This was probably one of the most interesting panels I attended at AX this year. Only members of the press were invited to the panel, and the list of attending panelists was literally a "who's who of the anime industry" in North America. I really enjoyed seeing and listening to the industry representatives debate over some of the more significant topics in the anime business. My only complaint was the panel felt too short at 1 hour long (it could have easily gone on for 2 hours if not longer).
Charles Solomon quickly introduced the panelists and then quickly went into his first question / topic regarding the growth of the anime market. Matt Greenfield of ADV stated that the market is still growing and diversifying. He believes anime is not a genre but a medium, and that we're currently seeing fragmentation in the industry. From the manga perspective, David Wise of Go! Comi mentioned that he sees certain properties selling extremely well. He agreed with Matt that the market is getting diverse, but big titles keep getting bigger while smaller ones continue to sell the same. Matt added that the key is to find new ways of distributing anime.
Lillian Diaz-Przybyl from Tokyopop stated the trick is finding out how to market new titles. Only a minute percentage of manga releases sell more than 10,000 copies. Ken Iyadomi of Bandai Ent. also commented on the industry. In his opinion, the anime business is becoming riskier. He brought up the issue of fansubs / digisubs. Ken thinks more education is needed regarding fansubs and bootlegs. Some other points he mentioned include that Bandai's target audience is the college crowd and anime production costs are increasing. Shawne Kleckner of TRSI mentioned that one can see a direct correlation between inflation (in particular gas prices) and sales. The economy as the whole has affected the anime market.
Charles's next question addressed the issues of limited shelf space in brick and mortar stores. He asked the panelists if they see the on-line retail market taking a greater role. Trulee Karahashi from the SPJA stated that the anime market is becoming broader. She pointed out that the attendee base at Anime Expo is 50% female. She also commented that distribution methods are rapidly changing as seen by the rise in digital formats (i.e. downloadable comics onto cell phones). Jim Yardley from Geneon mentioned that online retailers are definitely important as they have much more space than brick & mortar stores. He also pointed out that content is king no matter the format / distribution method.
Expanding on the topic of digital media, Charles mentioned he doesn't quite understand the appeal of distributing content via cell phone (and other portable electronic devices). Matt Greenfield quickly responded that the iPod & iTunes have been such a huge success because people want to take their music and video where ever they go. He also pointed out that the PSP UMD format failed to gain market share because it was proprietary (people have to use memory sticks to copy content from their computers). Shawne Kleckner had a slightly differing opinion by stating that consumers don't want to buy the same thing twice on different formats.
Charles went back to the topic of piracy and asked if it's huge concern and are actions being taken. Anthony Jiwa took the opportunity to mention that Viz is partnering with another company to stream anime on-line for free (I believe he was referring to Toonami Jetstream). Jim Yardley stated that Geneon goes after large entities (the people making bootlegs) instead of individuals. Anthony added that the key to combating piracy is providing an alternative while at the same time prosecuting bootleggers.
Robyn Mukai of Urban Vision stated that they haven't felt a need to persecute pirates. Matt mentioned that digital rights management (DRM) is important and that it must be implemented such that people won't turn to hacks. He also commented that the biggest change in the market is that people want to sample a product before buying it.
Charles then asked if anyone wanted to talk about fansubbing. Lillian commented that fans' sense of entitlement is an issue. Gen Fukunaga from Funimation stated that it's a timing issue because there's always going to be a lag between when anime comes out in Japan and when it's released in North America. He mentioned that Japanese companies need to get involved.
Ken Iyadomi stated that Japanese and U.S. studios have totally different production methods. He also added that fans in Japan are more loyal than those in the US. The last item he mentioned on the topic of fansubbing is that it's hurting the market. Tatsunori Konno from Bandai Visual took the opportunity to point out that the North American market has been secondary for Japanese companies. That has changed over the years as Bandai Visual and other Japanese companies have come to North America to make money.
Charles also asked why anime has released largely via dvd & TV formats versus theatrical markets. Eric Calderon from Gonzo commented that it's extreme difficult to talk to Hollywood movie studios. David Wise stated that it's much easier to make money of dvds versus theatrical releases. Basically companies give away content on TV for free then make money of the dvds. Eric added that theatrical releases are a marketing tool, and Matt Greenfield replied that advertising such releases is prohibitedly expensive.