Fandom Innovation

If you haven’t checked out this week’s WatchRanking, do so. I don’t plan on making a synopsis post this week, because I am lazy. Rather, a post I came across earlier reminded me of a few drafts I intended to post awhile back about the demise of Tokyopop and the anime fandom in general. I suggest you grab a snack.

I have a lot of manga. In fact, if you want it, I’m still trying to sell most of it. Seriously. If you live in the lower 48 and want anything, let me know.

But that’s the problem.

I bought a lot of my anime and manga during the height of my weeaboo-ness, which was 2002-2006 and briefly in 2008. Today it takes up shelf space and I’ve had to move it between five different homes in the past 8 years. Part of why I am trying to sell it all is to give someone else a chance at some older and good titles, and recoup some of the money I spent on the fucking things, even though they’re worth probably $2-3 at best in a tag sale (or garage/yard sale for those not from new england) A large majority of titles are from Tokyopop, who also thrived on idiots like me in those same years, when anime was a runaway moneymaking machine for Tokyopop, Viz, and other US companies. Today paints a much different story. Most of us twenty and thirty-somethings who were big on anime and manga in the 1990’s and 2000’s have slowed down, or even stopped our purchases. I myself buy only one or two anime-related things a year now, mostly figures and artbooks. Other friends I know stopped buying completely, as more pressing concerns mounted, between the US economy and just the simple fact that there isn’t much out there to buy. For someone like me who has seen close to 250 titles and a number more at-a-glance or dropped, I’m well aware that’s still barely 1/6th (or less) of what is out there. Still, today, I spend most of my anime hobby watching and writing about currently airing series. I don’t read much anymore and that was one of the other reasons I opted to sell my collection, because what am I keeping this for, my kids? I doubt it. Don’t even have any yet.

Tokyopop represented an era in which anything that could be licensed, translated, and shoved onto a shelf could be sold. A lot of lesser-known and obscure titles got prominence as a result, and their interaction with the community also proved to help boost their image. But, like Geneon (sorry, Pioneer), ADV, and everyone except Funimation in the DVD business, as the economy slowed and the age of faster internet and instant-watch came about, they found themselves behind the curve ever-so-quickly and when forced to innovate or die, they died. Horribly.

I honestly could give two shits about Tokyopop. I appreciate their service to the manga community over the years, but the same community and the people who worked for Stu Levy enabled him to run that company into the ground at a point where even the most basic concept of focusing your core properties and doing a little market research would have saved the ship. They enabled him to believe that the internet and its “flash popularity” potential was grounds for a terrible reality show that highlighted the very worst this fandom has to offer, and that is USI-ridded self-serving weeaboo faggots. In the end they reaped what they sowed, and it’s sad, because good folks lost their jobs, and coupled with Borders going out of business, the manga community will end up surrendering to Barnes and Noble / Amazon.com. Folks like me remember when BN had zero selection and Borders/Waldenbooks had everything one could hope for. But it’s not just about wide selection, let’s focus on my bit above about basic concepts.

Having reviewed anime currently airing in Japan for the last few years now, I can tell you a few things at-a-glance about popular trends from 2ch, 4chan, Twitter, and word of mouth. Things like how K-ON! has been one of the most popular shows of the last year or two, or almost anything voiced by Kugimiya Rie is fairly popular (albeit annoying). J.C STAFF has produced some of the last two season’s well-sold series, like Index/Railgun. Regardless of personal opinions, simple market research can be done to determine what people want to see, and the same goes for manga. Granted a lot of new anime lately has been based on light novels, usually manga of some kind comes from it, and even with the potential high licensing tag, a company like Tokyopop could afford it if it wasn’t engaged in a bunch of other bullshit. Instead of throwing 20 random titles out there, license, translate, and publish 5 titles people want to read and see how your sales do. I could be wrong, maybe this shit is more complicated than I take it for, but I would buy manga again, today, right now, if they had books out for some of the shows I watched last season or two seasons ago.

But this is where we get into piracy, and their tired, old, song and dance that the RIAA has been using to avoid innovating their business for 11 years. Piracy exists to fill a demand. Supply and demand. When traditional channels fail to supply a demand, others step in to fulfill the demand. Black markets thrive on the fact that illegal goods can be sold to people who want them because they can’t get them elsewhere. Anime fansubs and manga scanlations exist because companies like Funimation and Tokyopop couldn’t satisfy demands for new and current anime in an age where fansubbers can release literally hours or days after initial airing. Folks in the community are willing to do the jobs that paid translators and typists do for nothing, simply to fill a demand. I feel bad sometimes because a friend of mine is one of those people who makes a living as a professional translator, but it’s not our fault as a community for doing what we do, we do what we must because we can. We use the power of internet and technology to keep our hobby relevant in this day and age. Professional companies can’t do that, they have legal tape to cut, forms to fill out, negotiations to be made, purchases to be processed, and by the time they release the final product, it’s already gone from people’s minds and something else takes its place. How can you innovate that?

The immediate answer is using the same power the community uses for professional gain. CrunchyRoll, even though I hate it for selling out, sadly has the right idea. A Netflix-style (or even Hulu-style) distribution system that would put licensed properties, fully-translated, for viewing within hours or days of initial air. Manga could be scanned, cleaned up, translated, typed, and released to a PDF or E-Book format within days or weeks of hitting Japanese bookstores and shelves, and for those who prefer to own both shows and books, physical copies can be made in smaller quantities to satisfy that demand. In a digital age, companies have to think digitally, and they have to compete with ordinary people charged with the same goal. Netflix proved that people are willing to pay 8-12 bucks a month for access to a large library of on-demand content, including anime. When you make things more accessible, more frequently, and inexpensively for folks, pirate channels have no reason to exist. It’s all about innovation.

So long live Tokyopop for once being a diamond in the rough. Except Stu Levy, eat a dick. Also, buy my shit and donate to my “get rich quick fund”

Also if you are a company in the business reading my advice on how to innovate the anime/manga business, if you pay off my student loan, you can have my ideas. Only 12k. Cheap. Won’t ask for any more than that. Good offer, right?

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