Why Aren't There More Classic Anime Kickstarters?

by Justin Sevakis,

Reed asks:

How come more anime companies don't run Kickstarters or other crowd-funding options to pay for recording English dubs or for funding Blu-ray releases? AnimEigo has done a few titles, some manga has been done this way, and Funimation did Escaflowne's redub through KS as a sort of fancy pre-order system. But why isn't it happening more often for smaller shows that are being released subtitled-only and/or only on DVD?

Kickstarter is great for projects that need a grass-roots kick in the butt to get started. It's a place for people and small businesses who don't have money to raise funds for their projects, and engage with an audience on a grass-roots level. The community finds the project and discusses it, and shares it on social media, bringing in more people. Finally, with enough interest, the project can be funded, and the plans can become reality. That's why it's called "Kickstarter."

What is Kickstarter not so great for? Projects that can be done without Kickstarter. And the truth of the matter is, nearly all anime release projects that can be done at all, can be done without Kickstarter. Most anime publishers who are currently active would already have some idea of how much a potential release would sell, just based on experience. The anime community already stays on top of new releases and goes out of its way to support the more ambitious ones (provided it's a show that people actually want). The important part of Kickstarter -- discovery and grass roots marketing -- are all things that anime projects don't really need.

Being on Kickstarter adds a whole host of headaches. First, you're automatically losing 10% of your revenue to Kickstarter itself, and to Amazon Payments for charging all the credit cards. Then you have to pay to design and manufacture all of the extra little stuff you offered as backer rewards. You have to pay for a service to manage backer surveys and keep track of everyone's shipping data and preferences. And then you have to buy a ton of packing materials and package and ship ALL OF IT. If you're a small company, this can be WEEKS of additional work (or expensive temporary hires), to do stuff that would normally be handled by retailers.

Kickstarter history is rife with entrepreneurs who didn't do the math correctly, and ended up losing vast quantities of money, despite having a well-funded and successful campaign. We'll never know how well all of the anime Kickstarters did -- I'm betting most of them didn't lose money, but I'd also wager that they were likely only barely profitable after all was said and done. For all of the work of running the campaign, manufacturing backer rewards, fulfilling orders, and convincing Japan that you're not insane for trying this, the companies releasing these discs are probably not all that better off for doing it via Kickstarter. In fact, they might've made more money by releasing the show the old fashioned way.

There are two reasons that an anime company might still consider a Kickstarted release. The first is for a show that they're REALLY not sure about. As Japanese licensors are still quite jittery about crowdfunding (the risk of public failure and embarrassment looms very large for them), this would work best for a show that's already been licensed, but the company is unsure of whether there's sufficient demand to produce a dub. We saw this with Funimation's Escaflowne campaign, and I would be very surprised if we didn't see another.

The other reason is a marketing one: that the very idea of being a part of a Kickstarter project is a potentially important form of fan engagement. In other words, by participating in a Kickstarter campaign, the fan has a higher emotional involvement in the project, and is likely to tell their friends about it. This can result in a release that gets people more excited than they might've been otherwise, and good publicity for the company. Unless something goes wrong, that is. Nothing is more embarrassing than a backer meltdown over a bungled Kickstarter project.

So, there are definite reasons to do a Kickstarter anime release, but not as many as you might think, and the prospect of doing so is quite risky. For the amount of time and energy you might spend on one, you might end up spending months not being able to work on ANYTHING else. And given that anime distributors are typically stretched to their manpower limits, that alone is enough to keep it off the table for most releases.

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Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for nearly 20 years. He's the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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