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.

Filed To: Distribution / Over in Asia / Licensing
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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.

From icv2.com:

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” 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.

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.

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Filed To: Distribution / Licensing
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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.
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    Filed To: Distribution / Digital / Licensing / Adv/Marketing / Interview
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    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.

    Cory Doctorow has a another idea: use the mobile we have like iPhones (like this example) and make e-books work on what we have:

    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.

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    Filed To: Distribution / Retail / Digital / Mobile
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    KokoroMedia Returns

    Posted by Devin

    After a well deserved and necessary break, we return. We tried to keep the lights on here–

    If you have any news items, please contact us at news @ kokoromedia.com


    Filed To: Kokoro Media
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    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-

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    Filed To: Distribution / Over in Asia / Digital / Licensing
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    July 13, 2007

    Rebuild of Evangelion trailer available

    Posted by Madeline

    Rebuild of Evangelion is one of four films slated for release beginning this September by GAINAX, the studio behind the seminal and profitable series Neon Genesis Evangelion A viewer in Japan recorded the trailer while sitting in a movie theatre, then uploaded it to YouTube. The footage is grainy and the sound quality is poor, but savvy viewers will note the presence of more digital animation.

    No word yet on North American distribution, leaving North American viewers to wonder if the films will be released consecutively, simultaneously, or simply in one large, expensive boxed set. Will there be VOD legal downloads when distribution is decided? What about theatre showings, as there were for the Cowboy Bebop, Fullmetal Alchemist, and Naruto franchises?

    For more information, check out Eva creator Hideaki Anno’s statement on the subject.

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    Filed To: Over in Asia
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    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.

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    Filed To: Distribution / Retail / Digital / Adv/Marketing / General
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    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!

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    Filed To: Distribution / Over in Asia
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    June 23, 2007

    Anime Fans Spur Further Funding in Nitch Social Networks

    Posted by Devin

    Gaia Online DeviantArt LiveJournal Cyworld

    A few months ago I did a wrap up of the anime social networks as well as a later article on adding legal content to your blog in Japan.

    One site they like to visit and show their skill is deviantART, an art community site of not just anime and manga fans, but for the world. If you’re a visitor of the site, you’ll see the influence from anime and manga almost immediately. Which is why its to no surprise the $3.5mil first round of funding as reported by PEHub (via PaidContent.org)

    The site, which caters to a variety of artist categories such as painters, cartoonists and photographers, was founded in April 2000 and claims to reach over 14 million unique global users per month, with 5 million of those uniques coming from the US. DeviantArt did not say how it plans to use the funding, or who participated in the round, although it does list video compression developer DivX as one of its shareholders.

    Also mentioned before with a high affinity of anime fans is Livejournal, one of the early open platforms for blogging. Another rapidly enclosed anime/manga community is Gaia Online, which in the last year has received funding rounds of $8.93M and $12.01M. Gaia Online’s highlights include more than 7M registered users and a message board with more than 1 billion posts! Social network Cyworld US, the American version of the popular Korean social networking site, launched last year as an ‘anime-like’ interface that’s been compared to Gaia Online.

    The list of social networks is endless: I’ll let Wikipedia be your guide. This is only better news for upcoming Tokyopop V2.0 (launching very soon) and Anime Online.

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    Filed To: Over in Asia / Digital
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