June 20, 2008
Sho-Pro becomes Sho-Shu
Posted by Madeline
Yesterday, the Anime News Network reported that two of Viz Media’s parent companies are joining in a unique way to streamline the licensing and distribution of anime and manga titles. Major publisher Shueisha has made an investment in Shogakukan Productions, the licensing and merchandising arm of publisher Shogakukan. Both companies are parents of Viz, so this new partnership should benefit fans of Viz’ products in the North America. During a press conference on the subject, representatives from both companies described the move as part of a strategy to increase availability of Japanese products in overseas markets (while maintaining control over those products).
It’s only June, but already it’s been a big summer for news about licensing and distribution of anime and manga outside Japan. The market is changing, and we’ll be intrigued to see what’s on shelves (and how it’s reaching them) this Christmas.
June 4, 2008
Tokyopop Splits in Half
Posted by Madeline
Major manga distributor Tokyopop has split in half in a move that will eliminate 39 positions within Tokypop, Inc. The company is creating a new film and media division, Tokyopop Media LLC, which will supervise projects outside the pages of manga. The company is also going through re-structuring at the executive levels, with key personnel trading or changing positions.
Publishing production will be reduced by roughly 50% through the rest of the year, reducing output to roughly 200-225 titles per year from a planned total of over 500 titles. Tokyopop CEO and Chief Creative Officer of the Tokyopop Group, Stuart Levy, explained the reasons for the reduction in output. “The time is now for us to focus our publishing business to overcome current market challenges. Few releases will allow for less cannibalization at retail.”
Changes have been afoot at Tokyopop all season, with the announcement of their new Pilot Program which allows online manga readers to read excerpts of new manga in an effort to help Tokyopop decide which get published. The key: these artists can come from anywhere in the world, not just Japan, and the new program allows fanartists to submit original works. (Yaoi fanartists Dany & Dany have their own vampire manga up for discussion, for example.) However, the “pact” between these new (often young) creators and Tokyopop has raised a few eyebrows, possibly for stipulations like this one:
“MORAL RIGHTS” AND YOUR CREDIT
“Moral rights” is a fancy term (the French thought it up) that basically has to do with having your name attached to your creation (your credit!) and the right to approve or disapprove certain changes to your creation. Of course, we want you to get credit for your creation, and we want to work with you in case there are changes, but we want to do so under the terms in this pact instead of under fancy French idea. So, in order for us to adapt the Manga Pilot for different media, and to determine how we should include your credit in tough situations, you agree to give up any “moral rights” you might have. Of course, you still have your rights under this pact to your credit.
WHAT WE CAN DO WITH YOUR CREDIT
And, speaking of your credit, customarily we give you credit for your work as the writer and/or artist of the Manga Pilot. However, we may have to shorten or leave out your credit when the space available or the conventions of a format won’t permit it or if it would have to be too small to read (for example, when the Manga Pilot is viewed on mobile phones). You’re OK with this.
March 10, 2008
Interview: CrunchyRoll Raises $4 Million in Funding
Posted by Devin
CrunchyRoll Inc., a leading destination Anime & Asian media fansubs, raised $4.05 million in Series A funding, according to regulatory filings. Venrock led the round, with partner David Siminoff joining their Board of Directors.
Crunchyroll, a website for fans, offers free content in the United States as well as internationally. Launched in the summer of 2006, Crunchyroll has taken off rapidly, particularly since the spring of 2007. To help with building the company as a business, Series A funding was secured.
Crunchyroll provides Asian-based streaming video that is uploaded by users and moderated by the community, specifically volunteer moderators. Premium users who “donate” $6 per month get "donate patches" added to their profile and access to higher quality video streams. While others feel CrunchyRoll is in violation of copyright & using of the DMCA unfairly, Crunchyroll does strictly comply by removing a large amount of licensed & distributed content (Dragonball Z, Cowboy Bebop, Death Note, Evangelion, One Piece, Gundam, Hunter X Hunter, etc.)
Up to this point, CrunchyRoll’s true intentions have been often misunderstood by industry peers and fans. To help clear the air, Kokoro Media met with Crunchyroll this week on their suddenly discovered VC funding and future intentions.
Starting Crunchyroll up: In 2006, the site was a hobby for Crunchyroll’s founders: engineers which wanted to make genre media easier than downloading fansubs via bittorrent. After tinkering around with Youtube, they saw how easy it was to build and grow their backend on their own. It took off from there– Managing growth: Around mid-2007, the venture capital community started taking an interest in their obvious high traffic numbers. It wasn’t long before Crunchyroll’s founders left their days jobs to work on the site fulltime. With a little more than a handful of employees, Crunchyroll now generates 4+ mill unique visitors, 250+ mil pageviews, and 50 mil video streams a month. 40% of the traffic is from the United States. Moving forward: Like Hulu, long-format video streams will eventually include in-stream advertising. "Pay for play or ownership downloads don’t work because the anime community has been living on years off free fansubs," explained Crunchyroll, "but if its long content, on a clean site" unlike Hulu, "part of a like-minded community" it can succeed.
The difference is the payoff after the ad: you’ll wait 1-2 minutes to watch a 24 minute episode of a 56 episode series, but you won’t wait through a 30 second ad for a 5 minute clip of user-generated crap. Additionally, this spring’s launch of new tools including collaborative subbing of video streams will only increase community stickiness and interaction. "We’re here to prove the model on a windfall of content."
Becoming legit: Crunchyroll has been in discussions with a "select number of Japanese firms" over legitimizing their streaming content use with licensing fees. A demonstration of the advertising business model with a select number of partners may be coming this spring. Generating revenue $$ would make future discussions "easier than asking the entire industry to take a small leap of faith." In the future, Crunchyroll’s true intention is "to reach out to any and all rights holders" and license the content legally.
March 6, 2008
E-Manga’s Second Coming or Still Treading Water?
Posted by Devin
Even though its been almost two years since the Sony E-reader debuted with electronic pages of manga, we’re no closer to discovering if e-manga will come home to roost. In the area of e-readers, the reviews for the Kindle make it seem better for text than graphics. Other platforms such as Cybook (pictured here with an example of manga) don’t have the available content. Frankly e-book readers cost at least $300, and then you have to buy the content. It doesn’t make sense tot he consumer.
On the other hand, the online format keeps growing: CPM, NetComics, and Del Rey along with quite a few other publishers have sample programs, subscriptions, or whole volumes, etc. The list keeps growing. Joining the mix is Infinity Studies this week with manga via PDF.
Handheld game consoles, phones, and other multipurpose devices have found their way into the hands of people from every walk of life. In some countries, mobile phone penetration is above 100 percent — that is, a significant proportion of the population maintain more than one phone, for example, a work cellular and a home cellular.
Cory also thinks “E-Ink” works, when prices go down will be the way to go. Maybe, but what’s popular online combined with the convergence of mobile & web may be our future, says Nokia CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo
As the Internet is freed from the limitations of the desktop, we are taking mobility into a completely new realm of possibility. We are redefining the Internet itself as it increasingly becomes a medium of immediate and personal experiences.
July 19, 2007
AX Analysis: What About a Digital License?
Posted by Devin
Japan’s interest in cross-border licensing was pretty apparent from this years International Licensing Show last month in New York. According to LIMA Japan, at least 20 companies from Japan exhibited at the show in addition to Korean and Taiwanese pavilions that each housed a half a dozen organizations or more. No doubt, its now hot to license overseas.
But even with content licensing become much more common, the ‘hidden’ factor is content use and whether it can be used in a digital distribution. The issues related to digitization are not just related to weak government regulation but more than the way content is created and produced in Japan.
Right holders include talent as well as production companies and broadcasters, the search for permissions is frequently cumbersome or, in cases where rights holders have dropped out of the biz — or off the face of the earth — impossible.
Licensees have always had a tough time acquiring digital parts of licenses to use online. Sometime digital licensing for manga or anime for example “is not offered” in initial discussions. Digital distribution is often not a replacement license but an “add-on” costs to DVD or TV licenses. And knowing that, the US companies were quickly about to point out they are now “always asking” for digital rights. More than that, Japanese firms need to adapt licenses that are “multi-platform” or “advertising-based” like the a-la-Youtube model to successfully monetize in the US and European markets.
At the end of the day, Japanese licensing needs to change to meet digital demands. Per Discontent, we’re already seeing opinions change in Japan:
According to a Nikkei BP publication article, Japan’s Keidanren’s chairman Fujio Mitarai and Itochu chairman Uichiro Niwa has put forward a way to both allow for the full utilization of copyrighted content that may otherwise be ‘gathering dust’, and as enabler to fill the ever-expanding distribution channels with ‘much needed’ digital content.
“[The government should establish new legislations that include a] more simplified, convenient procedure that could replace pre-authorization by each right owner” in a bid to promote the distribution of digital contents.”
A later article by VarietyAsiaOnline.com was misquoted in suggesting a government panel had formally recommended rule changes to ease TV to webcast licensing woes. Foreign pressure as well as the promise of wealth will only help to alleviate the “uphill battle vis-a-vis opposition from incumbent copyright holders who fear an erosion of their market power.”
Hat tip to PW Beat for the licensing article-
July 12, 2007
AX Analysis: The Changing Distribution of Anime
Posted by Devin
For the next week, we’ll be providing Anime-Expo (AX) post-conference analysis on the industry presentations we attended. Today is on Anime DVD sales:
One apparent issue is the dropping of DVDs sales starting last year. Over in Japan, anime DVD sales dropped to $826 mil, or down 2% over 2006. In the US market, the number of DVD anime releases has dropped to 767 titles in 2006, a 9% title decrease verses 2005. Anime DVD sales are still outpacing regular DVD sales by a few % points even if total DVD released decreased by 8.2%.
Because the audience anime companies serve is some of the most proficient online, there’s no doubt that anime more any other medium is shared on p2p networks. The danger is fans often don’t understand the rights and wrongs of IP. Take the quote from one 17 year old:
“I wouldn’t steal a car. I wouldn’t steal a DVD. But I might borrow a DVD from a friend. And what’s the Internet these days, but a big group of friends sharing stuff?” [And] ultimately, because downloading is just too easy…too attractive to resist. A click of a mouse and “it’s all at our disposal.”
Because of revenue declines, the anime market is changing the way they distribute in every channel. Debra J. Kennedy, Vice-President of Marketing and New Media, of FUNimation, during her “Future of Anime” keynote at AX, acknowledged the fight for retail shelf space is becoming more and more difficult. The retailers like anime because it supples them with higher margins, however their lack of shelf space and category management is a problem. Companies are also getting more promotion-minded by pushing catalogs and online contests. And its working:
Manga has had one of its biggest years, selling more than 750,000 units of Ghost in the Shell’s six volumes, Manga’s senior VP sales Ray Gagnon said. “It’s challenging for anime companies, because the price points are high,” So specialty chains such as Best Buy and Trans World rep prime retail outlets for Manga titles, Gagnon said.
Other strategies include pushing anime to the TV networks, well illustrated by Kokoro Media in earlier posts. Ms. Kennedy expressed FUNimation was able to introduce IFC to anime. To help spur retail hits, Bandai specifically focuses on leveraging the TV exposure of properties such as Cowboy Bebop and Gundam. “Now we and also the retailers need to be more discerning,” observed Bandai marketing manager Jerry Chu.
Ultimately, digital distribution and Internet sales, the long tail of media economics help anime and other nitch genres expand the anime market. iTunes, XBox, Direct2Drive, Vongo, Akimbo, and other legal ways to download via the Internet is the future of anime distribution. Ms. Kennedy also noted the market is working to develop business models with new ways of reaching customers. The development of co-productions and simultaneous releases and the need for investment into infrastructure such as VOD and cable are all keys to future market success.
June 27, 2007
DC Invests in Manga
Posted by Madeline
DC Comics, possibly intimidated by Marvel’s Mangaverse and Dark Horse’s close relationship with Masamune Shirow and other mangaka, has invested in a manga start-up called Flex Comics Snip:
Translated editions of Japanese manga dominate U.S. graphic novel sales, and the Flex Comics venture makes DC Comics one of the first English-language publishers with a significant investment in a Japanese manga producer. DC publishes licensed Japanese manga in the U.S. through its CMX imprint.
It seems that DC has had this in mind for a while, what with their establishment of DC Comics Japan last year. They also seem to have been watching Flex, which has been producing manga since December. What interests me is that DC and Flex seem to be following the scanlation model of marketing: they want Web-heavy advertising before converting manga titles to print. But I question how they plan on getting the word out about Flex — the readers who watch BitTorrent and scanlation sites for the next big manga title don’t necessarily think to visit a corporate site. (On the other hand, Tokyopop has any number of manga readers on its mailing list.) And in order to earn purchasing decisions, DC/Flex will have to include something extra with their bound editions: new colour illustrations, interviews, gift certificates for related merchandise, or something similar.
Thanks are due to Emru for the link!
June 14, 2007
WSJ Article Just Misses Mark on Manga Trends & Girls Comics
Posted by Devin
A few days ago the Wall Street Journal published the following video and article Pow! Romance! Comics Court Girls, a trend analysis of the recent popularity of manga for girls (Shoujo manga) and mostly about the reactions from Marvel and DC. According the ComicMix, the article “cannot resist using the usual balance superhero-reference exclamation-point-laden headline” and I tend to agree. In addition:
The new titles are inspired in part by the fast growth of translated Japanese comics called manga. While gory and violent themes aimed at boys are staples of manga, fantasy and romantic storylines meant to appeal to girls have helped manga capture the attention of female readers, an audience comic publishers have long struggled to attract.
One of the strengths of manga which most press and analysis don’t realize is that manga is a not just a genre of gore for guys or romance for women, but a medium for all: there’s comedy, adventure, fantasy, romance, sci-fi, non-fiction, etc. Japanese comics didn’t succeed in the US market because it was also geared for girls, but because of its diversity to find stories that were more in tune to what women are looking for.
Film Fodder referenced this “most telling part of the article”:
The artistic conventions and techniques of manga can differ markedly from U.S. comics. For example, female characters in manga tend to be less voluptuous than the superwomen in U.S. comics. Such curvaceous characters can be tough for young women to relate to, says Nicole Lewis, a 19-year-old manga reader who is going into her sophomore year at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. “It’s a little off-putting,” Ms. Lewis says of some female superheroes in American comics. “Especially to young women who don’t look like that at all.”
Manga lines in bookstores in Japan are much more defined for girls and boys, with shelf space first per manga type, then narrowed down to individual publishers and their labels. This keeps girls separated from the boys giving them a different shopping experience, with little or few book covers and images to turn them off from the medium. The US market isn’t there yet with a smorgasbord of manga usually sorted on shelves by title name, but marketing is separated and buyers know what they’re looking for and why.
Also, I’d like to point out I applaud Marvel and DC (and CMX, DC’s line of Japanese licensed manga) for trying to emulate market-capturing manga a bit: DC’s new Minx series will mimic the general look and price point of manga, but its tailored with more of an American ‘feel’.
June 13, 2007
More Digital Anime on the Horizon
Posted by Devin
Left out of my analysis of Anime on TV were the purebred digital anime station, the FUNimation Channel and The Anime Network. Both stations are starting to penetrate major metropolitan areas in the United States, with The Anime Channel now distributing in the UK as well. With 75% of the country’s 26 million TV households already digital, one of the highest in world, its an ideal place to get 24/7 anime to the fans.
Indeed, while other major European territories have digital penetration of 60%-70%, in Germany, only 27.5%, or 9.65 million of the country’s 35 million TV households, receive TV digitally. However, that number is growing rapidly. Since thebeginning of the year, some 740,000 new households have gone digital.
Even with this kind of impressive growth projections, its a small cup when compared to the larger foothold they have in South America (36 million homes in 38 countries and 11 languages) and to potential launching in the United States. As reported by the Financial Times by Anime News Network, there was the stirring of a Sony/Comcast network as far back as 2004.
Sony is reported by the Financial Times to be “keen” to launch an American version of Animax, a network specializing in animated content. [It] was mentioned by insiders as a network that could be offered to North Americans.
More Animax news: Sony Pictures Television International (SPTI) announced today the launch of Animax Mobile in Canada and Australia.
Animax Mobile is a dedicated channel for mobile handsets and is not a rebroadcast, simultaneous co-transmission or cut-down version of an existing television channel. “Animax Mobile is the ideal launch pad for SPTI’s multi-platform network strategy. Tailor-made for today’s young adult mobile consumer, Animax Mobile builds on the brand loyalty of Animax and extends the consumer experience to a vast and loyal fanbase seeking anytime anime content and culture in current and emerging markets.” announced Marie Jacobson, SPTI’s executive vice president, programming and production, international networks.
Added Bill Sanders, vice president, mobile network programming, “It’s not about the big screen vs. the little screen. Often, it’s a choice of small screen vs. no screen at all, and with Animax Mobile, we’re able to bring some of Animax’s most valuable programs to fans new and old at times and in places where they couldn’t see them before.”
And now according to unpublished sources, it looks like they’re getting ready to launch into the North America in the next month or so: our estimate here is not just on digital cable but in a limited form on the mobile platform as well.
June 12, 2007
Licensing 2007 Preview: Anime/Retailer Relationships
Posted by Devin
The mega show for Licensing comes to New York next week June 19-21, 2007. Anime licensees, like many other smaller licensees are finding, that there are ways around all those mega retailers who won’t let them in. And at a show as large as Licensing 2007, even small players are the prize eye of many retailers.
“Smaller chairs are more likely to try something new,” said Carlin West, svp-new concept acquisitions and development. “They can house all this brand merchandise in one area. When you are creating a new brand, you want it all together so you can tell a story. They can offer a much more personal approach to building a brand.”
Hot Topic, a popular teen trend shop that in the past was perceived to only carry prep clothes is another example of a smaller retailer going the extra mile with licensees.
“Hot Topic [has] allowed more opportunities for marketing support to build awareness before we go out there in a bigger way,” says Tammy Knepher of American Greeting Properties, “What you don’t want to do is get too much product out [initially at mass-market retailers.] If it just sits on the shelves, its dead before it starts.”
Anime companies have been very careful about not ‘flooding the market’ with goods, though lately it seems the more product out there, the better.
Speaking of which, what about Naruto Nation? Will so much product be a flood to the market? And does it fly in the face of everything you would want to do as per above? Probably not as per a nice wrapup summary two months ago by Mangablog and her links. I’m sure with plenty of “Naruto Nation” displays, signs, and other tchotchkes, Viz is going to have a very successful sell-through.