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Today I was reading an interview between ANN’s Zac and Eric P. Sherman, the President of Bang-Zoom Entertainment. It was an interesting interview, with lots of talk of how Bang-Zoom came about and what is happening with their Geneon-licensed works. However, one piece of the interview caught my eye in specific.

“Zac: Speaking of the health of the industry, we have more and more fans, but DVD sales are going down. Some speculate that it has to do with the sum total of Japan’s animated output being hosted on unauthorized torrent sites for free, and bootlegs. Given that that seems to be the way things are moving – we have more fans than ever, but fewer actual consumers – how big a concern is that for a studio like yours?

E.P. Sherman: I think it’s a huge concern. It’s absolutely affected us. I think it’s why we’ve seen a downturn in business – fansubs, bootlegs… and it’s not just the fansubs, because even the dubs are available for free online. I see bootleg DVDs being sold around town where I’m actually credited on the pirated box art. It’s affecting our clients, and it’s affecting us.
Speaking on fansubs, I actually do think it’s true that they do help promote the show, to an extent, that it can be a healthy thing, but I think it’s gone way beyond that now. Anime downloads are more prevalent than porn on the internet right now. It is a serious problem, and it hurts everyone. If even one third of the people who downloaded Haruhi actually bought the DVD, it would have made our industry so much healthier; you wouldn’t even believe it.”

When I read this, I thought long and hard about much of the internal fansubber, blogger, and anime company drama that has been going on recently, and due to my opinion of Bang-Zoom (they’re one of the best things to happen to anime dubbing) and much of my frustrations, I really felt I had to make this response.

A few weeks ago, as most bloggers probably know, DarkMirage called out Nyoro~n Fansubs on their lack of quality, and rightly so. And while I agree with DM’s assessment, I think he inadvertently brought to light an even bigger problem: fansubbing itself has fallen greatly in quality, and not merely due to a few fansub groups.

As I ranted about earlier this year, the amount of fansubber drama that goes on between groups is appalling, and the number of actually good fansubbers has decreased dramatically. Groups that put time and energy into their work have all but disappeared, and in their place groups that care more about proving how awesome they are than actually putting a little TLC into their releases.

What’s worse, the amount of people downloading fansubs is going up, and the amount of people that are actually buying DVDs is decreasing. This results in less money going to the anime companies in America, which means fewer series are licensed, which results in an export of Japan becoming less lucrative, which results in fewer series and lower quality series being produced. Anyone with the slightest grasp on economics should be able to see this, and it is primarily the reason I DO buy DVDs, and lots of them at that; I like alot of anime, and want to see more great series get produced.

This increase in bad fansubs and people that watch them, and the decrease of DVD sales, can only harm the industry. And that in turn will harm us. We are a lucky group in that our hobby doesn’t have an RIAA figure running around suing everyone and anyone. However, it is clear that while the anime companies aren’t driving their fans into poverty (which is a good tactic rather than being rat bastards like the music industry), they do NOT appreciate the so-called fandom that revolves around fansubbing.

I don’t need any more proof than a recent appeal my anime club made to ADV. We wanted to show Gurren-Lagann next semester, but our club has a history of respecting licensing. Because ADV does not seem keen on releasing the DVDs in the immediate future, we made our appeal in the most moral way we could. We promised we would not distribute our copies, that we would purchase the DVDs as club copies upon their release in America, and that we would do everything in our power to encourage our club to support the series by purchasing it. Their response was an unconditional no. And an ANGRY no at that.

Anime companies do not appreciate the fansub market the way we try to whitewash it. Fansubs are NOT free publicity for the DVDs; if they were, we’d be seeing an upturn, rather than a downturn, in sales.

So to all the “fans” out there that think they can get away with claiming watching fansubs is showing support for a series?

Shut up, and put your money where your mouth is. Basic economics will show that you are doing little more than stealing if you do not legally purchase a copy once it is available.

To all the “fans” who say they would like to buy the DVDs but don’t have the money, even with a job?

20-30 dollars is the general running price for a DVD of anime. It could be cheaper if more DVDs were purchased, but for now, that’s 4-5 hours of work AT MINIMUM WAGE. Even if that means you can get away with only one DVD a month as a luxury purchase, it still shows support for an industry that we seem to be taking for granted.

If we want our hobby to survive, we need to treat it with respect.

That said, there needs to be a middle ground. A new breed of anime “fan” has been born, the kind that buys 500 GB hard drives to store all the series they collect. While the anime industry likely can’t capitalize on Hard Drive sales, I do believe they should take steps towards using the internet and creating an iTunes-like internet shop for anime episodes. I believe the industry needs to strike this iron while it is hot, in fact. Also, the anime industry needs to show just why DVDs are better than fansubs; better translation quality, better image quality, just in general better. Even if the dub isn’t great, I’d still prefer a DVD copy over a fansub due to actual professional translators putting time and effort into the subtitle work. And then there’s the case of series like Haruhi, where the dub is so good it’s an even greater value.

Simple economics. Purchase DVDs and get a better product in the long run, or steal by downloading fansubs and ruin the industry. If the industry is wise, they’ll move towards internet distribution and prove for certain that they provide the superior product. And if the fandom is wise, they’ll put their money where their mouth is, and prove to the anime industry that they truly do appreciate their efforts.