Over at Shameful Otaku Secret, the venerable Otou-san has been discussing the woes of the anime industry of the past few days, first defining the problem and putting forth some ideas, then asking famous bloggers for their take on the issue. (As I write this last bit he’s putting the final post or two… Do go read, they’re all interesting, well-thought out reads.)
Of course I ain’t one of those featured bloggers; perhaps this has to do with me not even knowing that the anime industry was in dire straits in the first place, although I did hear that Japan’s economy had taken a bearish downturn in the last years. Or perhaps because I made the leap to “anime blogger” a whole month ago, so I’m not exactly world-famous… yet.
But there’s no law that says I can’t jump in, no? So here we go! In the blue corner: the poor beleaguered behemoth studios and licensing companies. In the red corner: evil fansubbers who eat babies for breakfast!
Economists tend to trust Adam Smith’s invisible hand: in any free market of capitalistic suppliers and consumers, the market will unerringly evolve towards a state of affairs that is optimal for all the parties involved and their individual interests. But the anime industry presents us with a couple of difficulties in this regard.
First, the channels of communication are not clearly defined. As a Westerner, no one’s asking me what I want to watch. Why is that? After all, anime fans love to give their opinion and discuss their hobby. Where are the online surveys? The market research? You could argue that it doesn’t concern me — anime is, after all, Japanese cartoons made by and for the Japanese — so why should anyone care what I, a second-class consumer, think?
I hope you can spot the self-defeating mentality.
The second difficulty is that neither anime suppliers nor consumers are monolithic, homogenous groups. On the supplier side, you’ve got the studios (the Japanese companies who come up with ideas and produce them) and licensing companies (who take the studios’s original works, sub or dub ’em, and release them to Western markets). Studios, as abovementioned, are putting out a Nippon-centric product. Meanwhile the anime licensing companies try their damndest to erase the cultural bias so they can turn around and sell these same products to the rest of the world market.
Anime consumers come in an even larger variety. There are collectors, who decorate their walls with figurines, wall scrolls, and complete DVD box sets. There are casual viewers who’ll watch whatever’s shown on the Sci-Fi channel but dig no further. And then you’ve got week-to-week watchers (among whom I’d file most anime bloggers and myself) who patiently wait for their weekly fansub. To compound this variety, all these subgroups spend their hard-earned Western dollars in different ways and for different types of products too!
I won’t lie to you: I do not come riding a white horse and carrying an armful of insightful solutions. But one idea that did pique my interest was the creation of an online medium of distribution for anime shows. Gonzo is trying it this season with Strike Witches and a couple of other series; I admire the effort, but before I’m going to plop down cold hard cash for an official Internet-administered anime fix, I need to see the following features.
- Speed. Arbitrary delays between TV and Internet airing times will lose you 90% of your customers. People will turn to a crappy fansub edited by a ten-year-old girl on her Hello Kitty laptop if your high-definition official version takes a week to hit the virtual waves. Fortunately, you’re at a clear advantage over any fansubbing group: you create the goddamn show. It’s no herculean task to hire a couple of extra translators and sub the damn thing before it airs.
- Payment options. Give me options. Give me a free first episode. Give me the option to pre-purchase the whole season at a rebate, or individual episodes if I prefer. Heck, if you’ve got a cheaper plan where I’ll be bombarded by ads before I can download your episode, so be it, I’m sure many fans will still opt for it. Save the cherished extras – interviews, deleted scenes, etc. – for the DVDs you’ll put out later on. (Video game company Valve regularly features “free weekends” for its most popular online multiplayer games where any schmuck with an Internet connection can download the game over Steam and play to his heart’s content for a couple of days. It doesn’t cost Valve a dime because the servers are player-run and there are no shipping costs to get those hungry fans their game. Win-win for them.)
- Ads. Could an ad-supported online medium work? If you can manage to get some big names aboard, there’s a chance it’d take off. The majority of anime watchers are younger folks who aren’t tied down by a mortgage or car payments. Their pockets are burning with disposable income. If you can get that message across to your advertisers you’ve found the rainbow road to the pot of gold. And what better way to plug your own merchandise?
- No artificial restrictions. Folks with TiVo can record their favorite TV shows. I want to be able to download mine and burn ’em on DVDs. On the other hand, if you make me pay for a window of opportunity to watch each episode, after which it’s gone forever, guess what: I ain’t buying it. Give me the choice between a standard-definition version and a high-definition one. Give me languages. Give me BitTorrent. Do not make me buy your stupid Cosplay Credits or Tokyo Tokens or whatever the fuck your imaginary currency is called.
“But all these so-called improvements will only make it easier for pirates to take our work and distribute freely!” you may cry. To which I reply: so what? Your shows are already available on the Internet for free! Right now the choice for the Western anime viewer is between downloading a show illegally more or less as it airs, or buying the DVDs months later assuming a licensing company does pick up the show. An online distribution scheme would provide a third, versatile option. One that would combine speed, adaptability and power.
Sort of like a Variable Fighter.
Gimme credit for this one, Mike.
Today’s Karen is: PONDERING