You have probably read about it already. Death Note has been licensed by Viz Media. This is no ordinary licence. Viz has announced that they will be distributing the episodes online “soon after they air in Japan”. This means that Death Note will be the first anime ever to be legally distributed in North America while the series is still airing in Japan.
This has huge implications for anime fansubbing. For good or for bad.
But first, let’s take a huuuuge detour and look at a little comparison between fansubs and official DVD releases…
Fansubs have always been faster than commercial releases. Even if a show was pre-licensed and released with subtitles only, physical distribution just can’t beat BitTorrent.
Fansubs win by a wide margin.
Fansubs appear to have the upper hand with their fancy karaoke effects and typesetting, but in reality commercial translations are of significantly higher value. Personally, I would rather have professionally translated and edited subtitles than colourful effects. Official translations are done with the original script on hand, which makes a lot of difference compared to me translating Happiness! by ear.
Of course there are exceptionally good fansub translators, such as crustol who used to translate for AnimeOne, but they are extremely rare because if you are that good, you are usually getting paid to translate. Watching Triad’s Nanoha reminded me of just how bad fansubs are…
DVDs win. But I guess some people, such as Doremi fanboys, don’t care about translation quality. :P
R1 DVDs are certainly not as overpriced as their R2 counterparts, but even factoring in the manufacturing cost, quite a huge portion of the price tag goes into overheads (wholesalers, retailers, transport…). Fansubs, like all other forms of piracy, are not exactly free. There is a moral cost involved which is dependent on your conscience and a risk cost involved which is dependent on your country’s copyright enforcement. Generally speaking, most fans want to support their favourite series and in that sense official DVDs have the advantage of providing a warm and fuzzy feeling after you purchase them…until you look into your emptied wallet.
It’s hard to compare this, so I have come up with a brilliant formula instead.
Makes no sense? Well I thought so…
To put it simply, fansubs are not free because money is not the only cost involved. However, fansubs generally still enjoy a “price” advantage because we are all heartless pirates and Big Brother has more things to worry about than cartoon pirates. Unless of course you live in Singapore. Ops.
Commercial releases are of higher quality than fansubs, (again, unless you live in Singapore. Ops.) but physical distribution is the fail. The only reason people like me buy DVDs is for the extras that come with the limited editions, which defeats the point of having DVDs at all.
In this age where data can be copied as many times as desired for almost no cost, it’s only a matter of time before the death of physical media arrives. Well, except for books because they provide a significantly different experience than from reading an e-book, whereas watching anime off a DVD or an exact digital copy makes zero difference to the viewer. So books are safe, that is of course until digital paper technology is perfected.
iTunes recently overtook Amazon as the 4th largest music retailer in USA. It’s only a matter of time.
What about anime?
It’s not going to happen overnight, but eventually the best model for the anime industry (at least IMO) is to legally distribute the anime episodes themselves as cheaply as possible to an audience as large as possible over the Internet, and then make a killing off selling merchandises (i.e. things that still hold meaning because they cannot be digitized…yet). It’s like how non-label bands give away their songs for free online and make money by holding live concerts and charging people $5 for a can of Coke.
By switching to digital distribution, the speed advantage of piracy is automatically gone. Commercial releases will still enjoy the advantage of higher quality. Because the overheads associated with physical distributions are gone, the price will be low enough (with a little push from fanboyism) to “underprice” the guilt+risk factors involved in piracy.
Now if only someone would take the first step…
…Or did Viz already?
I believe in a digital future. :P