In a previous life, I oversaw a software development practice. I worked for a visionary who saw the potential of something called crowdsourcing. That’s where you package work in compartmentalized chunks and ask folks on the internet to complete a unit of work on spec. I’d review the finished products and select the best one to buy.
The costs of running the program made it possible to get work done that my team would not otherwise have had time to do. Plus, it was way less expensive than hiring contractors. Everyone can win!
Why don’t anime studios crowdsource subbing the less popular titles?
Sketchy Sources Don’t Pay
Let’s say I want to buy a legal copy of Isuca. Why, you may ask? That’s not important right now.* What is important is that the show didn’t do very well, so the studio likely won’t invest in releasing it in the United States. That means there’s no easy (known) way for me to get a legal copy. If I go to Amazon, the only copies available are from sketchy sources that I’m pretty sure don’t share profits with the studios. If I were less concerned with legality, I could turn to fansubs, which often come out within a day or two of the original broadcast. Sometimes, you can even choose between multiple resolutions from multiple fansubbers! But the studios have made it clear they regard fansubs as illegal — Anime News Network published a solid analysis that concludes, “Legally, there is no difference between ‘fansubs’ and ‘bootlegs’.”
Make More Money — Look Good Doing It!
I understand fully why a studio wants to keep control of their shows. It’s their intellectual property. It’s their means of earning money. Especially for the top-tier shows like Fairy Tail, or shows that got cool fancy box sets like Gate or Monster Musume, studios want to control every aspect of the product to ensure buyers enjoy a great experience.**
But what about the shows that don’t do well enough to warrant a corporate release? Whose sales projections don’t warrant the costs of subbing and/or dubbing, much less reproduction and packaging?
Well, the studios’ answer so far has been to walk away from that market. Fansubbers are happy to fill the void, even for no monetary gain — and some legal risk. I think they just love anime and enjoy the bragging rights! But the legal issue looms, and let’s face it: if you’re not a company, justice is awfully expensive.
So why not put fansubbers to work — legally?
It wouldn’t be hard to do! The studio could:
- Ask potential fansubbers to register and agree not to distribute the materials without the studio’s permission.
- After each episode airs, the studio could provide a digital copy of the episode to the registered fansubbers.
- The fansubbers would work within a deadline of, say, 48 hours.
- Participants return the subbed episode, and the company checks each entry for accuracy and fidelity. The winner gets a small payment, maybe $250 or something (the amount doesn’t matter, and it’d be up to the studios and participants based on their circumstances). The fansubber who wins also gets bragging rights and credit for their work! Maybe as a gesture of good will, the other fansubbers get to keep the digital copy for their personal enjoyment
- Participants who consistently don’t win can be dropped from the program if it seems like they’re just in it for the free digital copy
- The studio could host downloads of the fansubbed individual episodes for some fixed amount (like $1.00 or $2.00); they could even host them on a paid YouTube channel or something. The key is, digital distribution mechanisms could save them packaging and shipping costs.
The studios are probably apprehensive about starting something like this, and it’s easy to see why: any system can be abused and the studio might feel like they’re giving up some control. But this idea harnesses the fansubbers’ enthusiasm for a show, and it lets the studios profit from a series that might not otherwise be marketable. Plus, the studio’s still in complete control of which fansub, if any, get released. The loss of control is illusionary — and I know, because I’ve run a similar program in the past.
Best of all? Shows that were less popular will be more available — legally! I’d love to own a legal copy of dozens of series that weren’t released in the States, but they’re just not available. Since I prefer to stay away from illegal streaming sites, that means I’ve decided I just don’t get to see some shows. Crowdsourcing to fansubbers would solve this problem and earn the studios a little more money.
Sound Like a Good Idea?
What do you think? Have you ever worked inside a company that crowdsourced work? Have you ever worked as part of a crowd? What were your experiences? Let me know in the comments!
* I can neither confirm nor deny it has anything to do with Tamako.
** Yes, I know there are other less charitable interpretations, but I’ve been on both sides of the equation, and I can say that even the most cynical company wants the consumer to feel good about a big-ticket purchase so they make similar purchases again!