fungus at November 27, 2007 06:17 AM (mQRKi)
Back on the subject of business models, AnimEigo is distributing the first disk for free, letting people order up to three copies that they can give to friends. It'd be interesting to see how it works out.
Posted by: Jim Burdo at November 27, 2007 09:19 AM (VXYt/)
Re. Avatar's coments about the pedosmut being rejected, the market has adjusted in all other areas. Lesbians in particular are a-ok, re. Simoun (a sub release, BTW).
Retail, I think, has split or evolved these days. After the anime experiments of 2004, Target, Wal-Mart, Blockbuster in my area have all abandoned anime. Best Buy has shelf space reduced. However, Fry's goes strong. Why? Lots of shelf space, geeky customers, I guess. Fry's will stock subtitled DVDs, no problem.
Posted by: Author at November 27, 2007 09:28 AM (9imyF)
I started watching anime back in 1992, when the only thing available was an nth generation VHS copy of Ranma that you could get from a guy who knew a guy who knew someone that was somehow connected to Artic Animation.
Last week at Fry's Electronics there were two entire aisles devoted to Anime DVDs. The local Best Buys still have a lot of shelf space devoted to Anime. I haven't noticed if it's reduced or not since I rarely buy the stuff; most of what's on the shelf now is stuff I've seen a couple years ago. If the series is good I'll still buy the boxed set (e.g., Crest of the Stars et al., my wife's a big fan of Fushigi Yuugi, and so on)
I imagine in another ten years it'll all be hyperlinks on the web.
Posted by: bkw at November 27, 2007 09:56 AM (bRLba)
A lot of those Geneon titles were actually licensed and localized by Pioneer just before or during the buyout. All the early Haibane Renmei DVDs have Pioneer written all over them. I'm having trouble finding a list of titles that belonged to Pioneer before the buyout. Wikipedia just redirects "Pioneer LDC" to the Geneon page.
(And if the dates are to be believed, Shingu should be about 46 months, not 25)
Posted by: Will at November 27, 2007 09:56 AM (WnBa/)
Animeigo is also a weird outlier - just assume it's not working the same way as other anime companies and that its business model (a) doesn't work but (b) isn't a problem for it. ;p (You know, I actually remember pre-ordering KOR - still have the VHS around here somewhere.)
Frankly, the way School Days ends makes it easier for that show to get licensed. The unusual or shocking will draw attention, some attention will draw some sales, or so goes the logic. Dunno if the show's any good or not (not my cuppa, you know.)
Posted by: Avatar_exADV at November 27, 2007 09:59 AM (LMDdY)
I was thinking about using the first DVD as a loss leader for the box set. Could that work with downloads? Simon Jones of Icarus Publishing put a sample of one of their manga tpbs on bittorrent.
Posted by: Jim Burdo at November 27, 2007 10:55 AM (/48y/)
Posted by: madmike at November 27, 2007 11:17 AM (o+iiH)
You know, theres one factor everyone's forgetting in this discussion of fansubs, and it's the same one ANN always forgets too... so I never bother to get involved in their frothing at the mouth.
Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann part 1
Box Set Japanese Anime Eng Sub
Taiwan made 100% factory DVD. Not China made poor quality DVD!
High Picture Quality! Not low resolution compact disc. Confidence for puchasing with no regret!
Yeah, I'm sure the royalties are going straight back to Tokyo on this one. Or maybe you'd prefer Noir, complete series, for $10.50?
NOIR : DVD SET 1-26 Episodes Complete
What I have here is a 5 DVD set of Noir. PLEASE NOTE: This is Japanese Language/English Sub-title. This is a fan for fan sub, not put out by any retail company. I will say the subtitles are really good and easy to understand. Trust me..
Riiiiiiiiiiight, buddy. I'm sure you burned "just a couple" of those fansubs on your home computer, right?
There is no sense in beating fansubbers up, doing for free what so many are willing to do for profit, and the often unsuspecting public doesn't know better. I picked two really obvious losers out for this sample, but believe me it would have taken (and did take) a lot slicker and more legitimate operation to sucker me. Some folks hold their noses and buy, others just have no idea what they're getting.
Posted by: ubu at November 27, 2007 11:18 AM (dhRpo)
Madmike: saw your post after I finished mine, so I'm doing a double post to answer.
There isn't one anime network on cable, there are two. The problem is they're each run by one of the "import houses." The Anime Network is ADV's and I don't remember who the other one belongs to.
If we had one network, it would be strong enough, have enough viewership, and have a broad enough base of shows, to get on more cable/satellite networks. As it stands, they're each limited to the shows they have imported, and lack the numbers to get past VOD status on a very few digital networks.
Posted by: ubu at November 27, 2007 11:23 AM (dhRpo)
Posted by: Steven Den Beste at November 27, 2007 12:28 PM (+rSRq)
The fansubbers would win for both being legal and getting compensation for their labors. They already are a dedicated lot, but would only be helped in their efforts by being employed at it.
The anime houses would win for several reasons:
1. increased customer base. Fansubbing isn't just in English, it's worldwide, with dedicated fansubbers in French, Spanish, Dutch, etc. Tapping into the established fansub groups would give them instant employees worldwide, with little or no recruiting costs. Fansubbers would be knocking their doors down to get in on this.
2. lowered production costs. No DVD mastering, no packaging, no physical inventory to deal with. iTunes already showed a profit can be made in this model.
3. All those mothballed old shows could turn a residual profit without the houses putting out new effort - I for one would love to get older anime just for history's sake, let alone enjoying them.
4. No dubbing costs. Sorry, all those who love dub over sub - the acting is almost always subpar, and I never have enjoyed them. Leave dubbing for the Miyazaki movies.
The fans would really win in this model:
1. greater amount of product. We've already been discussing how some titles never even get to our shores.
2. the "timely" factor becomes the standard for legal content, particularly if fansubbers are paid to get it out there.
3. price reduction - if the cost is reasonable (USA TV series are about $40 to $70 per season, 22 - 24 episodes. Anime, to be competetive with that, would need to be around $2 to $3 per ep on the download).
4. download legally, AND support the anime house so they can bring you more content.
5. if the price is right, you don't get burned by sight-unseen DVD's that cost an arm and a leg and you don't end up enjoying.
I'm sure there are plenty of legal issues to be picked at in this model, but it seems to me that the producers and consumers of anime would both come out so much ahead in this model, all those issues could be overcome at a profit.
Posted by: WalkerColt at November 27, 2007 12:44 PM (E7lKD)
Ubu, problem with bootleg-hunting is that it's even more thankless than fansub-hunting. You can't shut them down where they live - it's illegal there, too, but the legal establishments where they operate just aren't interested. Stomping out the actual sellers requires either an endless game of whack-a-mole with fake identities, or a series of federal lawsuits, again with no reasonable prospect of recovery at the end. At least the fansubbers usually stop if you ask them nicely! I've often thought that the best way to take care of it might just be hiring some bonebreakers and burning down the factory physically... would've been a fun trip to Malaysia or the Philippines, I think. Ah well.
Sorry I can't comment more on the TV network stuff - it's an area where, perversely, I know enough specifics to be unable to talk. ;p
Posted by: Avatar_exADV at November 27, 2007 01:43 PM (LMDdY)
Posted by: Civilis at November 27, 2007 02:44 PM (84N3w)
Walker, what you have to keep in mind is that R1 is a minor part of the revenue stream for the Japanese anime companies. Anythin which increases revenue here, but loses them 300 yen for every dollar they gain, is a net loss. Until something changes radically, they simply won't take any chance on anything which could negatively impact their bread-and-butter market, which is Japan.
And though we might like to pretend otherwise, there is simply no way the American anime market is going to be as big as the Japanese anime market any time soon. Especially if you measure it in money rather than in viewers.
Posted by: Steven Den Beste at November 27, 2007 03:27 PM (+rSRq)
The bottom line is that the material is the property of the people that created it and they have every legal and moral right to decide what to do with it. Just because you don't like the pricing structure and limited availability of Ferraris doesn't give you the right to steal one off the lot. Subbers and scanslators steal the material because it's easy, they want it, and they want it fast and/or free. There's really no point in trying to polish that particular turd.
I sympathize with fans whose favorite series doesn't come out for three years...or worse, at all. In fact, I sympathize so much that in order to do something about it on the manga end, I sold everything I owned and moved to Japan, spending twenty years producing manga translations and getting them to market. Attention fansubbers and scanslators: Japan is still there. Go for it.
Perhaps someone should set up a site similar to "www.dearrockers.org", where guilty anime and manga fans can send a few bucks to the animation or localization companies they've ripped off.
Posted by: Toren at November 27, 2007 03:40 PM (lylCK)
Toren, yes it's wrong. But even the best of us give in to temptation occasionally. Whether it's right or wrong it's now a fact of life in this industry.
The question is what the industry needs to do about it. They can treat it as a threat, or as an opportunity, or they can ignore it.
I think our argument here is that if they want to stay alive, they have to start looking at it from the "opportunity" point of view.
Posted by: Steven Den Beste at November 27, 2007 03:46 PM (+rSRq)
After what they've done to Shana II, I'm not sure I agree. But then, it may have been the source material....
Posted by: ubu at November 27, 2007 11:10 PM (RZ+MV)
Posted by: Avatar_exADV at November 28, 2007 12:37 AM (LMDdY)
Posted by: Steven Den Beste at November 28, 2007 12:51 AM (+rSRq)
I don't think legal action will help. Even the big recording companies behind the RIAA aren't going after Harvard students fro illegal music downloads.
Posted by: Jim Burdo at November 28, 2007 02:12 PM (7D4xw)
Enclose all spoilers in spoiler tags:
[spoiler]your spoiler here[/spoiler]
Spoilers which are not properly tagged will be ruthlessly deleted on sight.
Also, I hate unsolicited suggestions and advice. (Even when you think you're being funny.)
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