In Response to The Fansubbing/Piracy Argument
This post originally started off as a really long comment in response to: [Sankaku Article] (NSFW-Site)
Because this is very text intensive, I will trick you by including lots of images.
Also, don’t worry, I’ll be translating songs soon enough again ^_^.
First of all here is a comparison of Japanese anime in Japan to American shows in America.
1. Japanese (Late-Night) Anime v. American (Prime-Time) Television.
・Japanese anime sells at a very high price to a small market willing to pay.
・American companies aim for low prices (also free) to the largest possible market.
・American shows make most of their revenue through the ratings/advertising system, via broadcast.
・Japanese anime (excluding a few like pokemon) are not-watched by (or outright despised by) ~90% of the population, pay a large fee for a time slot when no ordinary person is awake (and thus cannot make any money via advertising), and uses all of their advertising slots to promote themselves (through OST/DVD/BD etc.) In other words, Japanese anime loses a tremendous amount of money by airing on television, itself an advertisement for product and DVD sales.
・Because American shows don’t look to DVD/episode sales for revenue they are extremely inexpensive. (Example: Bones via iTunes (~46 min/ep: Rent (or HD download from Amazon.com):$0.99/ep SD:$1.99/ep HD:$2.99/ep Physical DVD set for S2: $59.99/$31.49 on sale @ 917min // $0.065/$0.034 per min $3.00/$1.58 per episode)
・Because Japanese shows look to DVD/episode sales as their primary source of revenue, they are extremely expensive. (Example: Haruhi S2 DVD (2 disks/2 episodes) 4,830円($58.7675)/3,829円($46.5881) @ 43 min // 112.325円($1.367)/89.046円($1.083) per min 2,415円($29.38375)/1914.5円($23.29405) per episode /// Haruhi Boxed Set BD (S2006+2009): 39,900円($485.475)/29,526円($359.305) on sale @ 650 min // 61円($0.747)/45円($0.553) per min 1,425円($17.338)/1054.5円($12.832)/ep) (Note: I saw no DVD boxed set of the whole thing).
・If we’re to use my example, in this case Anime in Japan, costs per minute somewhere around 11.5 to 21 times more expensive, using USD as a medium. (屮゜Д゜)屮
・From the perspective of Japanese companies this means that the Americans want to devalue their product to a similar degree to make it sell. I’m sure they’re not happy about that. Localization companies carry the weight of translation, dubbing, and marketing – driving up the amount of work and money spent, all the while driving down the selling price.
・In addition, few people buy DVDs of TV shows. I only know a very few that do; the demand isn’t really high even for American shows in America.
2. Localization Companies and the Existing Fan-Base
(Note: This illustrates a few problems that are already in the process of being solved)
・The American market for the most part thinks anime is for kids (4kids), and will cut down, censor things to be family friendly – or at least to drift under the radar of moral crusaders. This annoys and distances the original fan-base. (Distributing a product inferior to the original).
・The American market(/system) requires a large audience to work properly, so localization companies attempt to make their shows appeal to a more general audience, by making changes here and there or advertising/marketing in a certain way. This usually fails tremendously because localization companies either won’t or don’t have the means to attract a more general audience with the methods they use, restrict themselves by pandering to a youth market, and end up angering the fan-base the shows already have. For example: Spice & Wolf volume 1 cover fiasco.
・In order to make anime more accessible, localization companies almost always employ dubbing. However voice acting in America is a developing industry, far inferior to Japan. Not only will imperfect dubbing anger the original fan-base, it fails to draw in new customers because of its failings (lack of emotion, lack of a varied voice cast, lack of US “natural to the ear” line translations – readable and listen-able translations have a gap between them). It ends up being a waste of money in most cases.
・The problem with marketing to a younger/hs (where localization companies target) /college student (where the most of the existing fan-base is) audience (which is why very very few American shows do it) is that they have no money. They are literally penniless. (I speak from experience). Whether they like the show or not, want to support the show even if they think the product is inferior, many fans just don’t have the means. Sometimes you just need to market to an audience that has money. (I believe a show like Trapeze or the Tatami Galaxy would do very very well with adult audiences if marketed properly). This confined age market constricts the market as a whole and keeps anime from reaching a more profitable audience.
3. Piracy, Advertising, and the American Concept of “Free”
There has always been piracy, even back in the days when no one realized it was illegal (sharing cassette and VCR video tapes with friends). If you liked a song on the radio, you recorded it on a tape. If you liked a television show, you recorded it with your VCR. If you can listen to it for “free” what’s wrong with recording it for “free”? There’s nothing wrong with sharing a book with someone, so what’s wrong with sharing your favorite music and TV shows? The problem is that technology made everything much more easy and much more mainstream. A click and you could copy videos, music – virtually everything. You didn’t need two VCRs and multiple tapes. Just copy a VCD/DVD. The quality of official things like CDs (where you might not even like all the songs on the album) were better, but your version was manageable. It was free. No one could tell you otherwise. Now we have DVRs, TV tuners, ie. tools to cut out commercials. People started thinking it was ok to even copy and share DVD releases because the only difference was a slight shift in quality. Fast internet, more efficient codecs, and larger HDDs allowed a user to download an entire season of a show in an hour or two. If it’s something that was originally accessible for “free” (TV), then what’s the problem? Even if you had to pay for cable, most people would equate that to the cost of paying for internet. Even if told “doing this is wrong” an American usually thinks “well doing this thing that is ‘ok’ is almost exactly the same as this thing that is ‘not ok’ so why?” and so dismisses the idea that it’s wrong.
Nowadays piracy is a lot more organized, and a lot more easy for the casual user, who, due to the American Concept of “Free”, either don’t think it’s wrong, or the fact that it’s wrong doesn’t bother them. Also due to the concept of “free” most people don’t expect to have or prepare a budget for shows – they may not have the money.
Because Americans are less willing to pay for certain things they believe should be free. Advertising is more important. The internet itself runs on advertising, and there’s always an issue with trying to keep things balanced. Things like DVR allow a user to remove advertising from a show, if internet advertising is too intrusive users stay away from the site, etc. etc.
Simulcasts make use of this strategy, by employing advertising and on-demand television, like how Hulu does with American television, however, the quality of translation is sometimes in question (not as much anymore), the quality of the video is in question (always), and users who are used to ad-free fansubs sometimes shrink away from even a little advertising in simulcasts. On the other side, translations on simulcasts are easily read/taken/ripped, redressed in better fonts and put on better video, without advertising, by pirates.
Pirating is “if there is a will there is a way”. It’s impossible to crush. The only thing you can really do is keep an alternative that is more appealing and easier than current access to fansubs. (Simulcasts work in this way for less computer literate people). The battle is hard fought because fansubbers have access to and employ high video quality encodes, better sub-text techniques, and are just as fast or faster than official companies. Not all anime are available via simulcast and for those that don’t have it, fansubs win hands down.
4. Boards, Fansubbers and Fansub Watchers / Black Markets, Pirates, and “Consumers”
There are many types of people out there, but let’s cover a few.
・People that control a board, site, etc. looking to make a profit. Large sites like One Manga/(Can’t remember the name of that other big one) (shut down) etc, would take fansubbers works (sometimes w/ sometimes w/o permission) and host subs/scanlations for free or a small fee, and rake in large profits from advertisers. These are people that get most on the nerves of anime companies, the nerves of fansubbers, but would often have the largest consumer base, because the consumer wouldn’t have to be computer literate to have access. Ideally, anime companies should make sites like this legally – but legal tangles are legal tangles, and publishers are much much less willing to let something go for “free”, and because of having to pay for titles they show, there’s a higher risk involved.
Non-Profit Pirating Hosts
・These people are more “open-source” about their sites. They either work on donations or employ minimal advertising, more often than not actually losing money due to server costs. These communities tend to be slightly more tight-knit, and try to fly more under the radar than pirating entrepreneurs.
Pure Theft Fansubbers
・These fansubbers steal translations, and usually do minimal work on their own. They are still non-profit, but they undermine the efforts of anime companies. Fansubbers who take and rip DVDs with all subs and dubs fall under this category, but not all fansubbers that sub licensed material. Fansubbers that steal work/scripts from other fansubbers to release also fall under this category. “The most harmful type to localization companies.”
Partial Theft Fansubbers
・These fansubbers “steal” videos, or grab them from TV streams (not necessarily illegal), and translate them by their own efforts, edit both translations and video. Sometimes they use official translations as a guide, but do not copy/paste. They have no qualms about subbing something that is already licensed, because they view official work as inferior (and are usually right). Most “quality” subs, and some, but not all “speed” subbing groups fall under this category. “Harmful to localization companies but usually slightly less of a threat.”
Minimal Theft Fansubbers
・This fansubbers will either “steal” or buy original DVDs of shows that would never, ever make it overseas (like Mouryou no Hako). They are much more concerned with “moral issues” but the fact is it still walks the line between dubiously legal and outright illegal. If it weren’t for these fansubbers there would be no foreign audience, ie. anime companies lose no money (unless Japanese citizens download them too) by these fansubbers efforts. If an anime/manga/light novel is licensed they usually stop distribution or at least agree to stop when a product actually comes out. Anime localization companies get into less fights with these sorts, partially because the fansubbers usually bow to the companies, and by aiding in popularizing the effect of these types can be _said_ to be beneficial to localization and anime companies, though it really isn’t clear. This is what “fansubbing started out as”. However the fact is, groups that work on unlicensed stuff almost always also work on licensed stuff as well. “Arguably beneficial to localization companies.”
The Untapped Consumer Type I
・This consumer has the money to buy DVDs and localized merchandise and non-localized merchandise, but doesn’t spend a dime on anything he can get for free. He will buy something if it is too difficult to obtain, but never something easily available. With this consumer, the less fansubbing there is available the more he will buy. Anti-fansub proponents argue that all fansub viewers fall under this category, and view each fansub download as a lost sale. In reality, I would argue the number of these are very, very few.
The Untapped Consumer Type II
・This consumer has the money to buy DVDs and localized merchandise and non-localized merchandise, but never, ever does. He is satisfied by the amount of things he can get for free, and if something is too difficult to obtain, he just won’t buy it. He can, but never spends money. I would argue that the number of these is higher than Type I, but the only way to get this consumer to give the company money would be to destroy fansubbing entirely.
The Untapped Empty Consumer
・This consumer doesn’t care about supporting the show, and doesn’t have the money to anyway. Like the untapped consumer type II he will never spend money, but this is heavily due to the fact that he can’t. Even if all fansubbing came to an end, he would never buy anything. There are quite a few of these.
The Wealthy Fan
・This consumer only watches subs from minimal theft fansubbers and is usually concerned with morals. He buys things left and right, collecting localized and non-localized merchandise. He criticizes fansub watchers even though he is one himself. Buying things is not much of a problem for this consumer, and the state of fansubbing has little to no effect on this consumer. With the current economy, there are few of these. If there were more, no company would pay fansubbing any mind.
The Not So Wealthy Fan
・This consumer only buys DVDs and merchandise from shows he likes. He doesn’t have an endless supply of money but is well enough off to not worry about buying all of something he likes. He may watch tons and tons of shows, but only like and buy for a few. This consumer is fairly normal, and is concerned with supporting shows and sometimes concerned with morals, but less so than the wealthy fan. Quite a few of these.
The Dirt Poor Fan
・This consumer very rarely buys DVDs and merchandise but does so anyway. He is usually not that concerned with morals, but either feels guilty or really wants to support something he loves. He usually buys things here and there, but can never get everything. Sometimes he buys and episode or two of something, even though he’s pirated the entire show already and doesn’t need to buy it. There are quite a few of these due to the economy.
The Japanese Student
・This consumer is usually in one of the fan categories, and often the dirt poor category. However, unlike the ordinary fan, he will never or very rarely spend money on localized DVDs or merchandise. He wants to learn Japanese so buys the originals. These support the Japanese market, but not the American market.
The Outside Watcher
・This consumer has no access to anime, as it isn’t localized. Not American. This consumer may or may not be wealthy and may or may not be willing to pay, but that doesn’t matter because the only access he has to Anime/Manga/Light Novels etc. is through fansubbing and the internet. No one loses hypothetical money from this consumer. There are a lot of these.
The Computer/Anime Illiterate
・This consumer only has access to fansubbing through large and easy community sites. This consumer doesn’t know what the heck a torrent file is. These usually can be considered untapped consumer type I, but because they are less computer literate, they usually know very very little about anime, and while they would buy stuff from localization companies, they often either don’t know about it, or aren’t as interested. The state of fansubbing itself doesn’t effect these types much, but pirating entrepreneurs do. This covers a lot of the “people who don’t know much about anime” market the localization companies could tap, but don’t very well.
・Many fans who buy local DVDs run on the “I just want to support the series” mindset – buy it, shelve it, and continue to watch fansubs of a better quality (on DVD or BD rips). People that don’t care about supporting and/or can’t afford to support it are hard to convince when product A is free and better than product B that is costly and inferior.
・Even if you propose that fansubbers are less talented translators than the official ones, they aren’t confined by editing, language restrictions and adapt to what they hear the fans want, and the result is a sub that is easier to read because it exactly fits the language of the generation. Official companies have less tact in this. Fansubbers usually come out with easy to read, easy to think/remember/say, humorous subtitles that most people of at least my generation prefer. In some respects this flow is more important than accuracy.
・Fansubbers are usually up on the best codec-technologies etc. etc. so the finished product is far superior to officials’ similar efforts (as in video quality in simulcast).
6. Personal Opinion
I think fansubbing in general is wrong, whatever the moralists will say, but I don’t personally judge anyone for it. I was involved in fansubbing before; I am a poor college student; I like to support what I can (I at least have a mountain of light novels), but I don’t do any of it based on guilt, and I myself an a sort of victim to the American idea of “free”. The anime industry should hope I win the lottery though, because they’d have a lot coming their way. I’d buy all the works of a few authors and doujinshi artists as well.. but that doesn’t matter because I don’t have the money anyway, at least until I get a decent job. I believe that fansubbing as a whole has been beneficial to the Japanese anime industry and has turned a zero interest into a rather large interest, and although it isn’t immediate, I think it overall resulted in more money flying in their direction, over time. But like I said at the beginning, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s wrong; it annoys me somewhat when people try to rationalize and moralize fansubbing, but fansubbing itself doesn’t annoy me.
All I can hope is that companies and some fansubbers eventually get together and work together. All the fansubbers working for free eventually need to make money after all. The joint to make an English version of “ef” is pretty inspiring, and I hope it does really well. Localization companies need to learn how to advertise, and how to finish and pull through their projects (when companies hold on to licenses and do nothing with them, I go (屮゜Д゜)屮). In any case though it’s quite a situation and predicament, and I wish fansubbing and fan-translating wasn’t in such a legal mess. Localization companies need to find a way to make the popularity of their products to boom amongst a wider audience, whilst keeping the originals untainted, work with the fansubbing community under less of a threat of legal action, and companies in Japan need to be open to more innovative ideas in regards to marketing online. Freely distributed books have in some cases helped authors make more money; it’s just all an overly delicate situation. So I wish everyone luck, and myself luck, because one of these days I may be working for them.