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The Business of Anime 523

buckminster writes "Planet Tokyo's Talking Anime Business Blues is a great roundup and analysis of recent articles detailing the behind the scenes aspects of the anime business. By all accounts 99% of Japanese anime never makes it to America. Some of the arguments why might surprise you. There are still many in the industry who believe that fan subs are killing the anime market in the US."
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The Business of Anime

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  • by Anonymous Custard ( 587661 ) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @04:09PM (#12953112) Homepage Journal
    The other side of the arguement is that anime distributors won't bother with the US because they have to compete with the fansubs.
  • by lazuli42 ( 219080 ) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @04:18PM (#12953203) Homepage Journal
    Today is the last day that my anime store, Otakurama, will be open. I've felt pressure from many directions over the years, but the two biggest factors working against my business are 1: competition from mass market retailers like Best Buy and Borders, and 2: piracy.

    Number 2 is a big one--I would guess that at least half of my customers download anime from bittorrent. I've had hundreds of people tell me, "oh that series is great!" before it's even come out. Of course, once they download it they don't want to buy it.

    The only anime that sells in my shop are the most popular titles. Anything cool but unusual just sits and rots on my shelf.

    A smaller (but important) factor is that anime publishers change the prices of their products so quickly that discs 'expire' while sitting on my shelf waiting for a buyer. Six months after the last disc of a series comes out they release the entire box set for 50%-66% off. That causes orphans to clutter up my inventory.


    Bye-bye, Otakurama
  • by drskrud ( 684409 ) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @04:19PM (#12953218) Homepage
    I for one don't think you can hold fansubs responsible for "killing the industry." Even if you download fansubs for free, you don't even have the option of legally purchasing your favourite anime until it does in fact get exported. The money that production companies aren't making from fansubs doesn't constitute much loss of potential profit, because it's not a market that can buy the anime anyway - so it's not money that could be made to begin with.

    Like Scott in the article, I'd like to think that I would buy series like Kimi Ga Nozomu Eien if they ever get released here - but the chances of that happening are slim to none as the series hasn't even been licensed and likely never will be. Plus, seeing as how I don't speak fluent Japanese, buying Region 2 DVD's and an all-region DVD player isn't much of an option for me. (I'm pretty sure I can do that in Candada - but isn't that illegal in the US?)
  • I agree (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ZosX ( 517789 ) <> on Thursday June 30, 2005 @04:19PM (#12953223) Homepage
    Too much anime is certainly cliched to HELL and back.

    Blue hair. Check.
    School girls with gigantic breasts. Check.
    Everyone looks like they are 14 or younger. Check.
    Big robots. Check.
    Oversized, western styled eyes. Check.
    Small overly cute inexplainable cat-like animals with blue fur. Check.

    I mean, who is this stuff really supposed to appeal to? As an adult, I find that most anime is waaay to cheesy or childish for my likings. Clearly I'm not going to like Sailor Moon or the millions of copycats. The few good examples of what anime should be are few and far between. The first ninja scroll comes to mind as well as Ghost in the Shell. Cowboy Bebop was fantastic in so many ways. I did like Gundam and yes, even Gundam Wing was SPECTACULAR IMHO. The constant struggles over the validity of war were great in Wing. I also really liked Akira, though I thought the ending was entirely too bizarre and over the top.

    Don't get me wrong. I love the Japanese vision of the future. In a lot of ways, I think they are indeed the most foward thinking people on the planet, but even their concept of what the future will look like is now so cliched, it has become thouroughly predictable. I mean it was great 10 years ago when I first started watching anime, but now I look at the series that some of the anime channels are showing on cable and every single last one of them is terrible.
  • Re:Anime subculture (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @04:24PM (#12953271) Homepage Journal
    That's why Americans don't generally understand anime's unstated backstories, the iconic imagery, the standard storylines. It's not surprising.

    What is still surprising is Japan's embrace of American pop culture, which is of course exactly the same kind of product as anime, with different forms and content. Maybe America's postwar pop culture is more universal, having been produced by and for a population from every global culture, including Japan's. Maybe Japanese culture has more experience of swallowing a foreign culture whole, especially after being "conquered" in a war. Maybe American culture resists influences from cultures other than the "Old World" of Europe and Africa. Maybe it was a unique combination of other factors. What exactly is the difference that makes American culture's foreign popularity a one way street? And does anime find any easier acceptance anywhere else outside Japan, or is America just like everywhere else, puzzling over peculiarly Japanese cultural references?
  • Fansubs++ (Score:5, Interesting)

    by solios ( 53048 ) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @04:25PM (#12953280) Homepage
    All the responses in the thread so far seem to be along the lines of "Fansubs == GOOD" and this is the case to a point... why wait two years to see shitty dub of a series (with commercials) when you can see it now, fansubbed, without?

    If anything, fansubs underscore just how fucking awful most dubs are... though a bad fansub can be just as bad, if not worse. (my experience with GITS : SAC hit both extremes - great voice acting, but a few of the episodes I watched had to have been subbed by a fourth grader who failed english)

    If anything is "killing anime" in the US, it's one or more of three things:

    A. The price of DVDs. Why the fucking hell would I pay 25-30$ for four 22-27 minute episodes, 3-5 minutes of which are credits and intro sequence? This is even more ridiculous with shows like Naruto, which often have many minutes of flashback and shitloads of standing-around-staring-at-each-other.

    B. Dragonball. It's a great example of everything that sucks about americanized Anime - overlong credits, overlong intro, overlong "NEXT EPISODE!" overlong "IN THE LAST EPISODE!" and shitloads of nothing happening in between. If you're lucky.

    C. The complete gutting / hackjob done on several titles in the process of translating them to "fit" the US market. Who the fuck is going to watch a "cleaned up" series after you've already seen the original, undiluted, unedited version? Editing the series to fit a focus group audience is asinine.

    Personally, I dropped my fanboy boner for japanese media a few years ago. I still buy Battle Angel trades, I'll watch the occasional series if it's actually decent (Bebop, Witch Hunter), and I've been waiting patiently for Appleseed V since the 90s.

    Haven't seen much of interest actually make it into the US in awhile.

    But then, it's been awhile since American comics have had anything interesting to say, either - with Cerebus and Transmetropolitan done, the comic shop is nothing but X-men and merch for whatever anime Fox happens to be running this season. It sucks ass, and I'll be damned if I'm going to spend money on crap. :P
  • by Vonotar82 ( 859920 ) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @04:27PM (#12953310)
    Let's postulate a script written by the Anime people over across the Pacific that is specifically made to cater to an American audience? Something like...oh I don't know..."24" done in a realistic, gritty style....but anime. Something thought provoking, not utterly fantastic. Hell, I bet you could do a passable "X-Files" anime series, if you kept it believable. There's a market, it just takes someone willing to do it.
  • Re:Anime subculture (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 30, 2005 @04:31PM (#12953354)
    Warning, incoming fanboy response, take necessary precautions.
    B) Fansubs are killing the business
    The vast majority of fansubs are of titles that have not yet been released in America (that's why they're done by fans), and so there is no English version for people to buy.
    Without fansubs, much fewer people would be introduced to new series, and so sales of the few series released in America would also be much less. With some more recent series, the (relatively) huge popularity of a fansubbed series has lead major TV networks to license and show them in America (Naruto, for example).
    Not that many people in the US are actually interested in watching movies where the women are portrayed as children with blue hair, guys are always "cool" (in a Japanese-thinking sort of way), everyone's eyes go huge and bug out, saliva is everywhere, all the characters overreact, all monsters have tentacles, and the story lines are shrouded in inexplicable nonsense/lack of backstory?
    It has always amazed me that the Japanese can be amazing animators, yet consistently hold to the same tired cliches in all of their animated series.
    I feel like I'm stating the obvious, but like any genre or art form, there are higher and lower quality things within it. There is plenty of awful anime (like movies), that are clichéd, dull and made purely for money (like movies). However I don't think the proportion of good stuff to bad stuff is any different to movies, to stay with the example.

    If you look hard enough, and manage to sift through the awful series, there are some good series to discover. Otherwise I guess anime is not for you :)
  • by lazuli42 ( 219080 ) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @04:39PM (#12953438) Homepage Journal
    Truly I'm not being disingenuous--My convention business will only be part time and I'm eliminating all DVDs from my inventory. Likewise, I will no longer stock anime music CDs. At one point 40% of my inventory was in DVDs. I can't wait until it becomes 0%.

    Taking my show on the road will be part-time work for me. I'll probably make between 6-8k a year as a convention exhibitor which makes it a profitabble side venture but not anything I can rely on to pay all my bills. Yes, that means I'll be taking a part time job (I'll be taking university classes too).

    Of course my home page puts the best spin on it as possible. I'm currently working on an 'autopsy report' to figure out what went right, what went wrong, and how to best approach the business in the future.

    P.S. it's not sir
  • by Jtheletter ( 686279 ) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @04:51PM (#12953555)
    I see at least four posts modded up to +4 and +5 right now that say the reason why anime isn't big in america is because of the odd japanese character stereotypes (ala blue hair, teen oversexed girls, way-out plots, etc). And in the next sentence these people also more or less state that they don't like most anime except for the stuff they see on Cartoon network. Can anyone spot the logical fallicy here? If we're admitting that 99% of anime doesn't make it here then how can you say that the reason is it's all too stereotyped - you haven't seen the other 99% to know!

    Having watched numerous imports thanks to my college's midnight anime club (tho I'm still a newb by msot of their standards, some of those guys learned to speak japanese from watching so much anime!!) I can say that, yes, a ton of it is full of those stereotypes, but honestly, have you watched american cartoons lately? Fully half of it is spinoffs of PPGs and Pokemon. Look, you have to sort through a bunch of crap to find the gems like GITS, Akira, Evangelion, Lain, etc. but that's true of any genre. You can't just say 'well the 1% to 5% I've seen has all these stereotypes so the rest must too!' Part of the issue is that alot of the hardcore anime american audience do enjoy those types of anime (otaku anyone?), so that's what they tend to demand and therefore is what gets imported. As far as fansubbing goes I think as others have said the problem will mostly go away when the studios just realize that the fansubs exist because of demand - provide that product and the fansubs will go away, or move on to the next thing the audience is demanding.

  • by lazuli42 ( 219080 ) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @05:11PM (#12953768) Homepage Journal
    So, what do you think the anime producers could have done to change the effects of piracy

    In my opinion anime publishers needed (and still need) to do four things:

    1. Release anime at a much better price point. I hated having to sell anime at $29.99 a disc, but considering some of the margins I had to work with I didn't have much wiggle room. Multiply that by 6 or 8 and you end up paying up to (or over) $200 for a series. In my opinion they need to charge about $3-$5 dollar an episode and pack 4-5 episodes on each disc. Currently, publishers like Geneon frequently charge up to $10 an episode (3 on a $30 disc). It's just too expensive.

    2. Add value to the disc with extras like posters, stickers, lapel pins, pencil boards, and other collectibles. Those really appeal to collectors and can't be digitally duplicated.

    3. Add value to the translations. ADV has done a nice job with some of their releases such as Excel Saga. The Japanese and English audio are there, but what's really excellent are the multiple subtitle modes which illustrate sign names, pop up information about puns or Japanese idioms, and generally inform the viewer on why the producers have added those elements to the show.

    4. *CRACK DOWN ON PIRACY* A search on Ebay on any popular anime series will bring back dozens of hits for illegal pirate copies. I have had dozens of "customers" who want to buy Cowboy Bebop, DBZ, or other popular box sets and only expect to pay $25 like they would on Ebay. As a small store owner I have no power to crack down on the pirates myself. I've tried to call ADV, Geneon and Central Park to find out what their anti-pirate strategies are but I've never received a return phone call.

    Maybe I should ask a different way: what worked?

    1: Manga, especially in 2004. That was a huge year for me. However Barnes & Noble and Borders began to really stock their manga sections and that put a knife in the belly of my business.

    2: Character goods like toys and t-shirts

    3: Used anime. I didn't do a lot of business in it, but the margins are fat, fat, fat.

  • by identity0 ( 77976 ) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @05:21PM (#12953859) Journal
    Oh come on, that's completely bogus. Obviously there is as much piracy of anime in Japan as there is in the states, if not a lot more so, and that doesn't seem to stop anime companies from bringing out their products over there...
  • by dasunt ( 249686 ) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @05:32PM (#12953962)

    You forgot a biggie:

    Fansubs are not only free, but they are easily available. Right now, I don't know of any place within a 100 miles of me that has a good quality of anime.

    Lets be realistic. The US market requires translation and subbing or dubbing. Both of which (I would guess) can be done for a fraction of the price of creating a new animated episode[1]. Yet the cost per DVD in the stores run $20 - $40, often for only an hour's worth of video (one or two episodes).

    In addition, series tend to be many episodes long. At $40 for one or two episodes, a 20-episode series is over $800.

    If companies want to appeal to the mass market, LOWER THE DAMN PRICE TO SOMETHING REASONABLE.

    I suspect that the current commercial anime market in the US is driven by extreme fans with a lot of spare cash. The fansub market is driven by more mainstream fans who won't dish out thousands of dollars a year just to see a new series.

    A question for non-English speaking /.ers -- when popular US shows are released in foreign countries, how much do they cost per season? Does a series of 24 or CSI cost hundreds of US$? Or is it a more reasonable cost?)

    [1] Hint, hint: I'm sure a few fansubbers would sub a movie for a reasonable cost.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 30, 2005 @06:33PM (#12954847)
    You'll probably never read this, but I can give you a pretty nice account from my life that might help.

    I'm from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We had an anime store called 'Model Zone' importing anime before cartoon network was a commonly known name. I was watching dbz/eva/etc on fansubs and we all had to chip in to order the stuff. It came on vhs. Things rocked.

    The problem isn't bit torrent.
    Here are the two reasons I stopped going to model zone:

    1) Prices. i'm not paying 30.00 for 3 episodes.
    You get 4 episodes on the first dvd, then 3 on each. Fuck that, alright?

    2) Atmosphere - with your pokemon/yu-gi-oh craze, and I don't know if you did it at your store, I'm assuming you did, just like at model zone - You life-drained the city for every penny you could during those crazes, filling your store with crap and ignoring the rest of us. Even if you didn't, the atmosphere in these small anime stores that birthed anime into mainstream - who deserve our money - ruin their stores. We used to have ani-mayhem tournaments and hang around and talk. I haven't been to an anime store lately that isn't run like a suncoast. As model zone is now. If I want to pay 30.00 for three episodes and be treated like crap - I'll goto suncoast.

    Have you ever bitched to a customer about those problems? Bad idea, we don't want to hear it. Stay original and ahead, contact fansub groups and arrange to have titles early, show them on a big screen, and take reservations for the dvd's as soon as possible. Otherwise, close your store cause we can only buy so many wall scrolls.

    Stores with couches become stores with vending machines. No, you can't have a single cent. Go get a job.

  • by EightBits ( 61345 ) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @07:00PM (#12955221)
    You know, I live in Lafayette, IN. I am friends with people who attend anime conventions like ACEN. I do use bittorrent to download anime. I look all over for anime shops to buy good japanese DVDs with subtitles OF THE EPISODES I HAVE ALREADY DOWNLOADED! I travel to Indianapolis regularly. In fact, for about a year, I went there at least once a week. I even recently went there to buy a vehicle. Yet, I have never heard of your store.

    Surely being in the business you have to know that college and high-school kids are going to be your biggest market. Here I am at Purdue University, a very large Big Ten university, only 45 minutes away from Indy, and I have never seen an advertisement on any of our bulletin boards for your store. I don't make it to Bloomington very often, but it's not that far away from Indy either and I am willing to bet you advertised there as much as you did at Purdue.

    Im not trying to insult you by what I said above, but I am actually a little upset. The day I find out about an anime store near me that may have a potentially good line-up of DVDs, I find that it's closing. For god's sake, advertise! Most kids I know around Purdue go to Chicago frequently for things like movies and concerts and shopping. Indy is a lot closer than Chicago and I know way too many people into anime around here. You missed your target audience.

    I know one of the major arguments is that college kids have no money. Don't let that white lie discourage you from taking their money. They haave more than they know what to do with (most of them, anyway) and they WANT to spend it. I work full time, yet I am amazed at how often these kids can afford to go out drinking. I can't afford to drink that much and I don't have any major expenses (minus a car payment and rent.) Your audience consists of the two Big Ten universities flanking your city as well as the other universities nearby: Ball State, ISU. You need to reach out to them as if you are local to them because in the eyes of college kids, you are.

    And hey, any chance you may stay open two more days? I get paid once a month and that happened today. I see your website hours are Mon - Sat 11-7. It's too late to make it there now and actually do any shopping in your store. But, I can leave straight from work tomorrow or even go down Saturday. I'll tell my anime friends (er, read "friends who like anime") and we'll get down their and buy shit.

It is not for me to attempt to fathom the inscrutable workings of Providence. -- The Earl of Birkenhead