November 26, 2007

On Justin Sevakis' article on fansubs

Original article here. Author's commentary here.

First, it's easy to understand why people worry about fansubs as opposed to outright bootlegs. Sure, there are bootlegs on the market, but nobody knows exactly how many there are - could be hundreds, could be thousands, could be tens of thousands. But with the advent of Bittorrent and publicly available tracker data, it's easy to tell how many copies of a fansub are being distributed... and the morale effect can't be denied. It sucks to work all day on a show that'll get 1000 sales when you know 50,000 people already downloaded and watched the show! (Keeping in mind, of course, that the majority of DVD purchasers are interested in dubs, not subtitles...)

Fact is, the market has been hollowed out by widespread digital distribution of fansubs. That doesn't mean that every single title's sales have suffered; for a handful of very good shows, people will watch it and enough of them will go out to buy it. But for everything else, it doesn't work that way - people will watch a few episodes (or, more usually, the whole damn thing), decide "eh, it was all right", and not spend any money on it.

When I started working in the industry, even a marginal title could be profitable, even if it wasn't VERY profitable - you'd at least make enough back off of it so that you weren't losing money employing the people who were working on it. That's just not true these days. It's interesting that the financials are coming to resemble Hollywood, where a few hits finance a large number of turkeys... except that even the hits in anime aren't hugely profitable, since we're talking about orders of magnitude less in sales.

Is an official release "like" a fansub possible? Technically, yes. I mean, I could do it. The only problem is that people aren't talking about releases "like" a fansub, they want something you can charge for, which requires a huge amount of infrastructure. Personally, I think something like this would work best as a pure promotional tool, for a show that would have no chance here otherwise... say, Moyashimon, running #1 on this year's "this show is awesome but we would never even attempt to sell it" list. Sub it, slap a commercial on there for yeast plushies, set up a quick e-commerce site, and let BT do its magic. -I'd- buy one.

The biggest problem in that respect is the Japanese companies themselves. Let's put it bluntly - they are not adventurous with their business model. They aren't interested in taking a risk. Nor do they want to hear "your show is nice but not something we could get people to pay for." For the above suggestion to function, a Japanese company would have to admit that the US rights for their property are worth essentially zero - which will not happen, period. Something fundamental will have to change in their business outlook for things to change over here.

Posted by: Avatar_exADV at 09:53 AM | Comments (5) | Add Comment
Post contains 507 words, total size 3 kb.

1

I don't think the primary attraction of fansubs is that they're zero-cost. I think the primary attraction of fansubs is that they're current.

I can download a free fansub and watch a show a week after it broadcasts in Japan. Or I can wait anything between one year and three years, and then pay $5-10 per half-hour episode to get it on DVD. Why is anyone surprised that the former choice is getting take a lot?

If R1 DVDs came out in a timely fashion, contemperaneous with Japanese DVDs, most of the popularity of fansubs would vanish. iTunes proved that with respect to music: people are willing to pay $1 per track for downloaded music if they can do so. The attraction of bit-torrented music wasn't really that it was free. It was that it was convenient, and it was a la carte.

Likewise, I think that the majority of fansub-watchers would gladly switch to paying for timely R1 DVD releases if both were available at the same time.

But that won't happen, because the Japanese anime companies want to ream the Japanese DVD purchasers, selling their titles at prices ranging from $25-$40 per half hour episode, if not even higher. (I know of at least one case of $70/hhep.) If they were simultaneously selling the same thing in R1 for $5-$10 per hhep, there'd be a huge bootleg flow of DVDs from R1 back to Japan, and undercut their market there.

So the anime companies will never go for it -- and I think that they're probably right. The increased sales from North America wouldn't offset the reduction in income from Japanese DVD sales, because the only way they could prevent a flow of R1 DVDs to Japan would be to drop the prices in Japan to about the same as what we pay.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at November 26, 2007 12:53 PM (+rSRq)

2

In a hypothetical perfect world where all fansubbers agree to C&D any work on a licensed show, I think the solution is for R1 anime companies is to embed some staff with the studios in Japan, and start gambling on licenses before the first episode airs.

Have somebody over there, with an eye for what's guaranteed to be popular in R1, glad-handing execs and working out deals while a show is still in production.

Start stealing a march on the fansubbers. It gives you a legal leg to stand on if somebody does start distribution after the first airing, and you also get the potential benefit of starting localization much earlier, maybe even with original scripts (Correct me if I'm wrong Avatar, but based on what you've said previous, I get the impression you guys do a lot of translating by ear, rather than from written scripts).

Posted by: Will at November 26, 2007 05:17 PM (WnBa/)

3 I will correct you - pro translations are (usually) done from scripts. It's important to watch the actual show, because sometimes the script isn't accurate (occasionally, wildly so - Nadesico's scripts had entire scenes missing, whole new scenes added, AND a translator who didn't watch the show!)

The rest of it already happened. Plenty of shows have been licensed while they were still in the concept stage. Doesn't make it come out here all that much faster. (There are still real advantages to waiting for the show to be completely through production before starting the translation, after all.)

But Steven's at least half right. Somewhat naive in saying that fansubs aren't cost-driven - come on, people aren't importing copies of Newtype and Megami to read about these shows - but in that the Japanese companies have a big stake in not having US downloads usurp their own DVD sales. Potential solutions? It's tough. Even if you time-limited the download, that's not going to make the files go away, and someone else is just going to distribute it later. (Then again, that's more or less the current situation, so perhaps you could make the "so what?" point...)

Posted by: Avatar_exADV at November 26, 2007 06:45 PM (LMDdY)

4

Just some outside-the-box thinking/brainstorming...

If the licensing companies ever did adopt format similar to the way fansubs operate now (or hell, even in the current DVD-based business model), what if they were to sell the ad-space between the pre-existing eye-catches to offset even a small portion of their cost? But people can skip past that just as easily as they can FF through commercials on their DVR/DVD already. hmm...

 

The aerospace industry has been heavily consolidated to the extent that there are only a handful of independent companies at this point. And when it comes to big-ticket military items like the F-22, you have companies forming teams to compete so they aren't pulling a Boeing (mortgage the net worth of the company on a new design) all the time.

ADV had their TV network project going, but I never really believed they'd be able to turn out enough new licensed material to fill even half a days programming (leaving the rest of the schedule over to infomercials or god-knows what else).

Could you see several companies joining forces to fill most of a days programming on a single network with material only weeks old? Sure there would be arguments over time-slots, but if each licensor focuses in on an age bracket, you could put your violent and raunchy shows late and move the lighter fluff up into the morning and afternoon slots. It could mean a more steady flow of work through the various companies, which should also tend to develop a pool of well-practiced talent.

One of the big drawbacks here though is that now you're up against the same TiVo and other DVR problems the current networks are battling.

Posted by: Will at November 26, 2007 07:28 PM (E3UGR)

5 Most of the comments I could make regarding ADV's TV network are covered by the ol' NDA. Sorry I can't be more specific on that topic. ;p

Posted by: Avatar_exADV at November 26, 2007 11:32 PM (LMDdY)

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