Right, I’ll try and keep this as brief as possible.

Last night, inspired by the latest ‘foreign pirates are killing anime’ outburst from the Japanese industry, I fell into one of my usual rants on Twitter:

“The anime industry avoiding the same elephant in the room as music industry did 10 yrs ago: consumers know worthless product when they see it.

And who wants to pay for worthless, disposable product when you can get it for free?

Napster was at end of a decade that was dominated by the Spice Girls and hip hop selling out so much even fucking Jay Z looked authentic.

Your record is in an ad. Your record is a ringtone. Your record is a fucking McDonalds jingle. And you expect us to pay for it AS WELL?

Your anime is full of product placement. Your anime has a fuck awful OP by a shit Sony girl band. And you expect us to pay for it AS WELL?

My point isn’t about ‘defending piracy’ – it’s about giving it a cultural context.”

Well, I thought what I was trying to say was fairly straightforward – that like the music biz the anime industry had devalued its own product so much that it is hard to act surprised that people don’t want to pay for it. But judging from the flood of responses I got, apparently a few things need clarifying. Lets have a look:

Wow, what show are you talking about?

I’m not talking about any specific shows, I’m talking about how anime in general is – rightly or wrongly – perceived.

Your theory makes no sense, because good shows sell just as badly or worse as bad shows.

Well, for a start, that’s not my theory at all.

My point is not ‘anime doesn’t sell because it’s low quality’, it’s ‘it is seen as acceptable to steal any anime because it’s all viewed as disposable’. My argument is that this is exactly what happened to the music industry: in a desperate attempt to exploit every revenue opportunity while also reducing costs and investment it devalued its own product to the point that consumers feel little unease with obtaining it illegally.

Nah, it’s not the industry’s fault – people pirate because they are evil and immoral.

Um, maybe. I like to be a little less nihilistic than that. Besides, there are examples of people (I’m thinking Cory Doctorow and Radiohead here) in other media making a success of asking people for money while giving away their work. Perhaps what is needed is some risk taking and imaginative thinking?

OK you clever bastard, so what did the music industry do to solve all this?

Well, the industry itself did nothing really to solve it. What it mainly did was gripe and whine and bitch and demand pointless, ineffectual legal action while still taking the same attitude to the product it was churning out. Sound familiar?

In the end it wasn’t the traditional industry that tried to fix things, but Apple and iTunes that stepped in to present a different model.


Yeah, OK. I know what you’re saying – iTunes has many, many issues. Sadly this is not that debate. What is interesting about iTunes is that it showed that by finding sensible price points, breaking up albums into smaller products, supporting micro-transactions and making the whole process very quick and easy it is possible to convince some consumers (in fact, a very large number of consumers) that buying legitimately is less hassle than piracy.

But the anime industry isn’t Apple! It can’t afford to start up a version of iTunes, plus the model doesn’t fit anime at all?

Sheesh, stop taking me so literally. I’m not saying an ‘Itunes for anime’ is the answer. Not at all. To be honest I don’t have a firm answer. I’m just some mouthy Brit on teh internets, its not actually my job to provide any answers. I’d like to think there are people out there in the industry who are much cleverer than me and whose job actually should be to come up with answers, and I can just go back to drinking and babbling on in an amusing chimney sweep’s accent.

But you must have some suggestions?

Well, if we can get back to what started all this: my main suggestion is that the industry stops whining about piracy and using it to deflect blame away from how it has devalued its own product. Connected with that it could stop throwing hissy fits and pulling simulcasts or not allowing foreign distributors from putting out boxsets and blurays. That would all be a good start towards calming down and trying to find a way out of this mess. Or maybe it really is too late.

So this just sounds like your usual ranting – you’re blaming the death of the industry on moe and lolicon and some shows that YOU don’t like despite being quite popular with fans.

Okay. Please – just take a deep breath and read this whole post again. Please.

But commercialization and sponsorship has been part of anime since day one, this isn’t a new thing.

Exactly – and the same is true within music – pop music has been used to sell other products etc since the 1950s. That’s not a criticism of my argument – its further evidence for it! You’d hope that after half a century of doing exactly what I’m describing here that both industries would act less surprised that consumers view their products as low value and disposable. I mean, how stupid do they really think we are?

But what is wrong with a show being disposable? I quite like some shows that I admit are disposable.

There’s nothing wrong with a show itself being disposable! There is always going to be disposable product in every entertainment industry, plus ‘disposableness’ is in itself – like quality – a subjective term.

The issue is this though: don’t whine about something being disposable if you made it that way. If you are a studio that makes shallow, disposable product then don’t act all surprised if people might enjoy watching it once, but don’t want to pay to own a handful of episodes of it on an overpriced DVD. You can’t blame them for that. Instead you need to find alternative ways of monetizing that one, single viewing. Or to price it far more realistically. Again this is how iTunes works, by charging mere pennies for products that its customers view as largely disposable. Not perfect for the artist and industry arguably, but its still a lot better than someone just stealing it.

Or, of course, you need to make a less disposable product in the first place….but lets stop there before we start going around in circles again, shall we?