The president and CEO of Bang Zoom! Entertainment Eric P. Sherman has written an article at AnimeTV foretelling the death of dubs and the anime industry in general at the hands of fansubbers and pirates. He details the downfalls of CPM, ADV and Geneon alongside the massive downsizing that occurred at places like Bandai. He then goes on to say that his company, Bang Zoom! will not continue dubbing anime if people will not purchase it and continue to download instead. He gives a time limit of about a year before they stop offering dubs saying if things don’t change “I can guarantee you that this time next year, Bang Zoom won’t be bringing you anymore English language versions of it.”
And now for some editorializing:
While that idea of stopping dubbing if it’s not profitable makes sound business sense, I feel Mr. Sherman’s arguments are slightly misguided, and frankly his tone comes across rather condescending. He treats the reader like he’s reprimanding his child, not a person who may be a future indirect customer. Early in his article, he states that “Japan is already suffering and struggling to bring out quality titles,” and then goes on to rant about how no one buys anime anymore. The reason that sales are down is that the anime industry isn’t bringing out quality titles. For every Spice and Wolf or Eden of the East there are five generic shonen action shows and ten moe slice of life shows. Don’t get me wrong, I admit that I enjoy the occasional K-On!, but so many of the shows that come out really aren’t worth paying $6 per half-hour episode to watch. While many publishers have gotten away from the 3 episodes for $20 DVD system, there are still some out there.
Mr. Sherman also argues that “so far, there are no successful ways to monetize online entertainment. Not so that creators can afford to produce and distribute quality content.” But Crunchyroll would like to say hello. His argument would hold a lot more water if he said that there are no successful ways to monetize dubbed entertainment online. The problem that he faces is that dubbing takes time. Crunchyroll has the benefit of subtitles taking far less time to produce, making it possible for them to offer simulcasting with Japan. Dubbing requires people to license a show, translate and finalize a script, then record all the lines, then synchronize the audio with the video, and add an English credit overlay before it can be released. It takes a slew of people quite some time to perform all those jobs in a professional manner for each episode, and that means a lot more overhead. Unfortunately, entertainment can be a time-based industry, and the fact that places like Crunchyroll can have an episode out so much faster than a standard North American studio gives them an enormous advantage. If the viewer doesn’t care about having to watch a show with subtitles, which many of the anime fans I know actually prefer, then the shorter turn-around time actually provides an even larger advantage. A faster turn-around time for a less expensive product means that your sales go down, it’s Economics 101.
I will concede that yes, many people do use various torrent and IRC sites to download shows with fansubs before they ever get licensed here in North America; however it’s incredibly misleading to lay the blame entirely at the feet of internet piracy. Many fansubbers will stop once a title is licensed because they care about the industry, too. As a result, when shows are licensed early on in a season, downloading the first few episodes gives potential customers a chance to sample the series before they spend a lot of money on it. Let’s face it, anime isn’t exactly a cheap hobby, and depending on the show, half of the target demographic may not even be old enough to hold jobs. I know I don’t have the money to just pick random shows off the shelves and buy them and hope for the best, and I doubt that many of you readers do either. Most of my DVD collection was purchased because I enjoyed watching the fansubs, and I’m not an oddity in this. if he thinks sales will pick up once fansubs are quashed, he is in for a rude awakening.
Would I be sad to see dubbing disappear from the anime industry? Certainly, it’s nice to have the option of English or Japanese voices, and there have been some fantastic performances that really make a show better. Plus, some people really hate reading subtitles while they watch a show. As a result, there may be some minor reductions in sales, but at the same time, that’s a lot of expenses that would disappear as well, allowing companies to bring over more shows in the long run. So, while reports of the death of the anime industry might be greatly exaggerated, the anime dubbing industry, as I’ve said before, may be on their last leg.
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