Why Don't More Publishers Take A Chance On Older Titles?
by Justin Sevakis,
Should licensing and Publishing companies give older series a second chance? I asked this because as I was pre-ordering my copy for the Katekyo Hitman Reborn Blu-ray Vol 1 I noticed the series has officially became a top seller at Rightstuf.com. This made me realise something I been told by companies like Viz and Funimation, that titles like REBORN and Gintama would never be popular with Western audiences and that their fanbase is ether small or non existent. But what I'm seeing and what I'm being told are two different things.
Full disclosure: I worked on the Blu-rays of Reborn and other Discotek releases.
What you are seeing and what you're being told aren't really different things, but rather the points of view that determine a series a "hit" or not are not the same.
Reborn is a fun show with a decent number of fans. But are there enough to...
1. Dub 203 episodes? (estimated cost: US$14 million)
2. Release the series across 15 boxed sets on DVD and upscaled Blu-ray? (estimated cost: at least US$250,000)
3. Market the series heavily on key websites, at conventions, and on social media? (estimated cost: the sky's the limit)
Thanks to technology and know-how, the gap between what a big company and what a small company can do is narrowing, but there will always be a difference in terms of both budget and manpower that can be invested into releasing and marketing a show. These are not small undertakings.
Viz and Funimation are fairly big companies, owned by legitimately huge companies. Larger companies serve a very important purpose when it comes to anime: if it's something a lot of people might be interested in they can SELL it in surprisingly large quantity. Far from just putting their discs up on Amazon and RightStuf, they work directly with the buyers at major retailers like Best Buy and Walmart to get them stocked and prominently placed. They make advertising and put that advertising in places where fans will see it -- not just on places like ANN, but video game streams, music sites, and other places that less hardcore fans might visit. And of course, they can dub it, or afford to hire a studio to produce a dub for them.
Since all the people it takes to release something have to be paid, and all of the steps of production and marketing cost money, these companies have to pick what shows they're going to release carefully. If a series sells less than 10,000 copies, both Viz and Funimation would consider it a failure. If that's all they're predicted to sell, unless there's some outside reason why they should release it, they're not going to bother. This isn't to say that they don't have failures. (In fact, now that Funimation has to license and dub most shows before it's clear whether a show will be any good, they have a lot of failures.) But by sticking to newer, shorter shows that fans are still talking about, as well as proven hits, they're able to minimize their risks and keep making money.
Discotek is a small company. Utilizing a small band of contractors (myself included), they pump out a lot of discs, but do basically no advertising and only push into physical retail chains for a handful of big titles. Discotek's overhead costs are, consequently, very low. They don't have to pay for a giant office, or monthly salaries for hundreds of people. This gives them a lot of freedom. Viz and Funimation wouldn't even get out of bed for most shows that would sell 2,000 copies. But Discotek can actually make money doing releases that small, as long as they keep their costs in line.
Similarly, Right Stuf is the king of anime retailers for hardcore fans, but they're simply not on the same planet as a major physical retailer. Its numbers are skewed towards the otaku that shop there. A disc being a "top seller" on Right Stuf for a few days is at least a positive sign, but that doesn't necessarily move the needle enough to make the release a runaway hit. It simply means that the people that shop at Right Stuf are buying a lot of that release currently. That's all.
There are a number of shows -- mostly notably longer Shonen Jump shows -- that are huge in Japan and have a sizable following in the US, but just don't have the critical mass required to make a company like Viz or Funimation interested. Toriko, Gintama and Reborn are all like this (though Funimation took a chance on Toriko and it didn't work out too well). There is a fanbase, but compare that to even minor hits like Golden Kamuy or High School DxD, and they're simply nowhere near as popular. Then if you factor in a daunting series length (making it far more expensive to release AND less likely fans will collect the whole show) and a few years of aging (making fans less excited about it), and it's no wonder they pass over shows like Reborn. There could be other factors too, like not being able to obtain online streaming rights, that would make the show a no-go for a big company, but aren't dealbreakers for a smaller publisher.
In all of entertainment, there are big releases and there are small releases. Hollywood considered Solo: A Star Wars Story a bomb after taking in US$385 Million worldwide, because it cost so much money to make and market that, even with that take, Disney will still lose over US$50 million on it. Conversely, the comedy Blockers only made US$93 Million worldwide, and since the film only cost $21 Million to make, it was considered a modest success.
It's the same story here. A "hit" is simply anything you can make money on. And different companies have different specialties when it comes to doing that.
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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.
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