R.I.P. BangZoom

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Yesterday the president of BangZoom entertainment posted a blog post on the future of the Anime Licensors in the United States. I encourage you to read it before being tainted with my commentary.

I’m going to break down the post but I need to say that in no way am I supporting Piracy in my attack on this document. Piracy is wrong and it does harm a lot of the people who have created the work that as Anime fans we enjoy. However, I don’t believe piracy is the cause of the death of the American Licensors or BangZoom.

The timing of this piece is completely wrong. Starting from that fact this is not a last effort by a dead company but an effort to try and prop the company up from what could be a death spiral. This is obviously influenced by the Shonen Jump letter which bluntly asked fans to stop scanning the magazine saying that it is “Hurting the Manga Culture.” 

The other factor that probably prompted Eric Sherman is the introduction of Aniplex into the American marketplace. As I discussed on Episode 11 of the podcast Aniplex is not going to be dubbing the Gurren Lagann movies. NIS America, who is entering the US Market with Toradora! in a few months, will also not be dubbing their licenses. Where does that leave BangZoom?

Onto the article

You must have noticed by now that many of the publishers that brought anime to the West have been shut down or substantially down-sized. There are only a few places left still able to bring titles to our shores.

Yes, I have noticed that these licensors have been disappearing because this is, apparently, the year 2007.

This is a critical year for anime. There’s no other way to say it. And I realized this morning that it was time for me to sound an urgent alarm.

This morning he saw that two of the biggest releases of the summer, Gurren Lagann, will not be receiving dubs.

If people don’t resist the urge to get their fix illegally, the entire industry is about to fizzle out. It won’t be a big dramatic change at this point.

So the alarm is about Piracy. He thinks that he is the first person to notice that people pirate content? He felt like he needed, personally, to raise the alarm? Come now. The first paragraph was an attempt to put himself in the righteous position before moving on with the fear that BangZoom is about to go under. Again, what is he telling us that we don’t already know?

Last year we saw Bandai fire 90% of their staff on one Monday in January, and two years ago we saw Geneon (neé Pioneer) shut their doors and auction off their wares to the highest bidder. CPM died a slow, painful death. And ADV fell hard and fast, the way mighty giants will.

Again, nothing we don’t already know and have been terrified over for years. My focus in this part is how he describes ADV. They “fell hard and fast, the way mighty giants will.” That statement is full of defeatism. It also is full of truth. Once ADVs funding was cut they couldn’t sustain their business model and simply fell apart. It’s odd that Sherman would use such elaborate language to describe the process. Perhaps he sees a bit of ADVs fate in his own future. 

But from here on, it won’t be so exciting. Japan is already suffering and struggling to bring out quality titles. They can’t rely on everything being picked up by US distributors anymore. And little by little, it just won’t be here anymore.

This is the first instance where I have to call bullshit. This statement makes it seem like Japan relies on the American market to release quality shows.  Scott VonSchilling, from Anime Almanac, was a hardcore fan of the idea and attempted to prove it  in his piece titled, “Are we Just Gravy? The Importance of the American Market to the Japanese.” Scott enters the argument with a bias, “…my answer was going to be that we weren’t just gravy to the Japanese. I believed that America anime market was actually a critical part of their business over there.” But in the end is forced to admit that that idea is simply not true, “So like I said, these answers weren’t exactly those I were looking for, but I do believe that I had found a very interesting insight into the importance of America in the global anime scene. Are we just gravy to the Japanese? Yes. Yes we are.” Nice try Mr. Sherman but that theory is long since dead.

You can’t find much anime at Best Buy now. In fact, where can you find it for sale? Think about that.  There are fewer new titles coming out, and less and less stuff will be in English, because it’s just not worth the cost of dubbing it. It’s true that entertainment distribution models are going to be changing dramatically. DVD may be on the way out forever, and online TV is becoming a reality very quickly. But so far, there are no successful ways to monetize online entertainment. Not so that creators can afford to produce and distribute quality content.

Again, all he is stating are facts. Titles are disappearing because the market that demands anime is much smaller now than it was five years ago. DVD is on a slope downward as a platform and online media distribution is the future. Why is he complaining about these things? Why not come up with an idea to fix it. Make the business models work online instead of just panicking. What he is saying is. “DVD is dying and that is our business model! We’re doomed!” Change should become your new business model.

Anime is going to die.

Unless YOU change. Right now. Stop stealing. If you have committed theft, robbery, shop-lifting, or just “downloading some stuff through torrent reactor,”  then just stop doing it — now. You probably wouldn’t go into a supermarket and put a package of swiss cheese under your shirt and walk out without paying. Nor would you walk into Best Buy and try to walk out with Guitar Hero, bypassing the cash register. Why? Is it because you might get caught? Or are there other issues, such as standards of morality, that dictate how you live your life.

Oh, I’m sorry. The reason why your business is failing is because of me? That is the same cry the music industry made when they were all but dead. Then they reformed their business model and currently enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. Also, Anime is not going to die. Anime is going to change in an attempt to reach a larger market. The anime licensing business in this country is no where near dead. Funimation is licensing news titles almost every month plus Aniplex and NIS America are just coming into the market. How are these signs of a dying business?

Furthermore, I take offence at the term theft because legally that isn’t what pirates are doing. The OED defines theft very clearly, “the felonious taking away of the personal goods of another,” the definition involves property being taken away. The crime pirates are violating is called “Copyright Infringement.” Copyright is, of course, “The exclusive right given by law for a certain term of years to an author, composer, designer, etc, to print, publish, and sell copies of his original work,” and infringement “breaking or breach (of a law, obligation, right, etc.)” so in essence copyright infringement is when someone violates the exclusive right of a publisher to print their own content. It is incorrect to calls pirates “thieves.” Nor is it correct to compare it to the act of physically taking something from a store. I’m not justifying anything. Copyright Infringement is illegal. However, it is no where near as illegal as theft.

The net, for all it’s charms, is also a dark and dangerous place. When you’re navigating it, you need to ask yourself this question:  Is this right, just because it is so easy

The Internet is indeed a scary place. Maybe everyone should just stay away from it because it doesn’t fit the business model of the failed Anime licensors.

You need to understand that quality entertainment costs a lot to create. And if there is no one paying for this content, it just won’t be made anymore. If no one bought tickets to a Lady Ga Ga show, she would not do the tour. That’s just how it works. For some reason, people don’t mind stealing their anime. I’m here to tell you flat out: This is wrong. You are doing something bad. And you need to stop it.

I understand. This statement is, in fact, true. If US anime fans don’t want dubs then BangZoom doesn’t have a product to sell. I’m sorry if the market has gone this way but it isn’t just the fault of the pirates. Most anime piracy is fansubs, shows that are (mostly) not licensed in the United States or dubbed. I’m sure there is piracy of dubs floating around the web but nowhere near the number of subbed releases. As a consumer while I still buy Anime DVDs most of them are from older shows when the dubs were of high quality. The one of the newer shows I have on disc, D. Gray Man, has an awful dub. I’m not going to watch it so why did I pay for it? The quality of the product is no longer there and because of that the demand for the product has gone down. If shows were getting good dubs, Toradora!! for example, I’d buy it and listen to it but that just isn’t going to happen now that NIS has the rights and if no dub brings the price of the disc down to a more tempting point that alone might curb the need for casual piracy.

I’m sure that some of you reading this will laugh, close this window, and go download some more torrents. Why not? Who’s going to know? Who’s going to catch you?

No, I’m not laughing. I’m terrified that the licensors in the states can’t come up with a business model that will give me more high quality Blu-ray releases. I’m terrified that the fandom I love is in danger of becoming more niche than it currently is. Fix it!

I think this bears repetition, so I’ll say it again:

Maybe you should have said it three years ago.

Not getting caught does not make what you are doing right. And I am pretty sure it doesn’t make you feel good about yourself.  What you are doing is not only illegal, it is actually hurting many people. From the artists and creators, to the voice actors in the studios — all working to put food on their tables for their families. You can’t see them, and you can’t see the immediate results of your actions. But believe me, you are hurting people.

I agree. I really do agree with this statement. I want to support the people who make the content I enjoy. I also want ease of access, high quality download to own episodes, good Blu-Ray releases. Most of all I’m willing, and I know many fans who are very willing, to pay for all of those things. But you cry that the death of DVD means the death of Anime? No, it doesn’t. Give us the product that we want and fans will pay for it. Do something! Don’t just put up a blog post condescending your fans while attempting to guilt them into buying more discs. That isn’t a business model.

If what I’m saying resonates with you, then consider this a wake up call. A call to immediate and profound action. It’s very easy to do.  You should support anime if you love it, by paying for it. Do the right thing. Plain and simple. Because if you don’t, I can guarantee you that this time next year, Bang Zoom won’t be bringing you anymore English language versions of it.

If the market is not there how do you plan to create it? There are so many variables that Eric Sherman is ignoring that it renders his entire argument nonsensical. He doesn’t factor in the shrinking market and just assumes that everyone who is not buying DVDs now just has switched to piracy. Sure, probably a decent number of them did. But more have simply aren’t fans of the medium anymore. He also doesn’t bring up the fact that Anime is no longer on television, a huge source of not only revenue but of building an audience that will go out and buy more Anime. In the early 2000s when Trigun, Tenchi, Gundam Wing, Outlaw Star, and Cowboy Bebop dominated Toonami on Cartoon Network it was a breeding ground for anime fans. Once they finished with the Toonami line up they were compelled to find more content like those shows. An outlet like that doesn’t exist anymore.

While I’m sorry that a house like BangZoom is dying a moralistic approach to reviving the industry isn’t going to work. The Shonen Jump attempt was far more effective because it was backed with legal threats and the desire to see the content creators get paid. The American licensing companies are, at best, romanticized importers. . Eric Sherman isn’t going to garner sympathy by moralizing especially in a market where he is quickly becoming obsolete.

7 thoughts on “R.I.P. BangZoom

  1. Well said! I don’t know about the American audience, but i don’t need english dubs and do not want to see the money go wasted. Further with the introduction of blu ray, why can’t the Japanese companies just release their products with English subs like bandai’s unicorn release. That way it will have a bigger market for 1 product, giving the creator more allowance with the price. Also the tv station can follow wat animax Asia is doing, bringing same week telecast to the tv. Or even crunchyroll.Bang zoom is obsolete, that is going to be a fact.

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  2. I really liked your response to this article. I’ll preface this by saying that there’s going to be some, if not a lot, of speculation in my response here. There are two ideas/points that you bring up that especially terrify me, the first being that there has yet to be introduced a business model that will help businesses in the anime industry be productive enough to consistently bring fans the quality products that they would be willing to pay for. All we can do is deal with the broken one that’s out there now, and cross our fingers, hoping that a better solution is on the horizon.Secondly, you also address the idea that since anime is no longer on television, it no longer has the far-reaching appeal that brought many of us to the anime fandom in the first place. Coupled with this letter from Bang Zoom, it really does seem like, as you say, this niche market is only going to get smaller. This makes me sad because, despite the fact that I personally am a sub fan, most people that I watch anime with, will usually only watch a dub, simply due to the fact that it’s easier for them to understand. To get people who don’t watch anime religiously to actually watch anime more often than not requires a dub. To use a real life example, I recently convinced my brother to watch the dubbed DVDs of Big Windup! which he loved. When I told him that the second season was coming out soon, he became excited, only to be let down by the fact that what I meant is that it would be airing in Japan, and be available by subtitle only. Since then, he’s watched every new episode, but gets frustrated at how hard it is to keep up with the subtitles sometimes, and has said that it’s not nearly as enjoyable to watch because he frequently gets lost. I don’t have the heart to tell him that it’s probably never going to be released dubbed in the U.S.If anything, this letter from Sherman tells me, as a fan, that no one really knows what to do with the failing business model of the anime industry, and that blaming pirates has become the easiest thing to do. I’m not saying that piracy isn’t a problem, but it makes me sad that, seemingly, no one right now has any idea of where the industry should go, or what it needs to do to become profitable again. I hope someone comes up with something soon!

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  3. While the statement is heavy-handed, I think there is some truth in the big picture. Even though Japanese companies entering the market on their own and going dub-free is cost-effective and cost-effective is good, it’s also going to alienate the casual viewer who needs that extra level of immersion to stick around. If dubs go away, so will the casual crowd and with it, the viability of a Western anime industry.The ideal fix for the industry would be for Western licensors and animation studios to collaborate from Day 1, with simultaneous schedules for everything from airing to DVD production (and there would be DVD’s, because the price points for online streaming just aren’t working for the producing side). However, I don’t see that happening in the near future because there’s just way too much risk involved for the licensor. They’d essentially have to agree to a title blind.

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  4. I just wanted to note that in the article you linked regarding how Japan doesn’t need the U.S. anime market it did state that the "extra" revenue Japanese companies receive from American sales goes to producing lower selling titles that are less mainstream. If the American revenue stream dries up, those would be the first shows to go. I’m assuming that the author of that post meant these more niche shows would not be produced in Japan for Japanese since there is less revenue to go around in general. The article cited Spice and Wolf as an example, and I would hate to see a show like that not get produced because of the lost revenue from America. While I see how Japanese anime could go on without any American revenue, I still think there would be a noticeable impact. We might see less innovative, experimental shows and less shows in general being produced each season. In fact, I feel that might already be happening in recent seasons due to the recession and downward sales of anime in America. So while the American market is "gravy," it sounds like it helps pays for "gravy" shows we might not see produced at all because of lacking mainstream potential in Japan. Ultimately, I’d rather have my anime turkey with gravy, although I know the turkey itself would not disappear if the American market dried up.

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  5. I do agree with some of your points, but others not so much, particularly the complaint about the quality of dubs and not wanting to pay for them. Some dubs truly are horrible, this is true, but they’re few and far between these days. D. Gray-man is not an example of this. It is an example of you personally not liking a dub. I personally loved that dub. Most dubs are a matter of taste.And the argument "why should I pay for a dub that I’ll never watch?" really doesn’t fly with me. I have never seen a case where a DVD is noticeably more expensive than other DVDs by the same company because of the presence of a dub. For example, Media Blasters’ Seirei no Moribito DVDs have a dub on them, but they’re priced at basically the same point as their sub only things. Dubs really don’t add extra expense to the consumer from what I’ve seen.

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  6. I’m a bit tardy getting into this discussion, so perhaps I missed the memo that said because facts are being stated, that’s a valid reason to despise the information?   Again and again in your blog you say "we already know this."  I beg to differ.  You may already know, because you are not only a serious devotee of the art form, but also study the industry as well.  In my considerable experience working in the field, most fans do not.  They like watching, and don’t much think about the process of bringing the product to them as long as it’s available when they want it.  To put it more simply, not everyone knows what you know.Regarding your legal definitions of piracy:  "theft" is absolutely correct, in addition to the copyright infringement you seem to think is merely some sort of minor peccadillo.  It is theft of intellectual property (and if you think that’s a minor issue, just let Microsoft know you’re booting their software and tell me how minor it is) — it is also theft of services on the part of everyone who put the product together.Regarding the "gravy" portion of the discussion, you are partially correct.  The US market is partly gravy, but there’s still some steak left in there.  Once the market was established in this country as a viable money pipeline for the original producers, the market was spread throughout the world.  Without the American market the rest would not exist; the reality of the marketplace is that the rest of the world still looks to the US for guidance as to what is a viable product.  Name me an anime series that was first brought to the world market in Belgium or Germany or Italy.  The rest of the world has the larger market share, but the marketplace is rooted here.That being said, the marketplace is and has been shrinking fir several years, and the zombification of Bandai and outright deaths of Geneon / Pioneer, CPM and ADV should give you pause.  Bit because it didn’t happen this month, it means nothing?  Those are huge alarm bells, and should be heeded.  Watch 4 Kids and Funimation for the next retrenchments.The marketplace is shrinking, and for one reason:  producer greed.  When producers found popularity growing for their product (in the US), license fees began to skyrocket.  This squeezed the margins of distributors, and what had been a growing business became top-heavy and ultimately unsustainable because the producers were busy lining their pockets with funding that should have gone back into production quality.Ah, quality…  We used to work for that.  We used to take pride in what we accomplished in the dubs we did.  But because producers wanted more profit from their franchises, dubbing budgets were slashed down to and into the bone.  Dubs are now machine-gunned out in studios not where they can best be done, but where they get the lowest bid and shortest deadline, and quality be damned because it’s going to sell anyway, right?I feel, as I think you do as well from your opinion, that a quality product is worth paying for.  Unfortunately, that’s not the way the market works now, because downline quality is just too expensive a luxury.Shakespeare got it wrong; the lawyers shouldn’t be first, it should be the MBAs.

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