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.
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-
June 18, 2007
JASRAC Ruling May Have a Chilling Effect on Manga Scanlations
Posted by Devin
There’s been much buzz from a ruling a couple of weeks ago in Japan from a victory by JASRAC, the main music copyright collection organization for Japan, over Image City, whose MYUTA service lets users employ a central server to store songs from their own CDs, to play on their own phones. The case started back in 2005-
A key feature of the service was the capability for subscribers to access and play the stored music tracks on their mobile phones. JASRAC immediately stepped in and contacted Image City, claiming the service required its approval in order to launch. Image City disagreed, saying the service was outside of JASRAC’s domain, and the stage was set for a legal battle.
Not wanting to operate under the cloud of legal uncertainty, Image City suspended the MYUTA service in April 2006. The company then filed a motion with the Tokyo Court seeking confirmation that MYUTA fell under the category of ‘private use’ copying for a single individual, and was therefore not subject to JASRAC’s authority.
The court ruled that because Image City owns the servers from which the stored files are downloaded, the company was responsible for the public transmission of copyrighted works.
According to Japan Inc’s Music Media Watch, the case could have serious IP repercussions in Japan-
The decision has sparked a storm of protest from many in the Japanese online and digital media community who feel a dangerous precedent has been set. If online services for individuals can be shut down because the servers might be storing copyrighted material, then JASRAC [or some other copyright holder] could apply similar pressure to other existing ‘personal use’ services such as Yahoo’s Briefcase and Apple’s .Mac.
Music isn’t the only media stored in Yahoo Briefcase and other similar services: manga scans & scanlations are also very popular to view and store online. There’s a chance of liability now, which might encourage these type of storage services to shut down.
In the US market, such digital works are covered with DMCA safe harbor regulations where infringing work is routinely taken down based on complaints. As Youtube and other services gear up their content filtering solutions, future online storage such as Yahoo Briefcase might have fingerprinting and digital identification tools to identify manga scans and stop it before its posted online — thus forcing manga readers to use Bittorrent and other Darknet solutions.
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 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.
May 18, 2007
Anime BitTorrent Focus: Love the Sharing
Posted by Devin
Downloading unlicensed anime has never been easier. IRC used to be the place where fansubbers distributed their new releases, but five or six years ago BitTorrent and other p2p trackers sites like AnimeSuki took over. Now thousands of unlicensed anime (Unlicensed here, btw) can be downloaded and distributed.
A new study published today says that BitTorrent’s are hot…but for TV:
TV-series are by far the most shared files on BitTorrent. Nearly 50% of all the people who use BitTorrent at any given point in time do this to download a TV-show, even though the number of available torrents are much lower than for Music or Video. The second most popular torrent category based on the number of downloaders and uploaders is Video (15.7%), followed by Games (8.6%), Music (7.8%) and of course XXX (6.0%).
Next on the list is Anime (5.4%). When it come to shear number type of torrents are offered, Anime (4.3%) lacks again behind Music (25.9%), Video (24.2%), Applications (13.3%), and Games (7.8%).
However, not all is lost. It seems anime fans do have a spine:
Sharing is one of key features of BitTorrent etiquette. The more people that are sharing a file, the faster other people are able to download it. If we take a look at the sharing ratios of the categories we see that Anime fans have an impressive share ratio of 2.5, and are sharing the most. Anime fans are followed by people who download Music (ratio 1.9) and Applications (ratio 1.5) respectively.
Does that mean that people who share anime are more honest because they share so much? I wonder how that breaks down between anime that is licensed and unlicensed?
May 9, 2007
Add Anime & Manga Characters to your Blog in Japan — Legally
Posted by Devin
For the thousands of people who have blogs and images with plenty of scans from Japan, now there’s a way to legally use characters for your own blog. Its a great way for companies to engage with their customers by giving them access to exclusive content and news.
Production I.G., Trans Cosmos and Animo have joined together to create a new blog service “Decoblog”. The beta version launched on March 22nd of this year. They aim to attract 500,000 users within just three years. Production I.G. will allow several of its character properties to be used in the venture. Users can choose over 500 styles of these characters for their blogs. They exhibited their new service at the Tokyo Anime Festival, where they presented the Decoblog service with a promotional video and some trials for attendees.
With so many pop-culture social networks popping up in the last six months from FUNimation and Tokyopop, there’s still a question of legally with their use of content from Japan. Despite numerous legal claims filed against operators of similar web sites YouTube and MySpace, it has not been untested whether or not such website operators are liable for copyright infringement from their users uploading and sharing protected content.
An acceptable solution might be blanket licensing, used right now in the music industry. ASCAP, BMI, and the Harry Fox Agnecy are all organizations that copyright owners can join to give it a mandate to license its content. Unfortunately, Japanese content organizations such as JASRAC have taken mostly confrontational situation against infringers like YouTube.
As a counterpoint, some Japanese firms have started to setup licensing arms: Kadokawa Group Holdings established a new company, Kadokawa Production, to manage the copyright of their contents. Kadokawa’s works will be intensively managed, with the eventual goal of licensing out of merchandising and screen rights.
So right now, there really isn’t a sure way to license those characters. Maybe what’s needed in the future is an international anime & manga rights organization, especially for licensing rights outside in Japan. Maybe we’ll be seeing it soon–
Source: 3/9/2007 Nikkei Sangyou Shimbun, 3/9/2007 RBB Today
April 6, 2007
Distributing to the US Market: Comparison to Mobile Content
Posted by Devin
The majority of Japanese media is brought to you by companies that were started by fans: whether it was fansubs on generation-made videotapes or scanlations before Bittorent was available, it was those early fans decided the best way to share the content by licensing and distributing it. Through time, early companies have succeeded like ADV Films, which other companies have not like Comics One and Studio Ironcat.
On the flip side are the number of Japanese firms that have successfully marketed their products over here. Anime-wise, Bandai and Pioneer (now Geneon) have had very successful releases over here. Namco Mobile has been a killer content for the phones over there, their Pac-Man game a top-5 killer.
The role of Japanese companies marketing their content in the US market is remarkably similar to Japanese mobile media market of 2002. Japanese firms such as Faith, For-side, and Index, took their mega-hit mobile content into the US by starting divisional properties or they purchased local content providers. With some successes, they had quite a few problems. Some Japanese companies have since left the US market as of 2006–2007, their ideology of ‘tackling the market’ lost.
So in lieu of recent news of another Japanese media firm entering the US market on their, here’s a summary of why its different. Perhaps we can learn from those mobile content providers after all-
Distribution is going to be different
Like the closed wall garden from carriers, the distribution of content is a big differentiator, whether it be in print or electronic. The limited number of necessary book distributors combined with retail limitations have shaped the manga market. Disruptions due to retail bankruptcies, logistical issues most recently mentioned by Viz’s Alvin Lu, and our censoring policies are all reasons that anime and manga licensers need to understand distribution rules are going to be different here than in Japan.
Copyright is not about who, but what rules
The mess that is mobile music royalties is a bit more completed when compared to book publishing and anime DVD Authoring. But the role of a localized licenser just putting out DVD’s is almost over. Can I get it on iTunes? What about streaming it? What if I want it on my mobile phone? Can I market better with podcasting? New ways to market and distribute content are coming to us every day, and if legal ways are to be provided, then we need more way we can adapt and change the content. And hopefully, it won’t be as DRM-laced as RIAA, MPAA, or JASDEC insists it is. Otherwise, there’s little incentive stop downloading via Bittorrent.
Lack of market knowledge
Ultimately, its about the product and the differences between the US and Japanese market. Japanese mobile companies came over with their month billing models, stood firm against the label licensees & carriers who wanted individual transactions. The stability of monthly subscription revenue never came and individual ‘carrier’ transactions are how most kids think of purchasing a ringtone/ringback.
A manga title like Yotsuba&! is marketed over in Japan as Seinen, a subset of manga that is targeted for an 18–30 year old male audience. Looking at the title and cover you may think that it actually aims for a younger, female audience. Its going to take some educational time to teach the distributors and sellers for this market.