Sunday, February 6, 2011

Fools, You Know Not What You Do: How American Otakus are going to use Tanaka's RIETI Report to make themselves look stupid.

As much as I love statistics and business and the like, I can’t go into the veracity of this report as much as I would like to, but rather make the following, zero-sum, blunt, inescapable point to the American Otaku out there because I know what you're thinking:


Just stop right there.

Headline: Internet Piracy Boosts Anime Sales, Study Concludes. Reality: No. Well maybe, but just in Japan. With American otaku already loading their own petards for a strong self-hoisting with the strength of all the self-righteous uninformed opinion of a birther, one can hardly expect my efforts at damage control to be of any effect. These people who hurt the anime/manga market outside Japan with fansubs and scanlations will see what they want to see, and think they do no wrong. The happily smug reaction that American Otaku (Clarissa at AWO, I'm looking at you) will feel in their misplaced vindication is no doubt to be so thick, that no light of fact or reason shall be able to cut through it, and thusly such illumination shall be felt by only a precious few (Daryl at AWO I'm looking at you). It is in the hopes that I can reach said special precious few who can further illuminate the true meaning of the RIETI report that I am writing this here.

If you don’t know what the Tanaka RIETI report on anime piracy is ... just follow the link to the story I'm not going to recap the thing here. The story itself (not the report) exemplifies the aforementioned problem. It does a great disservice by inaccurately equating this report's findings to the Funimation lawsuits, and simply garners its information from what seems to be only the English description of the report itself:

Whether or not illegal copies circulating on the internet reduce the sales of legal products has been a hot issue in the entertainment industries. Though much empirical research has been conducted on the music industry, research on the movie industry has been very limited. This paper examines the effects of the movie sharing site Youtube and file sharing program Winny on DVD sales and rentals of Japanese TV animation programs. Estimated equations of 105 anime episodes show that (1) Youtube viewing does not negatively affect DVD rentals, and it appears to help raise DVD sales; and (2) although Winny file sharing negatively affects DVD rentals, it does not affect DVD sales. Youtube’s effect of boosting DVD sales can be seen after the TV’s broadcasting of the series has concluded, which suggests that not just a few people learned about the program via a Youtube viewing. In other words YouTube can be interpreted as a promotion tool for DVD sales.

That's all some people are going on. Lots of people commenting on this can’t read the report. This is literally judging a book by its cover, and then writing book reviews as well.

Seeing this, it is easy to be drawn to the conclusion that this somehow applies to English speaking markets. It does not. This study only encompasses sales and after-market piracy within the domestic Japanese market. While it’s nice to think that English speaking markets somehow play any role which can have an effect on the producers of anime/manga in cases like this, it is because of piracy circumventing and preempting licensed distribution that they do not. So let me say this again, the report is not applicable to English speaking markets (or any markets outside Japan). However it is reasonably detailed, rather specific, and looks like this:

It asserts a specific point about anime DVD sales and rentals in Japan. Regardless of veracity, these conclusions cannot be superimposed to the USA or any other market in which the legitimate media delivery channels are preempted by people who steal the work and make it available for free in the form of fansubs and scanlations. In Japan, these properties do not have to worry about online bootlegging BEFORE the episode airs on TV. Because of this, they can make pre-agreed advertising agreements, accurately predict revenue, and start a genuine product lifecycle for a property.

This devaluing effect that anime piracy in the form of fansubs and scanlations in international markets has is very real and I have detailed it before. I have also noted that without the ability to sustain the regular needs of a business, international markets will have no input in the type of anime and manga that are produced, leading to a Galapagos effect in the type of stories that evolve. Some have argued that it is because anime/manga are “different” from American media is the reason they do like it so much, but Turkish Tapdancing is “different”... the South African Vuvuzela Philharmonic Laser Light Show is “different.” The quality of “different” is in no way the exclusive deciding factor in why people in English speaking markets like Japan's anime/manga. It is that, along with a combination of other qualities, which causes the popularity of such material and changes in what the Japanese market likes could easily change that balance to the point where although it remains “different,” fails to resonate with audiences outside Japan. That is a real possibility.

The Japanese DVD market is miniscule compared to the USA. It really is a different universe. Where as in the USA, some labels exist only as home media entities, the Japanese DVD labels don’t go through the licensing and localization dance to get a title out (for their domestic anime obviously, not for Hollywood productions). Additionally, media consumption habits (both legit and pirated) of consumers in general create a very different animal in terms of commercial markets between Japan and the USA. This difference in media consumption created a very different set of metrics and mechanics which going into detail about would simply lead to a post of biblical tl;dr proportions. So let's just call it a case of "apples and oranges."

To conclude; In Japan, anime/manga productions FIRST reach the market through a legitimate media distribution channel (TV broadcast, online/mobile download, direct to DVD, etc.) and are then pirated. In the USA anime/manga productions are pirated FIRST, and then (because of the time it takes to license and localize) released through legitimate media distribution channels. Do we understand?

Japan:-----Commercial release --> then --> Pirated.
USA:__----Pirated --> then --> Commercial Release.

That difference is the game changer. In international markets, the fact that the target audience has already consumed an anime/manga before a license can be obtained for that market, means that said license is worthless. Fansubbers and Scanlators are stealing the license that the original producers have every right to sell. The fact that they (fansubbers and scanlators) don’t charge anything means nothing, because the damage done to animators, artists, writers, assistants, and publishers is the same as if they were selling bootleg DVDs at $100 a pop. They are actually worse than for-profit bootlegers because they honestly believe they are doing nothing wrong.

It is true that Japanese production companies have constantly and incorrectly harped that if piracy just went away everything would be sunshine and smiles, which is a very Japanese thing to do. Every Japanese industry and political party does that. Additionally, half of the major entertainment execs in Japan have no idea what youtube really is, but just know it's part of that big scary internet. But in case you weren't paying attention, that's totally beside the point. This publication is going cause a problem in American fandom, by giving a moral ego boost to people who know they are hurting the business that creates the things they love, and they’ll take that boost because they want to think what they are doing is helping. And nothing said or done, will assuage their misplaced self-granted absolution.

This is no "get out of jail free card" for fansubers, scanlators, and the American Otaku that keep them around. No matter how much they want it to be.

ANN also helpfully points out that this is a paper by Tetsuo Tanaka, published by RIETI, and is not specifically all encompasing of RIETI's official platform (which is a political force to be rekoned with at times). It is also important to note that Professor Tanaka had already expressed some views to the same effect as the paper's findings, so this may be a case of some tunnel vision.

[July 17 2011]: Just in case anyone was wondering, I added that little stop-sign graphic because I was sick of the thumbnail on the top 5 posts being almost impossible to make out. This looks a little better.



drmchsr0 said...


Then again, I could also accuse you of tunnel vision as well, considering your viewpoints.

Personally, though, I think it's a different mindset. The otaku in Japan are already willing to buy their overpriced Blu-Rays and DVDs in the first place, so to them, downloading a copy means nothing to them since they're gonna buy it anyway.

On the other hand, overseas consumers of anime and otaku-targeted products rarely have that kind of desire to buy even legal, R1 DVDs. Or even buy legal streams. Hell, I download anime, but if I even get 1/10 of the stuff I view on the internet, I'm happy enough.

Then again, you'll probably hate me for the fact that I illegally obtain my anime without feeding some cash back into the industry, but then again, I don't even believe in plonking down insane amounts of cash for (what I feel is) insanely overpriced DVDs and BDs. And I buy games off Steam. Sometimes at full price.

The Angry Otaku said...

Well, I do find it unfortunate that you think that prices are too expensive. But that's to be expected in the (i am assuming) U.S. market, where packaged media prices have been pounded down so hard that it's impossible not to sell DVDs as loss leader. Even I see a DVD for $19.95 and think "too much" when in reality, when you know what goes into this stuff, it's apparent that any less means the company putting them out is not going to make money to pay their employees.

HOWEVER, the crux of your argument still seems to be relying on the incorrect notion of "all things being equal" in terms of markets, which they are not. Is it possible that some sort of piracy could have a posative effect on packaged media in the USA? It is possible, but THIS PAPER can not be used at all to support such a conclusion, because it doesn't look at the US market at all. It's a question of losing revenue not through lost sales, but of devalued licenses. It's no different from someone stealing a print of the final Harry Potter movie and putting it out on the internet before it opened. Theaters wouldn't even want it at that point since everyone who was going to go see it has seen it. Now theaters are going to fire people because they can't pay them.

Fansubs and scanlations are a type of piracy that in Japan would be IMPOSSIBLE without a time machine, and so can not effect this papers findings. You are making assertions based on a premise that the type of piracy this paper studies is quantitatively and qualitatively equal to that of fansubs and scanlations, when that is not the case. To make a fair comparison, you can only compare DOMESTIC media here in the US market such as TV programs (like Sex & the City or Walking Dead) or films (like Harry Potter or True Grit). Those TV shows and films are able to make accurate predictions of their audience even in the face of piracy, because there hasn't been 3 months of those titles being available on the internet before their commercial release.

In short, if you're not part of the domestic Japanese market, you are not part of this equation, and your purchasing patterns are not applicable one way or the other.