In Re: Fan vs. Industry

Over on Twitter, this question was asked and at the time I felt like I wanted to give an answer. I think it might not be the smartest of things but given that I’ve been killing aliens in my spare time and thus running on fumes in terms of Z’s, I made some sense at least.

In short, it’s kind of naive. Mainly because for the longest time, the industry was fans. Things like Otaku no Video exists for a reason. The nature of otaku-targeted anime is extremely cyclic–between fans and creators–and it runs on short cycles. Only a few years ago we just started talking about Chuunibyou (the term was coined not even 5 years ago if I recall correctly) and there’s already an anime where that is the subject today. There are countless examples where creators take notice of what others have created and create something in response, in spirit of someone who appreciates that body of work.

That extends to the industry. Just to focus on the US scene (as it was my context) in this post, the original “industry” here were all because they were fans. Enterprising folks, they were, and there were enterprising Japanese folks who worked in the same, but the scene only exist because we were all fans. And this goes from all aspects of the industry–from people who run cons to people who runs Rightstuf to the dude who remastered Macross. So I think it’s sort of the fundamental baseline we have to work from.

Of course, the history lesson is not common knowledge. People who download anime just so they watch it probably could care less. Still, they are as much of a part of the dialog about industry and fandom as even the biggest fan who is now working for FUNimation or whatever. Or at least, in a perfectly democratic dialog where people value opinions on the basis of their merits, that should be the case.

And I’ve implied to this already: it’s easy to know what fans want. We’ve been serving it to ourselves for the longest time. Just ask some huge fans and big-time consumers what they want–these people are the greediest, lack of a better word–they want the most. And of course, ask the masses of people who don’t really want very much, the types that are only watching a show a season (if that). Because even as hardcore fans, we value their opinions–lest we be unnecessarily elitist. I think a key aspect of dialog between fan and industry is to recognize this–we don’t want to exclude anyone, unless, you know, they are not doing it on good faith.

So how do you tell if they’re doing it on good faith? Because we’ve been doing it already. And this goes beyond free, 0-day (simulcasts that are…simulcasts), subs (perhaps multiple varieties), dubs for later, Blu-ray and DVD, streaming and DTO, and playable on phones and tablets, and home theater extensions (HTPC, Xbox/PS3, Roku/Apple TV etc). We also want merch. Like a Daru figure to go with this Part-time Soldier from Alter. Cospa T-shirts in American sizes (this is why I’m fat) that is less than $40. And paying less than $10 per month for all my anime streaming needs. I’m sure you can add to this list.

Well that is probably just the starting point but you can see it’s easy to list a bunch of very difficult things to achieve. Some might even be impossible, but I’m an optimist. Some, on the other hand, are easy. And to be fair if you dig deep into a lot of these demands, they aren’t so impossible on the surface.

Truth is, if people come into this sort of dialog with good faith, telling the fans how it is, they will understand how it is. To me, words like “support the creator” are just code for words they’re too embarassed to talk about: this stuff cost money and it has to come from somewhere. And it’s the diplomatic thing to say. I think we all realize some money needs to go to the people providing the service, if we’re going to hold them to some kind of standard. Of course, the tradeoff is that the vendors have to stick to some kind of standard and deliver some kind of value against the ever-extending wishlist we all have.

At the same time, I think fans can obviously go overboard and make life miserable for those industry folks who do extend a welcoming hand to people who have honest opinions about the stuff they love. Lots of abuse have flew in the fansub argument or the dub/sub argument. I think it’s all kind of dumb, and perhaps even counterproductive. Actually, the whole Crunchyroll thing has been really counterproductive, but that one is a particularly difficult nut to crack and understand.

Well, that’s not so important in the big picture. To look at it differently, think about the role Crunchyroll has posited itself among people who do watch legit simulcasts. Why would anyone wish that CR simulcasted everything? It’s simple: CR has the best delivery system out of everyone by a long stretch. Its prices are fair and for the most part people have a good experience with them. But this is also a major testament to how they have changed the way people think and how their business model (compete with piracy) has really gotten them somewhere.

And it’s in the space of our collective wishlists that companies (anime or otherwise) have to exert themselves. Five years ago nobody would’ve wished that they can watch all their new shows on Crunchyroll, but people still wanted “0-day fansubs” today as much as they did back then. There are plenty of people who would buy their anime because FUNimation is releasing it, versus Sentai or Media Blaster or whoever, because they trust and like the brand and the way they localize things. In my mind, it’s exactly in those areas where industry has to be, either by words or by action (probably both) in order to add value to our self-sufficient fandom.

TL;DR: fans need to respect the industry’s value. Industry need to respect fandom’s resourcefulness to be self-sufficient. This is the motivation. If your motives are not encompassing or compatible, well, best of luck.

It’s better to think of it as opportunities than some kind of obligation, as there were fans long before there was the R1 industry. Typically demand exists before supply; mother of invention is you-can-fill-in-the-blank. Fans and industry are oddly and ironically, not beholden to each other, but are independently better off if they work together. If your company’s profile does not fit as an entity who adds value to fandom and rather as some kind of gatekeeper to what people want, then you shouldn’t expect people to like you, and you probably should expect your revenue stream to be, as Jeff Bezos would say, disrupted. Maybe it’ll take decades, maybe it’ll take months, but it’ll happen.

So, actually, yes, it doesn’t take a genius to know what fans want. It takes a lot more than a genius to know what fans don’t even know what they want, and bring it to them.

9 Responses to “In Re: Fan vs. Industry”

  • Mandoric

    Fandom’s “self-sufficiency” only extends as far as the independent US-side marketing/distribution apparatus, basically meaning the Texans.

    When there’s an end-run around your gatekeeper model because your draw can be replicated by one to three guys in four to eight hours, you’re treading on risky ground. Unfortunately, the fanbase raged long and hard against that particular machine until it mostly disappeared, and now has its sights set directly on the gatekeepers whose draw is made by sixty or so illustrators, ten to thirty actors, and assorted planning staff laboring for two and a half months.

    In terms of marketing optics here, the problem is that for a particular core market the idea of participation-by-purchase is instilled so hard that they take personal affront to the idea of not getting to participate in everything, and while I agree it’s important short-term to scratch that itch for them long-term it’s something we need to ease away from as unhealthy for everyone involved.

    • omo

      I’m not too sure I get what you’re saying, but it doesn’t sound so bad? I think the key is as long as enough profit is extracted, it isn’t really a problem.

      You do make a good point about the degree of self-sufficiency. I think the ultimate issue here is that it is still about recognizing the value of the middlemen and knowing realistically what that brings to the table, and paying for it. Plus, even if things regress beyond to how it was 20 years ago, the world has changed enough that the new gatekeepers are probably good enough for what we’re talking about.

    • Mandoric

      I kind of went off on a tangent, sorry. ^^; I agree, definitely, I just think that we’ve peeled away (almost!) all the middlemen already and fans trying to be “self-sufficient” with what remains is going to start cutting into the product itself rather than the American retail version.

      There are obviously still a few exceptions, but they’re basically restricted to accidents (see TBS/MBS this season).

    • omo

      A major lesson here, underneath all of this, is that the middleman has to learn how to deal with fans. This is like the key lesson for media industries everyone needs to learn…the last decade. I’m not sure Japan gets the idea how people outside of Japan works, fundamentally, but that’s probably a major thing at the root of this.

      I remember reading about American young adults (…in the 1970s) learning about Japan and Japanese as a matter of getting into the marketplace–as enterprising business people doing business or manufacturing or finance and what not. This is kind of the core issue here.

    • jennifu

      I think it’s a pretty interesting situation. Certainly getting rid of the middleman and letting a content creator directly sell to consumers is admirable; when an indie rock band can sell without the middleman, they can charge less but keep a higher profit margin, making everyone happy. Unfortunately in anime, when the middleman is eliminated or strongly controlled, the content creator (OK, the Japanese licensor…) charges way more e.g. Aniplex and Bandai, and it’s unclear if their profit is really worth it, although most would hazard a guess that it’s not…

      Of course fans are self-sufficient, but I would still say they can’t expect their lack of participation to have no adverse effects, even if it’s all very indirect. This obviously applies more the Japanese industry though.

    • omo

      I have my own theories about Bandai and Aniplex, and they’re playing smarter ball in some regards (and worse in others). I think the message from my post though is that the middleman is a great thing but only if the middleman is great. And isn’t this how it should be? I mean, look at the Yuasa kickstarter for example, how can we badmouth that? (Rhetorical question–I can easily.)

  • Jennifu

    I wanted to work in the anime industry for basically two reasons: 1) I’m extremely bored doing work that I don’t find interesting and fulfilling and anime is kind of my only interest in life www, and 2) well, this might be kind of arrogant and naive, but I get really depressed when I hear the attitude that anime should be free and it’s okay to punish everyone, even the original Japanese creators and poor animators, for mistakes the R1 industry makes, and I want to help change that. At the same time, I really don’t like that even the industry seems to have fallen into this idea that they’re different from and antagonized by fans, and although it’s only been a month for me, I don’t ever want to think of myself becoming different from normal otaku.

    I kind of just want to use the industry and work to send money and glory back to Japan, because I have horrid delusions that some season there won’t be any more good new anime, and cheap 3D and alternate entertainment options will take over everything.

    I guess at the end of the day, I want to see more participation from purported “hardcore fans.” There’s a statistic that the vast majority of buying anime fans in the US watch dubs, but I certainly don’t think this is reflective of fandom as a whole. It’s the semi-casuals that drive the R1 market and the people who are like me (who I suspect would make up a bigger proportion of fandom, given the Times Downloaded stats on a lot of torrents) who find the excuses and are willing to punish the people who matter (Japanese creatives) in order to punish the people who don’t (R1 industry folks). I want the sub-watching seiyuu fan figure-buying slightly kimoi otaku like me to be the ones to dominate the discourse, probably as a bit of narcissism. I’m starting to think that it’s not so much that R1 doesn’t want to cater to us, but that our pickiness on literalness of translation and karaoke subs and fonts and true-simultaneous simulcast, combineed with our insistence on “punishing” R1 for not being perfect, made us a demographic that wouldn’t let R1 cater to us in the first place– the hardcore fans who will actually buy things AND tell R1 their list of greivances just pales in comparison to the semi-casuals who just want to relax and watch a dub. Then we either feel upset that we’re being cut out or decide to give up on R1 and devote our lives to piracy. I do think R1 video is, in theory, a great vehicle for the non-buying hardcore fans to start sending money and love back to Japan, considering that merchandise and imported video is so expensive, but if various aspects of industry make fans too loath to purchase this, then they’re left with only the big price barrier that’s difficult to climb over.

    Ultimately, I’m something of a capitalist and I believe in the value of dollar democracy as much as the value of simple exchange of currency for goods and services, but when people refuse to spend money, their opinions just can’t get through and the industry gives up on them. I guess I’d really like to see more transparency in the industry, and I think this would help things, but I’m starting to understand why there isn’t much. Some people are perfectly reasonable and may turn to paying for things and watching simulcasts; notably, when I interviewed with Crunchyroll, they said that they aren’t really afraid of piracy because they feel opinions are changing and becoming more accepting of industry. I’m not satisfied with this because I don’t think it’s enough. I want the industry to evolve to serve ME and people like me, but what can it do when we essentially don’t want it to?

    Dunno how coherent that was :///

    • omo

      If you believe in dollar democracy, then believe in dollar democracy. I believe it both that someone will take charge and make a living in a way that is ethical and sensible, and people will agree with that group of people via their patronage.

      I think your consternation comes from framing things too specifically in a certain way. I mean I don’t know what to say about it besides that even in VHS days, dubs:subs was like 8:1 in terms of sales. Back then people paid to watch and own anime, fansub included, even through tape trading and later on via SASE purchasing. (Old man time: I spent more getting my Kenshin TV fansubs than how much they are now on DVD.) But little of that money goes into the anime production companies. Still people are willing to spend. Just like how people are willing to pay big bucks to go to cons but not on DVDs. The numbers do show that a lot of people who watch a lot of anime end up putting more money back to the system than those who don’t. But a lot of people don’t or only do it casually. It’s really the middleman’s job to square that stuff away and figure out where the opportunity is, I guess. Fans may know some of that first-hand, but that’s that.

      Sure, I’m inclined to write off people who don’t pay. I mean, basically, people who don’t pay don’t pay. It’s not really my concern to figure out why not, and I’m not sure whose it is, if it is anyone’s. They get what they paid for. In a lot of cases “they get what they paid for” literally mean terabytes and terabytes of storage, they would spend thousands on computer hardware but not on the anime on them. Now if they want to pay for anime and don’t have an outlet to do so, that’s a different issue. Or if we can give them that mind trick so they spend some of that hardware money into anime, hey, win-win in both people’s books. This is why a lot of us like Steam and Crunchyroll. Because those operations didn’t quite write all of them off, because they serve a legit need that wasn’t being served by middlemen framing the issue too narrowly and missing the big picture (and potential $). It’s not a surprise they aren’t concerned about piracy. Because if you believe dollar democracy, just like bootlegging, they’re just economics 101 stuff, signs of market inefficiencies.

      I think rethinking that is one of the fundamental things all of R1 industry should be working on. Something new media businesspeople have been for decades. It’s not to say that should be a strategy they should pursue, but to me it’s a huge missed opportunity, for example, that we haven’t had one of the main R1 companies put on their own con, or one in conjunction with some 3rd party. Or other tracks of highly curated, very vertical ways to integrate traditional money outlets into their marketing efforts. I’m sure GSC would be elated to work with Viz about Accel World, for example. If there’s any money there.

      I’m starting to think that it’s not so much that R1 doesn’t want to cater to us, but that our pickiness on literalness of translation and karaoke subs and fonts and true-simultaneous simulcast, combineed with our insistence on “punishing” R1 for not being perfect, made us a demographic that wouldn’t let R1 cater to us in the first place– the hardcore fans who will actually buy things AND tell R1 their list of greivances just pales in comparison to the semi-casuals who just want to relax and watch a dub. Then we either feel upset that we’re being cut out or decide to give up on R1 and devote our lives to piracy.

      The more I read this paragraph, the more I feel this reads like a good reason to punish the R1. Because let’s face it, if we can count Aniplex USA, Nozomi and Discotek, what exactly is the R1 industry again? Certainly not Funimation…? Or are they? Is “anime industry” just plastic discs? Do we count plastic figures? Manga? Games? Dragon Age? I don’t think anyone actually complained about the Kara no Kyoukai box in terms of quality and sub-literalness, for example. The problem, to me, is more with FUNi who are determined to serve casual fans first–which is why I think they put on the best marketing, since we’re talking about the semi- or full-casuals who don’t even know what shows they would like to watch. Because they have to dub everything for that group, it really limits what titles they can release. Just off-the-cuff, NISA admits at their NYCC panel that they would have to sell through 5 times their current sales of a specific title in order to justify a dub of any of their titles (I’m assuming this is on average). But that’s their business model. Sure, people complain about their stuff, but the reality of it is more about the size of the market and how many people are buying the stuff.

      But is that really a problem? Not really. Should fans whine about it? It’s certainly not on the top of do-not-whine list. I mean, try talking to Key fans who bitches about Little Buster not being animated by Kyoani for a change, all this Animuindustri whining will seem really quaint.

      I really don’t want to be in the business of forcing people to buy stuff they don’t like. Even if they’re pirating it. Because I understand what drives people to pirate things, and while often times it’s cheapness, or feeling of entitlement, but it also has do with their upbringing and where they are in life. I have a friend who makes wall street money and still hoards pirated anime like a 16yo. Does he give a damn? Not really. And until we change anime from “industry” to “religion” I’m not sure we should. He values his convenience by far, and that’s where most have fallen far short.

      (My friend is a particularly good example, in that if the cops caught him I wouldn’t really feel too bad about it, because he kinda deserves it, and has the money to fend it off. Not that he’s done anything what I’d say is morally wrong, but he really has no regards for copyright law and is just doing it because he could. But he is pretty much the ideal example where it is not a pity case–he just has a different set of values about spending money on possessions that are not life’s necessities. And the most wonderful thing would be some middleman who comes along and provides a better use case than him keeping terabytes of local storage in his apartment. Doing the math, if CR serves all the anime he needs, he would spend much more money on storage over 10 years than he does on a $60/yr subscription)

    • omo

      The conclusion of this article addresses somewhat your concerns. I think from an ethical “is this wrong” aspect a lot of the times people are justifying and rationalizing selfish behavior. Which is why on some level, you have to engage people who are at least having this discussion on good faith, and realize that they may be doing just that unknowingly.

      But, like I said, I’m not interested in this religion–I’ve already got one. Anime is a business. So no culture-shifting massive lobbing “don’t copy this floppy” bullshit for me. What gets my money are people who take advantage of modern technology and use it in a way that is a win-win, middle or otherwise.

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