Bandai Entertainment’s Departure – This Is What Happens When You Don’t Give Customers What They Want!

Bandai Entertainment’s Departure – This Is What Happens When You Don’t Give Customers What They Want!

KannagiAnd so, another American anime and manga licensing company bites the dust as Bandai Entertainment announced on Tuesday (January 3, 2012) that they are shutting down as a licensor. I for one am not surprised because it was clear to me that Bandai Entertainment’s Japanese overlords would never adapt their business to fit the American market.

When it came to my limited anime/manga budget, I never sent much money Bandai’s way because they didn’t cater to me, at least not until the release of the Kannagi manga, which I made sure to purchase.  I’ve said this before, but as a consumer, I am under no obligation to buy crap just to keep an industry afloat. That’s not how things get fixed (nor are government bailouts, but that’s another topic).  What I wanted was pretty simple — reasonably priced DVD (and now Blu-ray) sets with Japanese audio tracks that has a one subtitle track (since there can be more than one) which is readable, but retain Japanese honorifics, jokes, etc. (much like many of the manga adaptations today are done). To my knowledge, Bandai never did this for their anime titles, so my money went to places where this WAS done.

While most American anime fans may not be so tetchy about the subtitle issue (which would cost very little to include and snag fans like myself on the cheap), most are completely supportive of reasonably priced DVD/BD sets.  They also want methods of legally watching anime online, for free.  Unfortunately, the Japanese overlords would have none of this, as cited in the Anime News Network article on the subject.

“The pricing range for our products kept dropping in Western countries, and people tended only to buy sets with very reasonable prices, which we understand is what fans want, but it lead us to a different strategy than what Japanese licensors wanted,” he remarked. “So we always had a problem [with licensors wanting something different than what consumers wanted].”

In Japan, the anime and manga market is built on a house of cards.  Japanese fans are expected to buy because they are collectors, not so much because they want to watch an anime at a later date. As such, putting only two episodes of an anime per DVD/BD and tossing in a few extras caters to that collector’s notion, as does the premium price Japanese fandom pays for the privilege of purchasing said items.  More hardcore Japanaese fans are then expected to collect the figures, books, and other materials released by the licensor, increasing profits and the like.

Of course in the West, while we do have some collectors, for the most part, we aren’t hardcore collectors. We buy DVD/BD discs or sets because we want to watch these things again.  The collecting aspect comes in second. For a series we might REALLY love, we might splurge and pay more money, but that’s the exception, not the rule. (One such case for me was NIS America’s release of Toradora! on DVD, which I paid for the two premium releases since there were some nice extras AND the subtitles were mostly ANB-approved.)

As I’ve always seen it, Japanese companies cannot allow Japanese fans to embrace the American model of video sales. Since Americans demand faster availability, quality, and reasonable prices, the Japanese have clearly decided that not making any money in a U.S. market is better than risking the ruination of the Japanese model (because in their minds, there is a static number of anime buyers rather than a dynamic number that could increase with lower prices).

By the way, I highly recommend watching Mr. Baseball (Buy.com)(Barnes & Nobel) if you want a glimpse into Japanese business practices (my review is here).

Now, lest I be accused of only picking on the Japanese, it isn’t as though there aren’t similar, bull headed issues in the U.S.  After all, many companies have died or have been bailed out for bad business practices, or for failing to provide what their customers wanted.  Some appear to be dying, such as Best Buy, all because either the customer is wrong for wanting things the businesses aren’t providing, some outside force is to blame for said companies’ woes (piracy, online retailers, e-books, etc.), or something else rather than the companies’ own refusal or inability to adapt to customer demands.

The anime and manga markets in the U.S., even at their peak, are still nothing more than niche markets. With the recession still on for most people (even if the numbers are manipulated by the government to make it seem to be better than it really is), budgets are tight and splurging on anime/manga just isn’t in the cards for them. While there is a push by some American companies to have legal, free services for anime and manga, there’s a lot of blow back from the Japanese on this despite one big push by Akamatsu-sensei (Love Hina, Negima!) and his J-Comi site.  As such, customers are still not being catered to and thus revenues that could be earned from non-buying anime fans isn’t being generated like it should be.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again — until the Japanese license owners and American licensees find a way to give the consumers what they want while generating profits from it, then we’ll probably see more failures and even less anime and manga in the U.S.  That would truly be a shame.  In the meantime, whom can I lobby to license-rescue the Kannagi manga series?

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14 Responses to “Bandai Entertainment’s Departure – This Is What Happens When You Don’t Give Customers What They Want!”

  1. Toonleap says:

    Now that Bandai is gone, I wonder if the dvds or blurays have a REAL collectors value now…*jojojo*

    I always wanted the same goodies of the japanese releases in american releases (phone cards, ost, film strips, figmas, etc)

    Now, thats something worth buying instead of just the movie itself.

  2. Ultimaniac says:

    A pic that comes to mind whenever a discussion over translations and localizations pops up.

    http://i648.photobucket.com/albums/uu207/Ultimaniac/1325651639395.jpg

  3. cxt217 says:

    One of the things that the ANN interview with Ken Iyodomi noted was the increasing number of Japanese companies that find it easier and more profitable to release directly to the US market, rather than going through a licensor, i.e. Aniplex.

    Unfortunately, that trend is less likely to lead to Japanese licensors understanding the realities of the R1 market, and more likely to lead to what I call ’boutique’ releases – small lots of very elaborate releases at high price points, to cater to those R1 fans WHO will pay high prices for deluxe versions. The overall revenue and profits will be smaller for the Japanese, but the marginal profits will be much higher. That approach will leave the average anime fan in the US out in the cold, but my understanding is that Japanese licensors regard overseas revenue as a handy extra, not as a critical necessity they have to cater to get. Cutting out the middleman and reducing the production distribution costs might be worth the smaller overall cash.

    I am sad to see Bandai go, but not surprised. Many of their licensing and production decisions over the last couple years have been questionable to abysmal. It will be bad because that means less chances for titles to be licensed in the future, and less work for people in the industry (Voice actors and the like.). And I do not want the R1 industry to become duopoly, though that seems inevitable.

  4. Brett says:

    Japanese fans are expected to buy because they are collectors, not so much because they want to watch an anime at a later date. As such, putting only two episodes of an anime per DVD/BD and tossing in a few extras caters to that collector’s notion, as does the premium price Japanese fandom pays for the privilege of purchasing said items. More hardcore Japanaese fans are then expected to collect the figures, books, and other materials released by the licensor, increasing profits and the like.

    I had no idea that that was the general mentality of buying the Blu Rays for many Japanese fans. It makes sense – if it was just about watching the stuff, the Japanese rights-holders would be getting eaten alive by piracy over these kinds of prices over there (probably more so than in the US, since the internet is usually faster in urban areas over there IIRC).

    As I’ve always seen it, Japanese companies cannot allow Japanese fans to embrace the American model of video sales. Since Americans demand faster availability, quality, and reasonable prices, the Japanese have clearly decided that not making any money in a U.S. market is better than risking the ruination of the Japanese model (because in their minds, there is a static number of anime buyers rather than a dynamic number that could increase with lower prices).

    I’ve seen that mentality with a lot of content companies. You see it in the US, where there are pushes to limit free/fremium distribution of content on the web so as to not jeopardize the currently much more valuable cable revenue stream.

    While there is a push by some American companies to have legal, free services for anime and manga, there’s a lot of blow back from the Japanese on this despite one big push by Akamatsu-sensei (Love Hina, Negima!) and his J-Comi site.

    I was wondering why there’s no Crunchyroll for manga yet (there are some sites that do a couple of manga releases online chapter-by-chapter, but their selection is usually limited). I suppose this is why.

    I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again — until the Japanese license owners and American licensees find a way to give the consumers what they want while generating profits from it, then we’ll probably see more failures and even less anime and manga in the U.S.

    Legal anime and manga, you mean. This is a boon for the fansub groups, since the Japanese licensors likely can’t do much about english-language piracy without a partner licensing this stuff in the US.

  5. junior says:

    No offense, but what’s up with the sub-title whining? I’ve got a number of Bandai Entertainment DVDs (assorted Gundam stuff, Big O, Crest/Banner of the Stars), and every single one of them has an option for Japanese audio and an option for English language sub-titles. I don’t recall what they did with honorifics (probably left them out), but that’s a minor issue at best. So I’m not really sure why you’re complaining about a lack of subtitles provided by Bandai Entertainment. In my experience, they provided them. Heck, in Crest/Banner they provided TWO sets of subtitles, because they had to use one set of them to translate the Ahb language for the original Japanese viewers!

    😛

    Bandai has also been experimenting with streaming series. Their more recent Gundam television series (00 and possibly one or both of the SEED series) were streamed for free shortly after broadcast. Unfortunately, the streaming was done through a Japanese provider, and you had to live in Japan to access it. Bandai has also been streaming Gundam Unicorn, their OVA series that’s currently releasing a new episode every six months. You can get it through Sony’s on-line media service. It’s not free, but it’s still pretty inexpensive. You basically pay a couple of bucks to “rent” the episode that you want for a couple of days. At least they’re testing the waters.

  6. burnpsy says:

    @Brett: There are several, they’re just not very good.

  7. AstroNerdBoy says:

    Now that Bandai is gone, I wonder if the dvds or blurays have a REAL collectors value now…*jojojo*

    *LOL* If they go out of print, then yeah. However, that’s not supposed to happen.

    I always wanted the same goodies of the japanese releases in american releases (phone cards, ost, film strips, figmas, etc)

    Ditto, for a series I REALLY like. We got a tiny bit of that with Toradora!. FUNimation did include lots of DVD extras with titles like Fruits Basket.

    A pic that comes to mind whenever a discussion over translations and localizations pops up.

    http://i648.photobucket.com/albums/uu207/Ultimaniac/1325651639395.jpg

    *ROFLOL!!!!!* That’s so awesome! Who’s the author?

    Unfortunately, that trend is less likely to lead to Japanese licensors understanding the realities of the R1 market, and more likely to lead to what I call ’boutique’ releases – small lots of very elaborate releases at high price points, to cater to those R1 fans WHO will pay high prices for deluxe versions.

    There won’t be that many of them, at least not as I see it. However, I’ve read that the Japanese are now looking at the U.S. market as just icing on their cake rather than a whole new cake with its own frosting.

    I think that was your point though. ^_^;;;

    I had no idea that that was the general mentality of buying the Blu Rays for many Japanese fans. It makes sense – if it was just about watching the stuff, the Japanese rights-holders would be getting eaten alive by piracy over these kinds of prices over there (probably more so than in the US, since the internet is usually faster in urban areas over there IIRC).

    There is a piracy deal though, and the Japanese are even more aggressive at killing it via the Japanese government.

    I’ve seen that mentality with a lot of content companies. You see it in the US, where there are pushes to limit free/fremium distribution of content on the web so as to not jeopardize the currently much more valuable cable revenue stream.

    Every technological improvement has always struck fear in Big Entertainment/Big Music that they will lose revenues. It never comes true and at worst, revenues transfer to the new methods and at best, there’s even more revenue.

    Legal anime and manga, you mean. This is a boon for the fansub groups, since the Japanese licensors likely can’t do much about english-language piracy without a partner licensing this stuff in the US.

    Yeah, and the less inroads for legal methods of viewing anime and reading manga there are, the more there will be fansub/scanlations to fill the void.

  8. AstroNerdBoy says:

    No offense, but what’s up with the sub-title whining? I’ve got a number of Bandai Entertainment DVDs (assorted Gundam stuff, Big O, Crest/Banner of the Stars), and every single one of them has an option for Japanese audio and an option for English language sub-titles. I don’t recall what they did with honorifics (probably left them out), but that’s a minor issue at best.

    *lol* Its the honorific issue for me, and I probably should have made that more clear. However, it is minor, but it annoys me because I want cheese on my burger with fries (as an analogy). It doesn’t take that much to put a slice of cheese on, and in my opinion, having a subtitle track dedicated to nutters like me who like honorifics in the subtitles doesn’t take much either. ^_~

    At least they’re testing the waters.

    Well…I’m not impressed. ^_^;;;

  9. arimareiji says:

    @Ultimaniac: That pic rocks. XD

    @ANB: To me, the similarity is striking between the quote you provided:

    “The pricing range for our products kept dropping in Western countries, and people tended only to buy sets with very reasonable prices, which we understand is what fans want, but it lead us to a different strategy than what Japanese licensors wanted…”

    and one on the article you linked to elsewhere:

    “Best Buy does what would be most convenient for the company for consumers to want but don’t, then crosses its fingers and prays. That’s not a strategy–or not a winning strategy, in any case…”

    My money’s on Japan to learn from its mistakes before America does, but that doesn’t say much. I don’t think anything shy of bankruptcy will cure the worst examples of American brick-and-mortar retail of “upselling” and “metrics”. And even as they’re closing their doors, they’ll still be blaming it on anything but their own failure to ASK the customer what they want instead of trying to dictate it to them. Bandai was at least able to admit what the problem was, and try to fix it… it was just too little, too late.

  10. cxt217 says:

    Which Bandai are we talking about here? It appears the US branch had figured out how things were changing, but the Japanese home office definitely did not, and they were the ones who called the shots. Given some of the stories that have been circulating for some time about how business decisions were made in Bandai – we have to differentiate between the two.

    Considering how Namco-Bandai is cutting down the European entertainment division as well, it appears any lesson the home office in Japan learned were negative ones.

  11. OverMaster says:

    A very well written and thought article, ANB. I’ll give you definitive kudos here.

  12. AstroNerdBoy says:

    My money’s on Japan to learn from its mistakes before America does, but that doesn’t say much.

    I’m not so sure. They’ve been pretty entrenched for years, but then so have the Americans. ^_^;

    It appears the US branch had figured out how things were changing, but the Japanese home office definitely did not, and they were the ones who called the shots. Given some of the stories that have been circulating for some time about how business decisions were made in Bandai – we have to differentiate between the two.

    Whomever the “boss” is is whom I’m speaking of. ^_^ So yeah, it is the Japanese corporate bosses.

    A very well written and thought article, ANB. I’ll give you definitive kudos here.

    Thanks. ^_^

  13. Dagon123 says:

    Hey ANB, on the subject of Bandai, I recently ran across this concerning Seikishi Monogatari

    http://tenchiforum.com/viewtopic.php?f=19&p=5399#p5399

    What are your thoughts on that?

  14. AstroNerdBoy says:

    Not sure I’d read much into that. As I understand it, Bandai Channel is just an online (digital) distributor of anime. Thus, being gaijin, most of their stuff is denied to us (I do know some Gundam stuff is apparently visible to us Western gaijin). They’ve had many shows which were then licensed on DVD/BD by other, US companies.

    That being said, my understanding is that ISM was still airing on PPV in Japan, as well as being sold on BD. So, if it is finally moving to Bandai Channel, maybe it is closer to being licensed.

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