Fansubs VS Licensed DVDs – Are fansubs killing the industry? Or the industry people’s crying wolf?

At AX, the industry claimed that fansubbed shows have been killing DVD sales. One of the points (thanks to Chibi Tokyo and other podcasts for reporting) was the fansubbed copies of certain shows can still be seen on Youtube even after these shows were licensed.

Next, some of the points we have discussed here at Anime Diet Radio (you can heard the latest eps here) and other points I’ve heard from other people, including people from the industry:

– fansubs are killing DVD sales.

– some DVDs are not well made at all and they’re a waste of money.

– companies should make episodes downloadable online, as soon as each eps is show on Japanese TV.

– some anime eps are already downloadable, but these files are dubbed and they’re so encrypted/protected/whatever that you can’t do anything else with them except just watch them – you can’t even back them up on discs (some clarifications here will be greatly appreciated).

– People do buy DVDs they like.

Here are my thoughts:

1. Fan subs are ultimately what helped to bring anime over to the States. It’s almost like an institution (albeit it’s really not, and it’s not going to be) for letting the fans previewing the newest titles available.

2. As for the DVDs, some of them have such bad production values on subtitling and/or dubbing, so much so that many complaints are heard. However, who’s to say for sure that not enough people buy well produced DVDs?

3. I don’t appreciate pirate copies and I appreciate DVD rips evenless. Yes, I’ve downloaded these before from a certain site. But I have stopped and I’m tossing away all the DVD ripped discs and replacing them with licensed DVDs – the artwork and the included goodies are such treats for me as a fan. But some people may feel entirely different about these things.

4. DVDs are cool, but they can be such a hassle to keep because they take up physical space. If I can download good subtitled copies and store them on my HD, I can access them so much quicker.

What do you think?

17 thoughts on “Fansubs VS Licensed DVDs – Are fansubs killing the industry? Or the industry people’s crying wolf?”

  1. I think the whole “fansubs are killing the industry” thing is overblown–being able to download a fansub is no different than what any fan in Japan can do recording the latest episode of their favorite anime series off of TV Tokyo. The region 1 distributors are saying ‘if you can see it for free you’ll never buy the DVD’, but that’s clearly not true–hell, TV shows like Friends air on US TV for free for years, and anyone who wants to can save it for all eternity on their DVD recorder or VCR, but people still buy the DVD box sets.

    All fansubs do is let non-Japanese fans do the same thing Japanese fans can do already with the TV broadcast–watch their anime before they decide if they want to own it on DVD or not. People still buy DVDs in Japan, and they still buy DVDs here, fansubs or not. The 150+ anime DVDs sitting on my bookshelf are proof of that–except for older series like Urusei Yatsura, all of them I watched fansubbed before I bought the DVD.

    I think the real problem the industry has is that the anime market overall isn’t growing like it used to–but that’s their executives’ fault for not paying attention in Marketing 101. All products mature with time, if the days of 50% a year growth in anime DVD sales went on forever, anime would take over all other forms of entertainment, and that’s never going to happen–it may have gotten “hot” a few years back, but anime is and always will be a niche. When DVD sales plateau out, like they’re doing now, the solution isn’t to crack down on fansubs that give them free marketing–if the industry wants to grow revenue they should be going after HD/Blu-ray, iTunes like downloads, and other anime-related products like figures and such.

  2. 1. Some shows are made for 720p or 1080i broadcast and putting them on DVD is like a slap in the face.

    2. My Planetes has grammar errors and odd timing in the subtitles. These can never be corrected.

    3. Yellow or white subtitles don’t always work, although MPC could probably change the font and color.

    4. My DVD’s may rot. And then what? Is some dude going to give me a replacement and an apology? There’s no warranty on these things.

    5. Consumers want to own stuff and to do as they please, including porting content to other devices.

    6. They also want instant gratification. Dubs, credit-less OP/ED can come later. Preview trailers can mostly shove it.

    7. Content producers don’t like pirates and other evil-doers.

    8. Streaming media costs a lot of money, too. The equivalent of long distance bills still exist for ISP’s.

    I wrote about this before, but it could use some refining. The gist of it, though:

    1. Adopt something like MKV which has plenty of flexibility for subtitles.

    2. Continuously make corrections and add content. Release early and release often.

    3. Get a giant data center to store HD content with some fat pipes.

    4. Develop an MKV web plug-in. It’ll be like a Stage6 on steroids.

    5. Digitally watermark all of the video as it streams out, in real time. Users can do whatever they want with their DRM-free content, but authorities will have a paper trail in case it ever gets pirated.

    I initially suggested a one-time, per-series fee, but a subscription service is more reasonable given the costs of distributing the data, storing it, and backing it up.

  3. I think in the long run, the iTunes-style distribution model will probably win out. Of course, some anime already exists in iTunes Music Store, but they’re dub-only. What they need is what Viz proposed for Death Note, near-instant or fast subbed versions that come out not long after its broadcast. I think that’s the only way they can compete with fansubbers.

    And the companies also need to realize that the American market is used to paying no more than $40-$50 per season for a TV show. Translation and import costs of course need to be factored in to be sure, but the high initial costs of series until the thinpaks come out is not the best way to sustain your business. (I understand it’s the same as the way hardback books precede paperback, though.)

    Me, I’m a fan of thinpaks, given that I tend to watch anime in big bunches. Thinkpaks + fast subbed downloadable copies at $2 a pop or so is the way to go, I think.

  4. What dvd sales? Oh, in that little country over the ocean giving 4.5% of the world’s population. Like the rest of us cares :P

  5. Commercial anime will always fail under the current model. The product they try to sell for money can’t even match the quality achieved by random bands of 17 year olds collaborating for free on IRC. Amateur fansubs consistently produce superior translation, subtitling, graphic effects, all at near real-time speed. The average anime consumer knows this. So I don’t know why anyone is surprised.

    I suspect a crackdown is coming. We may be living in a golden age of plentiful, easily available fansubs. The importers may make the same mistake as the RIAA — it remains to be seen. We see the ongoing battle in SG and perhaps it is our future as well.

    These companies need to realize the truth. The situation is far from hopeless. Steve Jobs proved you could compete against free. However, creative thinking is necessary. You can make millions in a failing industry if you’re only reasonable. Provide reasonable quality, portability, usability, and make it easy. The importers need to do the same. The product they offer now is too shoddy, too slow, and too crippled by useless DRM schemes to appeal to their customers. This is after all a niche industry.

  6. Commercial DVDs should need to be just as good or better than the fansubs available. Of course, it’s a bit unfair to compare true High Definition TV rips and the few fansubs based on them, because DVD is by default an inferior video distribution channel to HD broadcasts, HD-DVD and Blu-ray discs. The specs simply don’t allow them to have video with higher resolution, less they want to break the “DVD” standard. Anyway, good video quality without a doubt influences a large part of the anime’s appeal, but it certainly isn’t everything when talking translated anime (translation quality anyone?). The YouTube anime-watching fanbase proves this.
    Still, not everyone can be swiftly convinced into buying a DVD when it’s basically just a disc containing translated anime episodes. I think the distributor’s approach to making anime DVDs *cheaper* is a bit faulty regardless of the nice and relatively cheap prices of today. I would rather have nice DVD releases with lots of video and quality physical extras (one such example would be the R1 Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu DVDs) that would cost a few dollars more. DVD buyers that watch fansubs are basically DVD collectors. Anyone can just watch the fansub and forget about it, but the series I can truly enjoy have a collector’s value as well. I may not necessarily watch them, but they would be a nice addition to my collection, and I’d rather them to be rich releases; not simple Box + Cover + DVD.

  7. Regarding the iTunes-style store: Will Japan allow it? After all, it’s their export? I got a real good feeling they won’t.

    As for the crackdown: If ADV doesn’t make the first move (and I highly doubt they ever will), they ain’t gonna do it. Sure, some of the other companies might, but if ADV don’t make the first move, I don’t think anyone would ever consider. They may chafe and whatnot, but if they wanted to do it, they would have done so long ago. Unlike the situation in SG (we have even more dumb lawsuits and issues here when it comes to copyrights), which is caused by the stupidity of both the distributor and the community, moreso the community than the distributor (whose stupidity is pretty much based off the fact that the guy probably never took Economics 101 or refused flat out to take it), the situation in the US is pretty much sane and rather understanding. Until more information coms to light, these are my views, and only in the light of new information will they change.

  8. The only reason I buy DVDs are because I watched the series fansubbed and really like it like Shana or Haruhi, the series comes with some nice physical extras like Haruhi, or it’s cheap like thinpak series. I also wouldn’t buy any of Bandai Visual releases because they are way overpriced for the amount of content we are getting I mean $20 for just one episode of galaxy angels espcially when media blasters is releasing Girl’s High which comes with 4 episodes for $15.

  9. I think anime companies are really missing the boat on downloadable video. You have sites like narutofan proving that x number of people are willing to pay x dollars for access to fast downloads of sub-only anime free of DRM balderdash. They’ve been operating with impunity for how many years now? Legitimate companies have to be drooling at the potential revenues if only they could sort out the copyrights. Naturally media creators aren’t going to be too friendly to the idea of dropping DRM, and controlling regional access would be difficult unless you sprung for the who knows how much more expensive worldwide rights.

    In Japan they’re now experimenting with downloadable manga for cell phones. For a country normally on the bleeding edge of home electronics, it’s odd that anime would be lagging behind. I suppose on the closed platforms of cell phones it’s much easier to control DRM whatnot than on a PC.

  10. You (I guess everyone) know, if US anime licensing companies would really look hard at what’s popular out there and then license some good stuff, which they do but not often enough, and don’t license the not so good stuff, which they do too often, maybe that would help themselves out. How to know what’s good and what’s not? Often the popular ones one good – but that’s not the best indicator because frankly, I don’t think Bleach and Naruto are good. Is D.Greyman Licensed? No. I would applaud to whoever will licensed it in the future. The anime is good (up to 25 as far as I know), and the manga is excellent. Is the manga licensed? I don’t know. I’d applaud the potential manga licenser. Is Claymore licensed? No. Yes, it’s current, but timing is important , isn’t it? Yes, I know it’s tough to get a good show like that, so why didn’t some licensing company not license crappier shows before?
    I don’t want to make a sweeping generalization and say all dubs ever are crap. But you know what? Even if I were to make that statement (if you read my debate you’d notice that I did praise one dub effort – the person who played Duo Maxwell did a great job, even if it’s probably because Duo Maxwell is supposed to be American, and having an US voice over playing him was perfect), the vast majority of people out there would still agree.
    I read someone said that forget selling dubs. I tend to agree, even though the industry will lost a good number viewers. But in the long run, I think the audience that really would go out and buy stuff are the people who prefer watching or only watches subtitled ones anyway.

  11. hello,

    i just what to say that i totally agree. espesialy about the part of the anime being introdused to the states. i myself am not from america, i live in the netherlands, europe. if  Fansubs where not doing what they do, I would have never watched anime. not even read manga. this is why: 1. i do not have a credit card so I cant buy the dvd’s.
    2. the schipping prices are to expansinve.
    3. I have to wait to long to watch the anime. first it has to be realesed and then it would take a hell of a lot time to be packed and shipped.

    so if it was not so much trouble to watch the anime, i would buy the dvd’s. and even if the companys put them online I would pay a small fee to watch them. like $5.00 a month.

  12. About fansubbing. First of all i would like to say…

    “I” and millions like me wouldnt even think of buying anime if we didnt know about it. Losing money because of the fansubbing is rubbish. I for one is a complete Anime fan and really rooted.

    I have bought anime because of fansubbing that made me aware of the magical and rich world of anime.

    I would say… Spread anime a little more world wide, then maybe cry like babies.

    Anime wouldnt even be known if it wasnt for the fansubbers. You shuld thank them. They even make homepages for their favourite anime for real fans. !!IN ENGLISH!! Haha… If you don’t like fansubs, concentrate on your sales in Japan, because without fansubbing, that would be exactly what you would be limited too.

  13. Oh… And yeah. Anime didn’t find the world… The world found anime, and through it, Japan.

    Im in the process of learning Japanese and have the outmost respect for the Japanese coulture. Maybe im not the greatest man alive knowledable about significant historical events and dates. But i wouldnt be totaly lost in a conversation. I hope one day to travell to Japan and visit the country i’we come to respect and love from afar.

    Be gratefull, i am.

    /Sweden

  14. fansubs are not killing the industry in my view. fansubs usually start and keep progressing as soon as the anime is out in japan. they take their time and effort to fansub it, whether it be anime, drama’s or movies. because they are just fans and would like others to see what they also enjoy.

  15. I feel that because the time is changing and the industry is not doing well, it’s blaming anyone it can find. It is true that people aren’t buying as much, but maybe it’s because this isn’t mainstream and too many not so great shows that people don’t care have been licensed, and therefore less people cared. Anime isn’t something that’s ever going mainstream, but people don’t remember that.

    Yes, the world found anime and not the other way around. Trouble is, including myself, many simply won’t buy a lot. But thinking critically, do we really want to buy majority of the shows that’s out there? I know I don’t. on the other hand, I would say with any convenient methods the companies employ (like Crunchy Roll – just wish they show some shows in my region) or when good anime comes out (like Claymore, Kurozuka), I think people should very well buy something related to them. In this economy though, the cheaper the better it is for people.

    We’ll have to see if any more improvements will be made. In the mean time, it is up to them to come out with either better DVD packaging, better selections, better shows, or improve their downloadable services.

  16. Ok, great, so you’ve established that the American anime market lends itself tremendously to the existence of fansubs.
    Ok… so… how does anime make money? Who or what’s funding it? Certainly not fansubs; they’re free. Yeah, fansubs are there for unlicensed anime. But let’s be realistic. Who seriously buys the DVD to support the anime when it finally comes out licensed especially after they’ve already watched the fansub? Fansubs may have helped, but their existence is now choking out anime. This isn’t about American dubbed, Canadian dubbed, or any of that; anime ITSELF is not being supported. Let’s not forget that fansubs are ILLEGAL.
    And I bet you know nothing of good acting. Who are you to say that the Japanese is superior? You have the subtitles in the way, you don’t understand the language, and you don’t get the connection. Unless you’re Japanese and have immersed yourself into the culture, you don’t truly get anime. All you get is the basic story and that’s about it. You’re guilty of not understanding the English dub. Quite frankly, and I’m saying this as I’m an actor myself, the English cast is doing a superb job of staying true to the characters. Bet you think the English sucks because you’re actually comparing it to the Japanese and how it sounds.
    DVD sales make up THE industry’s money. People do NOT buy the DVDs. Look at the hard numbers, and you’ll find that anime sales are at the lowest point ever. This isn’t just the American market. This is the WORLD market we’re talking about. If you don’t support the anime industry by buying it, screw talking about saving the dub, you won’t have any anime AT ALL.
    People say they’d buy the anime if they like it, but they excuse themselves by saying that they “didn’t like the anime enough to dish out $30″, thus, they don’t feel it’s a need to buy it, and in a few months, they watch hundreds of dollars worth of anime illegally.
    Fansubs do not help in ANY meaningful way. They don’t generate any money to help fund more anime to be produced, they ward off people from buying the anime in the official release (as they’ve already seen it several times), and quite frankly, the only honest reason as to why you watch fansubs is not because of quality (as they’re actually quite inaccurate most of the time in context), but because it’s free and no one will catch you.
    You don’t support anime, again, there will be no anime in the future. If you really like it, please support it. Just recently, the president of Bang Zoom sent out a letter to anime fans. link: http://goanimetv.com/?p=668

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