Does Getting Free Copies Of Stuff Sway Opinions Of Critics?
by Justin Sevakis,
How do you feel about screeners and review copies? I've heard some people argue that screeners are problematic because reviewers end up "owing" publishers good reviews, in some form or other. Yet, every mainstream review source--your OtakUSAs, your ANNs, your what-have-yous--use them. Does the dependence upon screeners affect reviews in some way?
In an age where people can stream most shows at any time, and manga can be read easily online, I don't think critics "owe" the publisher anything when they get screeners. Screeners cost the publisher very little, and in return, they get press and online discussion generated about their new release. Sometimes that makes sense to companies, and sometimes that doesn't. Regardless, whether or not they want to send the screener is up to the publisher. They can stop at any time, and while critics can ask for them (especially at major sites), the publisher is under absolutely no obligation to send them out.
Your question implies that having the anime on disc presents some sort of irresistible value to the critic. I would argue -- quite vehemently -- that the opposite is usually true. When you're a regular critic, the pile of stuff you get to write about builds up pretty quick, and the vast majority of it you would never want to own, it isn't stuff you were going to buy anyway. It ends up being a liability: you have this giant stack of mediocre discs you would never buy sitting in your house, and you have no clue what to do with it all. Seriously, go look at how many anime Blu-rays and how many manga volumes come out in a month. How many of those do you actually want? And of the ones you don't, how many would have to pile up at home before you start slowly losing your mind?
I can't speak for the other sites you mentioned, but ANN does have a policy where the critic is allowed to keep whatever physical media they're sent for review purposes, but mostly because returning them simply isn't worth the time or return postage. Once they're done with the review, they're not allowed to sell them (and review copies are sometimes defaced in some way in the barcode area to prevent resale). If you don't want them and none of your friends want them, they can literally only sit in a box somewhere, or be thrown out.
No, the only time getting that firehose of anime on discs and manga on paper is actually a good thing is when you finally get one that does turn out to be a series you love. And in that case, you were already going to give it a good review anyway, so not having to buy it yourself doesn't matter. The opposite is also true: if I was still writing reviews and someone gave me a disc of, oh, say, Sanrio Boys? I would just get mad. I don't want that thing! I don't need that in my house. And I sure as hell don't want to have to poop out a review of it! And all that stuff in the middle I'm indifferent to? Well, again, having that stuff isn't really that appealing, since you'll likely never watch it again. Also, and maybe this is just me, but once you write a review of something, your experience with the show is complete - writing longform reviews exhausts what you have to say about the show, it exhausts your interest in it, and your memory afterward is "I had to review that". It dramatically diminishes the chance you'll revisit it, unless it's something you really really loved. Your relationship with the material is no longer casual fandom, it's work. All those discs represent a lot of work, and probably some agony if you had a hard time with the review.
Once upon a time, I thought it'd be a great idea to get myself put on screener lists. Then when I started Anime News Network and was the sole person writing for the site, I managed to get on a few of them. Mind you, I was still living with my parents at the time. What is the first screener I get? The super-low budget and then-winner for "most graphic hentai ever" Cool Devices, courtesy of Right Stuf. (It has long since been surpassed.) Shortly after that, I got my next screeners: Twisted Tales of Tokyo from CPM (from the producers of Cool Devices, on an even LOWER budget!) and Galaxy Fraulein Yuna Returns from ADV (which would later get mentioned in my Buried Garbage column). It's a miracle I didn't just scrap the site right then and there.
Then, a few years later, when I called my mom to tell her I got the job at Central Park Media, she said, "That's great, honey! ...Wait a second, isn't that the company that used to send you all that really terrible porn?"
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Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for over 20 years. He's the original 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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