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Might Makes Rights

by Justin Sevakis,

Some days, it just feels like there's so much good stuff out there, and you just can't wait to be done with the work you have to do so that you can get to the pile of great stuff waiting for you. For example, after playing for weeks in the theater I finally got to see Ex Machina, a fantastic cerebral sci-fi film that I'm pretty sure is the first truly great piece of cinematic post-internet Sci-fi. It's cut from the same cloth as the original Ghost in the Shell, and has so many nods to Japanese pop culture that it's hard to keep track of them all. See it, in the theater, as soon as you can. And here, on my kitchen table as I write this very sentence, lies my freshly delivered copy of What Did You Eat Yesterday? volume 8. The fact that I am not sitting down, reading it right now is making me itch.

Let's answer some questions so I can take care of that.

Travis asks:

I opened up my old DVD of Otaku no Video, and noticed that it had a couple of paper inserts, one containing lyrics to all the songs used, and another with info on the wide array of anime spoofs and references made throughout the show. Why don't more releases include extras like this? I can't imagine it costs much to produce. Admittedly, I've owned this DVD for nearly a decade and just noticed now, so I'm not sure how much of a selling point they are either, but they were a cool little extra to see. Something like this, or something similar to the essays you find in Criterion Collection releases might be an interesting read for some fans.

In the early days of DVDs, everything came with a paper insert. Most of the time it was just artwork, a chapter list, and maybe promo for some other discs from the same publisher. However, it was an added printing expense, most people lost them (they almost never made it to the used market), and for the vast majority of discs they served no real purpose. Consumers liked as many extras as possible to be on the disc itself. Also, the inserts would often get snagged on the spine of the case when they got packaged, so even new in shrink-wrap, they often just didn't work very well. As soon as the format stabilized and publishers started looking for ways to cut costs, those inserts were the first to go, and most people didn't even seem to notice. Blu-rays seldom come with any printed insert, other than the package slip itself, and maybe an O-card (the official name for those cardboard outer slip covers).

Criterion often puts film essays in the packaging, but Criterion also uses custom-designed disc cases. Printed essays have never been a big thing with anime, and I don't expect them to ever be. The only time I can think of where such a thing was included (that was written by someone unrelated to the original work) would be when Manga Video included a brief essay by Carl Horn in with their DVD release of Wings of Honneamise. The fan base for anime is too young to want to read an essay, the licensors are too strict about including things like that, and the extra cost of printing a book isn't really worth the probably zero extra purchases that their inclusion might inspire. The only business reason I can think of to include something like that is to justify the price of a premium edition. I would love to have translation notes like AnimEigo used to include, though, and with more anime studios doing premium editions, it would definitely be a nice thing to have. But, of course, people lose them, so you can't make it an essential part of watching the anime, which means anything really important has to go on the disc itself.

For what it's worth, I have quite a few Criterion discs that have books with essays in them, and I think maybe I've read one or two of them, ever. They don't add much to the experience for me. Do they for you? Let us know in the forum.

Jessica asks:

I want to monetize my videos on YouTube, but a lot of them feature me in cosplay. I am a big fan of Soul Eater and like to make tutorial videos of me cosplaying some of the characters. Do you know if it is considered copyright infringement if I make money off of those videos? YouTube staff didn't have an answer for me and I don't know who else to ask!

While technically, the legality of making any sort of income on that is a little dicey, I don't think you're going to have any problem doing it. If you're not using clips of the original show and you're not using copyrighted music, YouTube likely won't flag you for copyright violations, and no studio will object to it. I am not a laywer and this is not legal advice, but since your video would in no way dissuade people from watching the show and isn't copying it directly, you're almost certainly within the parameters of "fair use" by American standards.

Honestly, though, unless you're a big-time YouTuber with bucketloads of content posted, monetizing YouTube videos is seldom worth the effort. You'll be lucky if, a year from now, you'll have earned more than a dollar of revenue. Which is another reason why nobody is going to raise a ruckus about it.

Matt asks:

How do anime distribution companies such as Funimation decide what shows they send to general retail stores? Is it based on what they think might be popular, know is popular, or some other calculation?

When an anime gets sent to brick-and-mortar stores, especially big chains like Walmart and Target, the studio is taking a big risk, and will have to make a big effort. The biggest metric, of course, is projected sales. The wider the appeal of a particular show, the more likely the retailer will be interested, the more that retailer will be able to sell, and the better it will be for everyone. However, if they're wrong, and the show ends up bombing, all of those discs will be sent back to the publisher for a refund. That could be quite a financial blow for the publisher.

When a large chain decides to stock a particular title, they are buying x number of copies for each individual store -- and when we're talking large chains like Best Buy or Walmart, we are talking about thousands of stores. If they buy 5 or 6 copies per store, that could easily double or even triple sales on that title. That said, if those discs come back, having to give back all that money months later could be a very bad thing. This is a big part of what did in the anime publishers back when the bubble burst in 2007.

Once a publisher decides to push something to retail, they usually have to jump through a few hoops to get the retailer to stock it. This might include committing to a certain amount of marketing in certain places, buying placement on a prominent shelf in the store or in a circular, or agreeing to really unfavorable sales terms (such as the retailer being able to return a huge percentage of unsold product). For very mainstream shows, it's definitely worth the trouble. For shows that aren't going to get snapped up by people, it can be a pretty punishing blow for the publisher.

Daniel asks:

Is there any real data to show that adding a dub track to anime actually increases sales? I suspect that about zero percent of anime is bought by the casual person browsing a shelf in a store nowadays, and that most anime fans would not actively avoid purchasing a show just because it was Japanese language only.

Good sir, I humbly submit that you are living in a bubble of your own interests, and perhaps those of the people you talk with. While barriers to people enjoying subtitled anime have definitely come down in recent years, with the popularity of streaming and simulcasts, there are still a ton of people who prefer having a dub. Perhaps you need to peruse a forum where people are berating companies like NIS America for not dubbing most of their releases, or visit anime forums that aren't crawling with more hardcore old-timers. Most of those sorts of fans prefer dubs, and would vastly prefer not having to read subtitles.

Sales data, of course, is not public. However, it is no secret that without a dub, most disc sales reach a ceiling of around 5,000 units. It's not a panacea -- having a dub doesn't make a bomb of a show a better seller -- but what it does do is unlock a segment of the market that would not be interested otherwise. Dubs make a show easier to sell to Netflix and iTunes, and significantly boosts traffic on Hulu. Those services are great for discovery by casual fans, and many of them will eventually buy a disc of the shows they like. That happens a lot less often with subtitled-only product.

Making a dub is insanely expensive, sometimes more expensive than licensing the show at all. If anime publishers thought they could get away without making a dub, they would absolutely never do it. However, the benefits to having an English version are hard to overstate. They won't move a show that really isn't selling, but they will dramatically boost both online engagement and disc sales for a show that might have some appeal. The fact that dubs already exist for a ton of older shows is one of the primary reasons the market for license rescues is so hot -- those old shows are new to many fans, and they already has a dub that someone else already paid for.

And that's all for this week! Got questions for me? Send them in! The e-mail address, as always, is answerman (at!) animenewsnetwork.com.

Justin Sevakis is the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap, and check out his bi-weekly column on real, strange stories from the anime business, Tales of the Industry.

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