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What do Japanese companies think of anime fansubbing?

Here’s a c|net article that completely misses the point.

The article concentrates on the US market, and fansubber ethics, and DVD sales in the US.

It fails to mention the obvious.

Japan is getting broadband.

Fansubbed anime is available on the Internet.

1 + 1 = ?

Japanese anime fans don’t have to buy the DVDs if they don’t want to. They can just download the episodes. And they get convenient English practice along with their favorite shows.

Broadband isn’t ubiquitous in Japan yet, but it will be. Media Factory is simply trying to nip a possible sales problem in the bud.

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While I’m on the subject, I’m just going to throw out there an idea I had awhile back, for when I have a lot of money. I don’t mind telling people this idea, because if a lot of people did it, things could be very cool. Maybe.

Okay. So, a lot of people love Japanese animation, so much that they are willing to invest their time and equipment to produce and distribute subtitled versions. Often the work of these fansubbers is very good, on par with a professional release.

What if there was a company that acquired licenses for anime, then said, “Fansubbers, go at it. I’ll provide the raws. You do your best work on this series, and if I like what you’ve done, I will pay you to produce the professional release, and you’ll get a percentage of the sales.”

Fansubbers would be rewarded for their efforts with not only money, but experience they can use later to get jobs. And fans would be encouraged to buy the release, because by doing so they would be supporting the fansubber.

It would be contractual. The fansubbers would not become employees. Their releases would still be available by bittorrent or whatever–with a small resolution, in mono–until the official release was announced.

The resolution and sound quality of digisubs are the biggest problems, I think, with DVD sales. Why buy when you’ve got a perfectly good copy that looks and sounds fine on your computer burned to DVD-R? And sometimes the fansubber’s translation is better than the production company’s! We solve these problems by contracting the fansubbers to do a project and allowing them to release their work as they go along in a lower resolution, mono sound version.

Of course, this would require a lot of faith in the ethics of fansubbers. But the best fansubbers–the majority–are ethical. Plus, there would be a contract, so in a worst-case scenario you could always sue ;P

This company could also offer downloadable versions of the full-size, stereo/surround sound episodes, with a flat fee per episode. The fansubbers would obviously get a cut of this, too. The price would be less than the cost of the DVDs, because DVDs include special features and cases and art. I would never price an electronic version of something over a hardcopy version, because that doesn’t make sense to Webheads.

So, there’s this new anime coming out that looks promising. The company snaps up the license and asks all the fansubbers who have already started on it if they’re interested in continuing under a contract, with the possibility of getting paid, and with the bonus of having the actual raws to work from. (It has to be timely, to get the attention of both the fansubbers and the audience. A lot of the more fickle, new generation anime fans dismiss titles that are “old”–even from, say, 2000! There could be a snag here, depending on how the Japanese companies react to the idea of giving out copies of their raw that quickly.) The fansubbers who are interested sign up and begin subbing. They produce two versions of each episode–a low quality version which they distribute in the usual ways, and a high quality version which they submit to the company. The lower quality version could be minus the OP and ED. This would encourage anime completists to purchase the official versions when they are released.

Once the season was over, the company would select a victor and immediately give the fansubbers back pay for their time. The fansubbers would then go back through the series to correct any continuity errors (sometimes you don’t know what people are talking about until you’ve seen the whole series, and it’s possible to get a translation wrong that way), and prepare the final release version. (How this part went would depend on the fansubbers and their ability with equipment. Would they simply assemble a timed subtitle track and give this to the company, which would then sync it with the video? Or would the fansubbers be deft enough to put it all together? In the beginning, the company might have to contract the final production out to someone else. But as time passed, I could see the fansubbers attempting to get the proper equipment for the job themselves–more money in it for them that way.)

Once that set of episodes (the season, or entire series, depending) was ready, the company would simultaneously release the digital versions and the DVDs.

A big concern here is cutting down costs without losing quality. I think making the subtitling into a contest would boost quality and save money. Imagine the numbers of fansubbers who might be involved. You could have several different groups working for you at once, on several different series…meaning faster production and more revenue. (And you wouldn’t have to pay anyone until you’d decided you liked their work.) The company, rather than having to deal with translation, timing, titling, and personnel issues, would be primarily concerned with advertising and acquiring licenses, leaving the other tasks to the fansubbing group(s).

So yeah, I live in a dream world, where the creative energies of human beings are rewarded instead of legislated and litigated out of existence.

But wouldn’t it be cool?

[Update 2005/05/16 12:21 am: It seems that Roderick has recently had similar ideas.]