Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bang Zoom Draws a Line in the Sand

Eric Sherman, the CEO of Bang Zoom studios (who I've have many excellent dealings with personally) has issued a subtle ultimatum to the fan community regarding the state of the Anime market and what will happen if folks continue to illegally download rather than buying shows on DVD:

From ANN:

"Eric P. Sherman, President and CEO of the anime dubbing company Bang Zoom! Entertainment, has posted an editorial on the AnimeTV blog on Saturday, urging fans to buy anime instead of watching it via fan-subbed videos. In the "Anime - R.I.P." editorial, Sherman wrote that if fans do not support anime by buying it legally, "I can guarantee you that this time next year, Bang Zoom won't be bringing you anymore English language versions of it."

Sherman added in his editorial, "If people don't resist the urge to get their fix illegally, the entire industry is about to fizzle out." Sherman cited the demises of Geneon Entertainment USA, Central Park Media, and ADV Films, as well as the January 2009 layoffs at Bandai Entertainment, as past examples. In a boldfaced statement in the editorial, Sherman wrote that "anime is going to die."

Sherman also wrote about the rise of streaming content online, but added that "so far, there are no successful ways to monetize online entertainment. Not so that creators can afford to produce and distribute quality content."

Eric is absolutely right. The whole theory that Anime could eventually be monetized online in any meaningful way has been dead on arrival from day one. It's just not possible. We've all been able to scrape by until now living alongside the downloaders, the fansubbers, the free streams, the bootleggers, etc. - but the market has deteriorated so far so fast over the past 18 months that the issue is finally coming to a head this year. The R1 industry is at the breaking point and the fan base, as a whole, by their actions, is very soon going to decide it's fate forever.

PS: Of course, anyone in the industry who speaks up even a peep against fansubs and torrents is going to immediately draw the ire of the ignorant. I've been reading over some of the rather humorous thread comments posted after Eric's article. People are saying things like:

"Heh, let the US anime industry die."

"Anime = Not gonna die. R1 Anime = gonna die. get it right"

"It's not the piracy, it’s the overpriced crap."

"Too bad you’re losing your job. But it’s better for the fans who will find other means to satisfy their needs..."

"ITT the bourgiousie trying to wrest back control of the means of production from the workers. One capitalist oppressor down!" (if only he could spell 'Bourgeoisie')

"Just like they say the fans "feel entitled to their entertainment" it seems that the middlemen feel entitled to their businesses"

"No, Mr. Sherman, Anime is dieing because people like YOU won’t change. Guess what existed before your company? Fansubbers. Guess what will exist after your company? Fansubbers."

Man, as a rule I stay out of those threads, but what a bunch of hypocritical nihilistic jackasses. That one guy clearly thinks he entitled to something, but I never have. And I don't even want to know what the other guy is doing late at night to 'satisfy his needs'. Uggg. Those folks are not even fit for the soylent vats... I'm just sayin...


scottfrye said...

I'm surprised he wrote this now. It's like this is a suddenly realization for him. This is something that's been going on for years and years now (more than 18 months). Yes, it's in trouble. It's been for that way for a while.

I feel while he maybe correct on some issues. He is just panicking and wrote more doom and gloom without providing anything helpful to relieve the trouble.

I think its time we quit this blame game. It's not helping things one bit.

Robert said...

I like Eric, and have known him for a long time. He's not panicking, he's just looking at the same graphs and charts the rest of do (the ones that the fans never see) and deciding that he can't be silent any longer.

Though I do agree that it won't help one single bit because neither side of the issue is ever going to be persuaded by these sorts of arguments.

MARl0 said...

I agree completely. And I'm proud to say that I've never watched a fansub ever. All of my anime viewing is done by watching DVDs and BluRay that I buy with my own money.

It's silly for people to expect everyone who pours their hearts and time into making and producing anime, to do it pro bono. That'd be like me expecting Hollywood or videogame companies like Nintendo to make their movies and games for free, and never get paid a penny for doing it. Like fans are just entitled to their products.

Baru said...

Why are so many anime "fans" these days so ungrateful and spoiled by the internet? It's really sad and idiotic for them to act this way... Why do they hate R1 so much?

Jeffrey said...

To be perfectly honest, I've largely quit anime not because of anything the R1 companies did, but because much of the anime being made... sucks. The source material is often just bad. Japan =/= automatic good.

Many series simply fail at telling a satisfying tale from beginning TO END. The sense of overarching story has given way to Western-style status-quo-is-God episodic filler. It may be just me, but it's been a long time since I saw a series with what I would call a coherent, satisfying ending, never mind the number of series that could be vastly improved by cutting their episode counts in half.

Even for the less serious story-driven harem/fanservice shows, the studios persistently recycle the same whiny, incompetent male lead, which certainly doesn't help.

Jeffrey said...

Arg, and forgot to add:

My anime consumption has dropped dramatically, but my manga habit has substantially increased, so my complaint is really focused on anime specifically.

Unknown said...

I've always been in an interesting position regarding fansub vs. retail purchasing.
Since the 56k days, I've watched fansubs. Horrible quality compared to now, but I did it because I love anime. As soon as DVD entered the R1 anime market, I began purchasing the series I enjoyed. At present I have quite the sizeable anime collection, legally purchased and very proudly displayed. I WANT to support the industry because I WANT to OWN the anime I love. I'm always going to watch fansubs though. Here's why:
1-You get the shows a few weeks behind the Japanese airing, and with great subtitles (as long as you pick the right groups). I for one love the karaoke OP and ED, color-coded (one color per character) text, and the nice footnotes some groups add.
2-The R1 industry has NEVER had a good preview/review/sampling system for anime. People I know that don't watch the fansubs have NO IDEA what's good or not. I personally wouldn't have such a huge legal collection if I never started watching fansubs. Some people go out and buy some random anime because the art looks good only to find out they wasted their hard-earned money on garbage.
3-A recent reason; HD. All I watch now is 720p and even 1080p anime. I have been DYING to BUY HD anime in stores, but there is nearly nothing available. Full Metal Panic: TSR BD, I own. It's more accurate to say I re-purchased it on blu-ray since I own the DVD version as well. But what else is there? Samurai 7? A handful of mediocre movies? I refuse to buy anime on DVD when I have seen how spectacular the HD versions are.
Shakugan no Shana 2, Code Geass, Darker Than Black, Toaru Majutsu no Index, Toradora!, K-On!, Jigoku Shoujo, Gundam 00, Kure-nai, Minami-ke, Nabari no Ou, Shangri-la, RD Sennou Chousashitsu, Soul Eater, Spice and Wolf, Toshokan Sensou, Valkyria Chronicles; just a SMALL sampling of anime I'm desperate to OWN. I think it's a downright discrace though, that I have to suffer with SD quality if I want to purchase them.
4-I don't care if it's dubbed. I DO care about the quality of the subtitles. I've had to endure the cra* yellow blocky text on my DVD's, and I DO because I love the anime. With Blu-ray now, I don't really see why I can't get quality subtitles; regarding both the translation and the visual aspects. Is karaoke OP/ED sequences so hard? Is anti-aliased, non-harsh colored subtitle text so hard? I think not.

To sum it up, I am an avid fan of anime. I watch fansubs like I watch my American TV shows. I BUY my anime like any other TV show (boxset, full season), and I EXPECT the quality of what I buy to be the best (i.e. Blu-Ray or bust).
I WANT to own all these great series. I want to support the R1 industry. I do not think it fair to settle for low quality DVD's. I do not think it fair to buy blindly.
Are there lots of blatant thieves out there only watching fansubs? Yes. But don't act the victim when the only thing made available to paying fans is outdated/low quality or a re-relase of a re-release.

Robert said...

Unfortunately one or two good fan's desires does not an industry make. There are many who download fansubs and then buy once available. Nothing is being directed at those folks. How do you think we screen series that haven’t been published in R1 yet so we can answer questions about them?

But there is a VERY large portion of the Anime viewing population now that simply think that only rubes ever pay for Anime. They look at fans who buy DVD's, or even paid downloads, as suckers. Just overlay con attendance over the last 5 years with a graph of the overall market for R1 releases. Con attendance is up, but revenue has been dropping like a stone. There is only one explanation for that. All those new fans are getting their Anime from somewhere, and it’s not a store. When we start to see numbers that demonstrate that for every Anime episode sold 18 or 19 are downloaded for free and will never be bought, you start to wonder why you should bother to expend any resources on this industry at all. I hate to say that, but there it is. The shift to Anime freeloaders, the ones that pay nothing and piggyback their habit off the few that do has just shifted too far.

So just remember, every time you buy an Anime episode, there are 19 other fans out there that think you’re a rube. Don’t believe it? I meet them at cons all the time. They are everywhere. Don’t blame the industry. Those guys that are stealing everything have created a business environment where it is impossible to give customers what they want and succeed. It creates the sort on environment where, over time, talent and effort gets redirected to more friendly (and more profitable) venues. What’s left of the R1 industry only exists today because many of the business people that show up to work everyday love the product, and love it enough to make irrational decisions about what they should be doing everyday.

Frankly I can’t imagine what the industry could ever do for those folks to convince them to buy Anime. And the downloaders only hurt other fans in the end. All the business people will just go and make a living doing something else. We don’t want to, but we’ll be fine either way. It’s just ashamed that there is such a sense of digital entitlement today that you can’t make people understand even if you hit them in the head with a 2x4. God forbid anyone actually has to ‘go without’ rather than just steal something. And why should they? What a ridiculous notion! Everyone else does it. Right?

I’ve heard every excuse and don’t buy any of them. I told a gal at a con one time (after we had talked a bit and then I told her who I actually was) that every time she torrents a show, she takes a little food right out of my kids mouth. She looked at me like she could not even imagine that it could ever hurt anyone. You wanna know who it hurts? It hurts me. But I still come to work every day. God help me, but I do love it so.

Unknown said...

Sherman is right about this. The R1 anime industry can die, but it's not all the fault of fansubbers and the like. Most of what I've seen fansubs of are series that are in Japan now, some of which may get licensed in R1, and some that will not. From what I understand, maybe 90% of fansubbers stop subbing a series once it's licensed in R1; of course, there are the buttheads that still will and they live in said region. Still doesn't make it right though.

Interestingly enough, because of fansubs, some of the recent anime series (going back to 2006) had high download rates when the series were being broadcast. I'm not so keen on this, but those numbers may have played into getting these anime into the R1 marketplace. I can honestly say that if it weren't for fansubs, I wouldn't be buying some of the new series on a whim, and I buy every series that I've had a fansub of, but I'm one of the rare ones. That being said, having them float out on the internet even after licensing can lead to problems.

Then again, I believe that Sherman can't completely blame fansubs for Geneon America, ADV, and CPM's demises. Other business had something to do with them going by the wayside. What happened to Geneon, I have no idea, but the parent offices would know, and ADV had their hands in too many pots. I'll just say this additional thing for fansubs: some of the people I know on campus at our club wouldn't be into anime if it weren't because of fansubs. I heard from some that the reason they keep fansubs is because of sub-par dubs, but they're just being nit-picky.

But now, the real work starts. If the R1 anime industry is to strive once again, it will need to change somewhat. I'm glad to see more of a movement away from the volume-by-volume model, as you have stated before. I also see Viz and FUNimation taking advantage of digital media, something that will eventually be pretty profitable given some positive economic moves in the future. Furthermore, fansubbers would have to be beaten at their own game, legally, and we're starting to see that from FUNi. Heck, they've gotten Crunchyroll to come over to the right side, much to the chagrin of others. Also, moves have to be made to get fansub followers to buy licensed series and stop getting them after they're licensed in R1.

Look, I believe that you're not going to get rid of fansubbers completely. However, you can limit them by drawing more than just a line in the sand. Limit where they go and get the fans to buy the anime again. Believe me, if Sherman closes his doors, then we'll be losing a quality institution in the industry, and that would just continue the cycle until it collapses.

Starcade said...

It's over.

It's all finished.

The fans have made their decision, and (largely based on the same proportion you gave to me 18 months ago) it's pretty clear that R1 is finished, Japan soon to follow.

And these jackasses who populate the fandom (who badly need a punch in the balls if I've ever seen people who do...) will laugh at their demise.

As I said to them: They don't want anime on our shores -- and they don't need it anymore, either.

Think: How much "new product" do they need if they drive the anime business under and still have all the stolen stuff on the Internet?

Unknown said...

I read the articles and all the posts, and I find it quite disturbing. I'm not going to say I have not watched any fansubs, but how does anybody expect to get something for nothing.
Anyone can expect dvd sales to go down. We are in a recession. Unemployment is still close to 10%. People are not going to spend as much money on anime. I don't spend as much money on anime as I used to. But, do these people realize downloading it for free and not buying it at all is what got the R1 market in this mess in the first place?
I wonder if these people realize that it also affects the Japanese anime market, as well. I'm sure that when each animation company makes a movie or show. They take into consideration who they can market it to. The more areas they can market it to the more money they can make, the more shows made, and the happier the fans. We've already seen the results of this idiocy on Gonzo. They're gone, bye-bye. If they keep this up, they will have to do without.

StevieC54 said...

Most of the cause of the downfall of the R1 anime industry is self inflicted. First there was the price fixing scandal with the inflated retail prices that brought. The model worked for a while but like all schemes it was bound to fail and it did a few years ago leading to the demise of the leading anime publishers. I believe criminal charges were eventually filed. There is the failure of R1 anime executives to keep a back catalog of good selling titles to insure longevity of their company, just like a recording company keeps a back catalog (how many Led Zepplin albums have been sold since the band broke up?).

Perhaps the worst thing the R1 anime industry has done is to bring over vastly inferior series that fans like myself have no interest in veiwing or aquiring. I seriously started doubting their collective good taste when Yu Yu Hakusho was so heavily promoted. I do not hold that series in high reguard. Where is Nagasarete Airantou? Where is Maho Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS? More recently, why hasn't anybody licensed Tokyo 8.0, one of the best animes of recent seasons. Thought provoking, serious, adult in nature.

Oh, and while I am at it, how come nobody has jumped on K-ON! (!!) to license it in R1? It was as big a hit as Suzumiya or Lucky Star. Geez. :-|

To attempt to blame fansubbers for the industries short comings is bogus.

The last times we heard misplaced blame like this was MP3's. Previously we went through the music industry blaming dubbing CD/DVD decks for their problems. Before that, it was the cassette tape that was going to put the music industry out of business. It just never happened, did it?

I admit it, I'm an unbased fansubber. Howver, of all the series I have funsubbed over the years, maybe 10% have been released in R1 format. Of those, about half have yet to see the street. Of the remaining, I have aquired most, if not all, of the R1 releases of the series I like. Series that I would have bought on DVD if I had seen them on broadcast television.

One thing you must remember is that anime, out side of OVA's, is television, freely broadcast. If you like a series, you watch it. If you like it enough, you buy the DVD's when they are released. Fansubbing is simply an alternate way to be able to watch Japanese televisioon around the world.

PS: think we'll ecver see Moetan release as an R1 anime? Dream on. Oh, and why is it taking so long for Kannagi to make it out?

And PPS: Fansubbing has been around for decades, longer than the R1 anime business. Before the Internet, it was VHS via snail mail.


Robert said...

First there was the price fixing scandal with the inflated retail prices that brought. The model worked for a while but like all schemes it was bound to fail and it did a few years ago leading to the demise of the leading anime publishers. I believe criminal charges were eventually filed.

That's got to be one of the nuttiest ideas I've ever heard.

There is the failure of R1 anime executives to keep a back catalog of good selling titles to insure longevity of their company, just like a recording company keeps a back catalog (how many Led Zepplin albums have been sold since the band broke up?).

I'm sorry StevieC54, but you don't have the first clue about how the Anime business works, and shouldn't be trying to tell other people how you 'imagine' it does.

Starcade said...

As far as the "other guy", Robert:

Look at a lot of the product you sell in figures and a lot of the product over in Japan.

That's probably what he does late at night to "satisfy his needs".

Starcade said...


Price fixing scandal?

If it takes a price of $50/disc to cover the costs with the expected number of sales, they should have the right to place the price there.

P = C / S

Price = Cost / Expected Sales

That's why I had no argument with BVUSA's price points. They saw far fewer would pay than could support most of these major projects at even the OLD prices.

It just meant I could not be in the BVUSA fandom.

Back titles DO NOT ensure the longevity of an anime company, with basically only one or two exceptions. You would need new content to keep your old customers coming back.


Robert: You're right -- his idea on the "price-fixing scandal" is nutty, but it does raise an issue:

If the fansubbers are right, then what real right do you have, as a retailer, to sell the product which is worth a big fat zero and would be misrepresentation to the public to assert otherwise?

The easiest answer, of course, is that they are wrong.

But the point is that the entire existence of your store is predicated on that the stuff you are selling actually has a non-zero financial value -- and that can only be done through enforcement.

Robert said...

Back titles DO NOT ensure the longevity of an anime company, with basically only one or two exceptions. You would need new content to keep your old customers coming back.

Most people outside of retail don't realize that any particular Anime release sees almost all of it's lifetime unit sales (and revenue) within the first 120 days after street. Maintaining huge back catalogs and inventory is something we all do as a service to the fans (at least, we do) but has never been profitable due to the carrying cost. Hell, we keep old stuff in stock that might only sell 2 or 3 units in an entire year. It’s part of our value add in my mind.

If the fansubbers are right, then what real right do you have, as a retailer, to sell the product which is worth a big fat zero and would be misrepresentation to the public to assert otherwise?

It's a dumb argument about any product. It's just like hippies who want to go to the 'free store' to get ‘free’ shoes, and when they can’t they wonder why the people that make shoes don't just do it for free as some sort of wonderful ad hock contribution to society. That's how people think in fantasy land. That's how people WANT to think when they want something but don't want to pay for it.

If there was no value in something, it would not be made. Most Anime is created initially to sell advertising on TV, so a property's 'value' is the sum of ad revenue, DVD (and paid download) revenue, spin off merchandise sales, alternate revenue streams, and the joy it brings to it's viewers. If downloaders were right and there was no intrinsic value to the intellectual property, then it would never be created in the first place. Come on people, we don’t live in lala land.

The easiest answer, of course, is that they are wrong.

Of course they are wrong about that. Some fansub fans seem to simply hate the existence of an Anime ‘industry’, like the Anime they feel entitled to should just spring out of holes in the ground (you know, like dwarves do). But no one (outside of Japan) is getting rich in this business – I can tell you that right now. On the contrary, most of us are struggling like hell just to stay above water so we can keep doing this. I’ve got my ENTIRE net worth, the future prosperity of my family, and all my future hopes and dreams tied to this industry. Of course I want it work, and no one is going to lecture me about it that has no skin in the game. There was a time when fansubbers probably did actually help the industry by making the existence of Anime more widely known and helping budding studios gauge the potential demand for said products, but those days were many many years ago and the argument is no longer valid.

But the point is that the entire existence of your store is predicated on that the stuff you are selling actually has a non-zero financial value -- and that can only be done through enforcement.

Enforcement is impossible, counter productive, and thus will never happen - i.e. Eric's point that the Anime industry will eventually die out. I don't believe that for a minute, but it could be diminished to irrelevance - which will be ashamed because some of us enjoy it so much we feel like it's value is more than 'zero'

StevieC54 said...

One of the problems with the internet in any form is that it is temping to publish something before it has had a chance to fully digest and mature, a heat of the moment type of situation. I know that I am very guilty of this.

Anyway, seems I stuck a nerve and if so, I do appologize for that.

Perhaps my choice of words, i.e., price fixing, was a misuse. What I was refering to was a couple of years ago some major players in the anime industry got investigated for comspiracy, maybe collusion is a better choice of words, to set licensing fees as I recall. Pioneer and it's successor, was a major player and is one of the reasons they got out of the anime business. At the time I believe it was derrogatorily refered to as "Japan pricing to the world". This was at a level much higher than retail, which is normally where the term price fixing is used if I am not mistaken. I read about it on a mailing list from an anime shop in the US and it could have even been the RAC mailing list. Maybe not.

Does this ring any bells?

I hope that expalins my use of the term.

What I really can not accept is the anime industries attempt to blame all their problems on fansubbers while not admitting any problems faced are of their own making. I refered to MP3's and the recording business's attempt to blame all their problems on Napster, etc., when they had their "problems" a few years ago in an earlier follow up.

I'll leave a final thought. When one considers copyright infringement, the entire doujinshi industry is a massive copyright infringement. Such lifting of characters from copyrighted material for use in a publication by someone other than the original holder of rights would never be tolerated in the US and I am sure other countries as well. Look at what Disney does with Mickey Mouse. Perhaps doujinshi authors pay royalties to the original authors, such as what undoubtedly is the case for Star Wars & Star Trek novels, to name a few, but I suspect this is not the case in Japan. I really do not know and would like to know that answer. The impression a gaijin gets is that doujinshi is tolerated and perhaps even embrassed by some original authors whose characters are lifted.

This is the lead the anime industry should follow when it comes to fansubs. Fansubs are a long established practise, should be tolerated, pretty much ignored, not attacked.

IMHO, attacking fansubbers has the odor of scape goating.

When I hear of such attacks, it does cause pause for thought, that thought being, do I really want to do business with a concern that levels such attacks? Talk about unintended consequences.

Thank you for reading this.


Unknown said...

I won't comment on the "price fixing" thing; SteveC54 got reamed for that good enough.

The thing that I see a problem with is equating fansubs to doujinshi (or doujins for short). Doujins are basically fan fiction manga that have no connection to the original plot of said anime or manga, instead focusing on relationships between characters and "what if" scenarios (mostly of the hentai variety). Fansubs are basically taking the same show with which a R1 anime licensor/distributor would make money off of (if they choose to license it) and subbing it without paying the source anything.

Now, as I have been told and researched, fansubs were done to spread the word of anime back when it was obscure and on $30 VHS tapes. Now, they mostly come up in HD of various resolutions and are either poorly speedsubbed or damn-near professional subbing by select groups.

The problem that the industry sees is the nature of the community. Usually about all R1 fansub groups cease to sub a series if it's been licensed in this region (I should add that BD region A would give these licenses more power behind them); most groups don't consider Crunchyroll legitimate since no DVD/BD product would hit the stores through them. Others will just keep subbing until the series is done, because they clearly don't care if they come across as d-bags or get caught. Fansub groups in regions other than 1 & 2 (or A) will continue otherwise, unless provoked to stop. If it were easy to stop fansubbing after this, they wouldn't legitimately whine about them; still, the R1 anime industry has their own problems as well, contributing to the current predicament of the industry.

Again, I have them and I will continue to buy any series that I keep as a fansub (mostly through Robert's business) when it gets licensed. But, there aren't many people like me that will keep the industry's head above water, nor does it seem like there are enough fans that are wowed by series just by seeing the trailers alone anymore. You have a big swath of the fan base that are, practically, fans in name only. They think anyone buying DVDs and BDs are rubes that are getting fleeced (frankly, they think anime just grows off of a tree at the foot of Tezuka's grave that's watered and fertilized by the works and presence of Miyazaki, Masamune and other greats of anime. If they can get these people, the industry may be able to steady itself. Otherwise, they have to keep working on the digital media aspect here and now.

We'll see what happens, but I predict that if Sherman really does close Bang Zoom!, the industry will struggle greatly, since most of the casual fans like professionally-done English dubs. I'll keep thinking positively, while keeping a practical outlook on the R1 industry.