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What's With The Bootlegs On Amazon?

by Justin Sevakis,

Daniel asks:

Who will produce the first anime Super Duper Blu-Ray when players start shipping at the end of the year? Sony via Aniplex? Do you think supporting three simultaneous disc formats will be beyond the reach of the anime market?

Ah, the 4K question again. As I keep mentioning, 4K is a niche that will simply not have broad appeal. 4K TVs are very nice looking, but they're just better TVs. Feed them 1080p content, and the picture will be pretty and shiny. Feed them 4K content (which the vast majority of people who own one STILL don't and can't do), and... most people won't be able to tell the difference. The human eye has limited capacity for detail, and so unless we're talking about an experience where you have a huge screen that fills nearly your entire field of vision -- like at one of the nicer movie theaters -- it's almost impossible to tell the difference between 4K and 1080p. And that goes double for anime, which is basically just line art.

You know how I know? Because the vast majority of people STILL can't tell the difference between an anime Blu-ray that's been upscaled from standard definition, and one that was made in HD. There have been lots of surveys, lots of consumer testing. Aside from a small community of fans online, most people are none the wiser.

4K is not even all that common at the theatrical level -- only one major studio even bothers releasing their theatrical prints in 4K, and the rest still do theatrical 2K, which is pretty near 1080p. Streaming services like Netflix and YouTube are making a big deal about being able to stream in 4K, but that's mostly just marketing noise. (I've heard rumors that one major streaming service that produces a lot of its own shows internally admits that they really just want everything to be in 4K because the files are too huge to pirate easily, and are less likely to get leaked before release.) Anime, which stands to benefit very little from being rendered in 4K, will likely take years and years to transition to 4K, if it does at all.

I'm likening 4K's probable acceptance to 3D -- a technology that had novel use in theaters, but limited use at home. And as long 3D has been a major thing, there has only been one major anime project to make use of it: 009 Re:Cyborg. I don't think 4K will quite do THAT badly (after all, nobody needs to traipse around their house wearing glasses to enjoy it). I think there will eventually be a handful of (very visually flashy) anime in 4K, nearly all of which will probably be theatrical features. But if you're waiting for a major home video company to release an anime on video in that format, you're going to be waiting a long, long time.

Mp> Nick asks:

I was recently browsing the selection of anime on amazon instant video that is free for Amazon Prime members. It was kind of surprising to me that there is not that great a selection of anime. In fact, it seems like most of the shows that are available date back to around 2005-2006 or so. The only shows that seem recent are The World God Only Knows (season 1 only), Broken Blade, and Love, Chunibyo and Other Delusions (season 1). Why do you think that there is such a sparse amount of anime content available on amazon instant video as compared to other streaming services? How does amazon even acquire anime to show on their streaming service?

Amazon Prime's free video department is still something of a new service, and from what I've been hearing, they've been somewhat overwhelmed by trying to catch up to the likes of Netflix and Hulu. These services are not easy to run, either from a technical or a business point of view. Budgets for programming must be adhered to, and the costs of licensing are going up and up. Every deal has to have a contract, which must be negotiated and approved by a lawyer. Every series must be encoded and have matching metadata fed into their database. It takes a lot of people and a lot of money to keep all of that going, and in early days, it's easy to be overwhelmed.

Anime has not been on the top of their priority list during this ramp-up period. It's not exactly an easy market -- Netflix, Hulu and Crunchyroll are all pretty entrenched by now, Funimation, Daisuki and Viewster are trying to push into it, and the fans already pretty much know where to go for their shows. Amazon's time has been far better spent in getting things nobody else has, like original TV shows and old HBO shows. Getting the same old anime titles everyone else has won't exactly be a home run for them. Getting new anime titles is a huge logistical challenge they're just not ready for.

Even when they do decide to go for some anime, they have their work cut out for them in prioritizing what to go for, because just so damn much of it. Also, a lot of it doesn't have a particularly long shelf life, which means unless you have an expert on staff, they could very well end up with a lot of shows that nobody wants. Amazon will likely start adding more shows soon -- anime isn't TOO hard to license, or too expensive compared to more mainstream content. But you should probably be patient while that happens.

Megan asks:

Lately while browsing on Amazon, I've noticed an awful lot of bootleg anime merchandise from third-party sellers. There are unofficial wall scrolls, plushies, figures, even DVDs. Considering that these are third parties, I doubt it hurts Amazon's bottom line very much. However, I cringe when I see an obvious bootleg, knowing that somebody will likely buy it anyway. Does Amazon have a policy about this? Do they know, or care? Is there anything we can do to stop the bootlegs, aside from simply not buying them?

The problem with bootleg anime goods, both DVD and merchandise, on Amazon, is a huge one. It doesn't take much effort to find crappy Taiwanese bootleg DVDs, wall scrolls, bags, and whatever else on the site, and I'm sure many unsuspecting fans have accidentally bought these versions instead of the official ones. Some have been available on the site for years.

I contacted the site's PR department to see why bootleg items weren't being taken down. The PR person I spoke to wasn't aware of the problem, and asked for some examples. With the help of some of my Twitter pals, I sent him a laundry list. I sent him about 7 listings of janky Studio Ghibli boxed sets. I set him several other bootleg DVD listings, including one that a fan had reported (and called out as bootleg in a review) back in 2012. I sent him links to whole shops doing business on Amazon that stocked nothing but bootleg merchandise.

When he got back to me, he responded that Amazon had no comment on specific items, "as we don't have them to evaluate," and had no further comment on the matter, other than referring me to their official anti-counterfeiting policy. But that was last week. As I went back to those emails to write up this story, I noticed something. Nearly every single item I had sent him had mysteriously vanished from the site. Whole stores and product categories seemed to have been purged from their listings. Huh. How about that.

I don't know what to tell you about bootlegged anime product on Amazon. These items aren't coming from Amazon directly, but from the third party stores that simply sell on Amazon, so taking them down is probably like playing Whack-A-Mole. Clearly, policing these listings has not been a major priority for them. I have my doubts that they have any real infrastructure or procedures in place to deal with bootleg claims from customers, beyond refunding them. I have a feeling that some vendors and publishers might be able to make a stink about seeing bootleg versions of their own products on the site, but it also wouldn't surprise me if even some of their claims occasionally slipped through the cracks. I don't know what to tell you to do about any of this. But for now, in however limited of a way, it seems we made a difference.

A lot of people asked:

I know you answered the question of why the Universal Pictures logo is appearing before certain Funimation shows a few weeks ago (it's because Universal Studios Japan, formerly Geneon, is the licensor for that show). But now Funimation is announcing that Universal is distributing their discs too! Does this mean Funimation is becoming part of Universal? Will only Funimation be able to get Universal/Geneon anime, and will Funimation be able to get anything else?

Nope. In terms of licensing and publishing, the deal Funimation announced this week to distribute Funimation DVDs and Blu-rays will mean very little.

Funimation is, compared to a major movie studio, a "smaller" publisher. They're not SUPER small by any means, but they're small enough that they simply don't have the muscle to get their product into stores like Target and Wal-Mart on a regular basis. When they do, if those stores decide to withhold payment or return a bunch of discs, Funimation would have very little recourse but to take their lumps. A bigger studio gives them a lot more leverage. "Really? You're not gonna pay me on time? Guess you're not getting the new Jurassic World Blu-ray on release day! How sad, guys." Dealing with retailers and other credit-based businesses often comes down to stupid games like that. Being a bigger animal really helps. A lot. Having Universal Studios distribute for Funimation is exactly the same relationship Viz has with Warner Bros. Pictures. And lest you think this is a new thing, Warner Music Group used to distribute for Central Park Media, and Orion Pictures distributed for Streamline Pictures. (Those didn't work out so well, but that's a story for another day.)

As a result of this deal, Funimation will get more product into Target and Wal-Mart. Those stores are less likely to worry about cartoon boobs when it comes from a major studio. The discs will get put onto more prominent shelves, and might even find their way into circulars and other things that will really move units. (This isn't without risk, of course -- Wal-Mart is so huge that if they return a bunch of product, that can REALLY hurt.) It will be harder for anime specialty retailers, who probably won't get as good of a deal, but if they're smart about it, it could be really good for Funimation's disc sales. Or not. Time will tell.

But what of the combination between Universal Pictures Home Entertainment and Universal Studios Japan, the anime licensor? Well, despite having roughly the same name, the same logo, and much of the same release slate, the two entities are actually separate companies. They do work together a lot, but one hand is absolutely not talking to the other. However, there is always the possibility that as a result of this deal, someone at Universal will notice that anime is the only segment of the home video market that's booming, and want to get in on that as a publisher. At that point, we might have a situation like we have with Warner Bros. and JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, where they're testing the waters in becoming an anime publisher themselves, likely grabbing something from their Japanese sister company. OR, and this is purely conjecture, they might inquire if Funimation might be for sale. Depending on how much they offer, upper management could get positively frothy at the possibility!

But none of that is what has come to pass, so we don't need to worry. But as anime gets more and more mainstream, I do expect some bigger American companies to want to get in on the action somehow.

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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