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Interview With The Fansubber
Page 3

by Zac Bertschy,
Tell me a little bit about the fansubbers themselves. Do you buy Region 1 DVDs?

Absolutely. Fansubbers as a rule buy more DVDs than the average anime fan does. You wouldn't be dedicating hours and hours of your life to it if you didn't love it.

So I guess the obvious question that stems from that, if you're hardcore fans, and you're doing something you know is directly harming the anime companies – not just the R1 companies, but the Japanese companies who at this point, as we've seen with Media Factory, anime director Nabeshin and even Bandai, who have all asked the American fansubbing scene to knock it off… is there any cognitive dissonance there?

Basically I feel that… I mean, I'm not the type of fansubber that you're referring to, and there are plenty of those, so I don't want to give the impression that I'm one of those people, but it's a matter of… well, old habits die hard, it's a fun hobby. If you told a person tomorrow that they had to stop playing Warcraft, or stop smoking cigarettes, they're not just going to stop tomorrow.

It's a community, it's one of those things where… well, everything I've said holds true on this, where there are inevitable truths here and someone else just going to pick up whatever show we've dropped, so you may as well just enjoy the ride.

Yes, it's a paradox, to say that we're supporting anime and then subtitling a show that might be hurting its sales, but you know… it's tough.

A couple of the larger groups recently have started to reform in the way they do things. A great example is there's a large group called Shinsen – very large group, one of the biggest – recently announced that they're no longer going to sub licensed shows or finish shows that have been licensed. So it's a move in a positive direction; some of the other groups responded by saying “look guys, we are doing some damage here, let's scale it back”, but by and large people aren't changing because it's their hobby, it's what they do.

Maybe it's just too much of a disconnect.

I've never had a company send me an email to let me know that they're going after the rights to this show and asked me to stop subbing it. I've never had the Japanese companies come to me and say that they're going to try and release the show in America and that I'm hurting their potential sales.

Not you personally, but Bandai actually came out and said “Guys, seriously, do not subtitle Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society. It's coming out in America ASAP. Seriously, don't.” And it's all over the internet the second it airs on Japanese cable.

I think it boils down to the fact that people are anonymous. They get used to the sense of being anonymous and they can do whatever they want. There are pirates out there.

I think most of the large groups – the largest and most influential groups – would be responsive to those warnings. But there will always be pirates out there.

So the sense then that this is out of hand at this point – which seems to be the agreed-upon reality…


That it's gone way too far… CPM recently released a study that said worldwide, 6 million anime shows are downloaded globally each week. So we have an increasingly disaffected public. So at what point do you say “Well, I love this stuff, but I'm kind of killing it.”

Well, we've seen the writing on the wall. My group only subtitles very obscure shows; we're only doing one that we think has any chance of being licensed at all. Me personally, I've moved on. I myself only work on the older stuff.

But by and large, the groups – they want to subtitle the latest and greatest shows. That's where the fun is, to subtitle the hot new shows and to get the feedback and the attention from the fans.

What it sounds like to me, the sense I'm getting from you is that there's an old fansub community that has seen the writing on the wall and they're changing their practices, but there's a new generation out there that completely disregards the ethics and the business side of it and even the logic of what they're doing.

Yes, that is definitely true. I've been doing this a long time – hardly anyone has stayed in the scene as long as I have. And the reason is because people get frustrated with the new groups, who get increasingly younger and more annoying and are focused entirely on things like speed.

So yes, there's a whole new generation coming up that's even worse about all of this. And I don't forsee any reason that it'll stop; it's only going to get worse. Look at the number of people studying Japanese this year, it's like doubled from last year.

So you think nothing can reverse this?

Oh, absolutely I think something can reverse this. It's not going to come from the fansubbers’ side, it'll be coming from the business side.

So what do you think are some solutions to the problem?

The solution is speed to market. The reason fansubs exist is because there's a gap between the release in Japan and the release in America… just watching the way downloads behave, the first group that releases a title will almost always get the bulk of the downloads, especially if they do this week after week. They'll be the only show in town, that's just the nature of the beast. Quality you can even take completely out of the picture, people don't even care about quality. It's all speed, all convenience.

If the industry can adapt and can compete with fansubbers on speed and get to the point where they're releasing shows in a very reasonable amount of time online, you'll see fansubs stop. There's no reason to subtitle a show if someone else is doing it before you week after week.  That's the solution.

So the solution then is essentially for the Japanese companies to adopt the fansub model?

It's not a bad model. In many ways, the fansub model is superior to the way R1 DVDs are released. Here we have amateurs doing this on the side as a hobby, aside from their real job, and they have high quality shows coming out within a day of their release in Japan. And there are no technical reasons why this couldn't be done by the companies in Japan. If we can do it, so can they.

Making it profitable is another story.

Do you have any ideas on how you would monetize that? Maybe a subscription service, or perhaps ad-supported?

I've heard people say that nobody will pay for it and if you're going to charge for it you're going to see a new world of bootleg streams. So I don't see why we can't try both methods. Come out with a pay service, try ad-supported shows. See which one works. Maybe a free, ad-supported low-quality stream that's free and a paid service that's high quality where you can download the files to your computer.  Whatever it may be, that's how you have to do it.

You mentioned the 6 million people downloading per week – and that number might be small – if you can get even a fraction of those people to pay, you're going to start gaining back a lot of the money you're losing. And obviously the logical next step is that you're promoting your DVD release as well. People still buy DVDs – people buy DVDs of shows that have been available online forever. So they're not going to lose that consumer base, the people already buying DVDs. They're still going to buy DVDs even if they can watch it online for free. So you may as well try to get some money back from the people who aren't buying DVDs because they're watching fansubs.

Shifting gears for a second, what do you think of sites like Crunchyroll that charge people a fee to watch fansubs? Speaking as a fansubber, what's your take on those sites?

Sites like that are popping up left and right, and it's disgusting. There's always been a sort of code among fansubbers that you don't make money off of this. It's wrong. I heard from someone over at the largest fansub site, the one that gets the most downloads, that if he just put some ads up he could make over $10,000 a month, but he doesn't, because it's unethical. Some groups ask for donations and even that is very much frowned upon.

The people running those sites have absolutely no connection to the fansubbers whatsoever. They're basically downloading and then monetizing that and selling it to people. It's wrong, it's disgusting, and I hate seeing my videos on those sites. We lose even more of that community aspect thanks to that stuff – they don't come to us anymore, not to our IRC channel, they're commenting on the forums of those sites. I think almost every fansubber is against those sites completely.

The other problem is that you're increasing the visibility of what you're doing. It is illegal, now you're just increasing the chances of something happening. It's supposed to be a community, and those sites reach out to people who aren't part of the community in a way that could have negative repercussions.

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