Anti-fansub hysteria today

November 25th, 2007 by Author

Justin Sevakis (founder of ANN) takes the old rhethoric to the new heights (via Nigorimasen). He does not bother to establish the culpability of fansubbers, simply taking it for granted. And why should he? Even the industry outsiders toe the party line and blame “clueless distributors, selfish fans, deluded fansubbers”.

I have just one question: how is it that the market is overflowing with bootleg DVDs, sold profitably, and nobody is talking about that, but everyone is talking about fansubs?

Behold (yes, I’m going to link to these places now, because they are on the top of Google already): AnimeBallZ, Anime Home, Discount Anime DVD. In fact, small retail locations in San Francisco sell bootlegs (outside of Japantown though).

So, why is this not a problem and what is the plan? Spevakis drops the hint:

Before legal action will be effective, fansubs must be replaced. THERE HAS TO BE A LEGAL, INEXPENSIVE WAY TO WATCH NEW ANIME IN ENGLISH. Not necessarily own, but at least watch.

In other words, studios do not want us to own anything (like a DVD). They want us to “license” the “content” and pay the rent forever.

And fansubbers? They are very convenient to legitimize the new regime.

FRIDGE UPDATE: The story of DIVX is instructive in this regard. The consumers really dodged a bullet there, but we may not be so lucky this time.

UPDATE: Avatar comments:

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.

In other words, it’s ok to steal real market share, as long as it’s swept under the carpet. And we’re talking about real market here, bootleg DVDs sell into DVD market, whereas fansubs satisfy different market. And “morale effect”? He can’t be serious.

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.

“Fact”, indeed. This reminds me vividly about Hollywood execs blaming tanking titles at texting. Before, if they produced a stinker, it would collect at least some revenue, on the strength of its advertizing. But now, they say, teens text each other that the movie stinks and nobody goes to see it. Seriously, that was their excuse, I saw it printed on paper! And the result? Same as with anime: widening gulf between the few good titles that sell and the rest which tanks. Well, of course a couple short years later they’ve got to blame BitTorrent and forgot how texting ruined American cinema. If fansubbers did not exist, media execs should’ve invented them.

He is right about one thing though. It is absolutely the case that I refuse to buy DVDs sight-unseen anymore. Enough is enough, Netflix it first.

UPDATE: In comments at Jeff’s, David Ma expands on the point:

I think most of the problems with DRM stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of what product various industries are attempting to sell. Should be movies and music be treated as entirely intellectual property you purchase a license to use or should it be treated as a physical product?

In the case of treating it as a physical product, the ability to listen or watch the material should be transferable with the product but usage [e.g. the act of watching — Author] should be as a singleton. There should be no ability to restrict usage of the product as long as this condition is met.

Right now the situation is that the music and movie industry are trying to tell everyone that it’s both so the consumer should have none of the benefits of either, but all of the disadvantages of both.

Damn straight (but please use fewer words next time, or at least get a blog that I can link). Fansubbers really are peripheral to this debate.

UPDATE: Beta Waffle provides a fresh perspective on the broken Japanese market.

UPDATE (IS THIS THE END OF IT YET?): SDB gives the fansub demonization argument fairer hearing than it deserves by ignoring the Sevakis’ real point:

The ANN editorial makes the same point. As long as R1 fans who try to be honest have to wait between one and three years in order to buy shows blind, or maybe find out they cannot get them at all, while they can see shows within a week of broadcast, for free, if they’re willing to be dishonest, then there will be a lot of people who give in to temptation.

In reality, Sevakis only spent one sentence on the above (very reasonable) point, by saying that he does not “blame” the fansub watchers. The rest of the article was, approximately: “We will sue, sue, sue! Oh, and maybe provide some legal downloads. But then we will SUE, SUE, SUE!” OK, to be fair, he used the word “must” and uppercase “LEGAL”, “INEXPENSIVE”, but he wasn’t very optimistic that anyone will listen. And he used “must” with the legal rights to be defended, too.

If Steven’s point above was made more often, it could be a reasonable discussion. Here’s another point he makes:

Chizumatic favorite Media Blasters may have a new idea: they’ve started releasing DVDs with subtitles but no dubbing. That’s a hell of a lot cheaper and easier to produce, so their R1 overhead is low. So far they’ve been doing it with crap titles (e.g. Aoi and Mutsuki) which they probably also paid a low license fee for, and that means they don’t have to sell many DVDs in the R1 market in order to make a profit. I have no idea how successful they’ve been at this, but keep an eye out to see if they start doing more of that — and if others begin to imitate it.

I noticed the subtitled release of Muteki Kanban Musume too, by reading Josh’s release news. Definitely an item to get, I wrote it down into the purchase plan.

JP Meyer finds even better example of a subtitled release than Ramen Fighter Miki: Simoun. I completely forgot about that, since I never was interested in the show (despite Jeff Lawson giving it the top of the year).