Nozomi Entertainment recently made the acquisition news of the year for quite a few people by picking up the long sought after 80's TV classic, Dirty Pair. Often talked about in the same breath among fans of years gone by as Dragon Ball Z, Slam Dunk and Ranma, it's one of the more elusive titles where there has been interest from many over the years in acquiring it but it never came to fruition. With the excitement settling down a touch, we chatted up Nozomi's Shawne Kleckner to get a feel for the title, their plans and the industry in general.
1. Let’s get the important question out of the way; are you a Kei or Yuri fan?
Kei. Love my redheads. :)
2. Nozomi has been all about the fan oriented titles from the start with titles like Aria, Victorian Romance Emma and Super Gals. Out of the titles licensed in the last few years, only The Third really has an action component to it. Dirty Pair stands out a bit because of what it’s about. How do you think it fits in with the library you have?
I think you kind of answered your own question there. When we look at licensing, our first questions are "What are the fans asking for?", followed by "What are they likely to buy?", "Can we get it for them?" and "Would we be proud to release it under the Nozomi label?" The Dirty Pair is one of those classic series that fans have been vocal about wanting for ages. We feel there's a reason for that, and we're excited to be bringing the series to them.
3. Dirty Pair has long been sought after by fans and there have even been public comments from representatives of other companies who have talked about trying to acquire it. Why did it take so long and where there any special hurdles to this?
Without going into specifics, sometimes the negotiations for older series are more difficult -- programs in the vault sometimes have materials issues, the people at the production companies have moved on, rights clearance issues, etc. This show had some issues to overcome so that we could bring it to the fans, and it did take us some time to clear them all. All sorts of things can happen, and you have to be patient and address the quirks of each title as they come to light. It can be frustrating as we certainly want to get programs out to the fans as quick as we can, but sometimes it's a little like being a forensic accountant to connect everything together to get everything completed.
4. The manta among fans is that old titles won’t sell. How has the initial response been to the license acquisition and is there anything you can do to market it more to newer fans who are adverse to older shows?
The fans' response to Dirty Pair has been phenomenally enthusiastic. Actually, our marketing department is already hard at work doing that just that. Kei and Yuri aren't just "girls with guns." They're the *ultimate* "girls with guns," and their story is based on some amazing source material in the form of the novels and short stories. As with our other shows, the strength of the storytelling and characters are what make this title special, and we'll be emphasizing those points to the newer anime fans who already gravitate to our titles.
5. Talking about other shows, Aria has just finished with its final set out. Is there an emptiness inside now that it’s complete?
A little; ARIA's been a great show for us, and we've been working on it for a long time. Having said that, its ending is one of those ones that's just about perfect.
6. Nozomi has a few things on its plate coming up after Rental Magica finishes out in April. Junjou Romantica has a date but what can fans get excited about after that?
As you mentioned, Junjo Romantica is scheduled for May, followed by a thinpak collection for Ninja Nonsense, and the fourth season of Maria Watches Over Us in July, which we just announced, and the first Dirty Pair set and Antique Bakery before the end of 2010. We have a few other things for this fall, but we're not ready to announce them just yet.
7. It’s been a tough couple of years in the anime market. Right Stuf is really the only company that dabbles in multiple sides of the overall anime industry, with licensing, retail and distribution for other companies as well as customer service aspects. How does the market look these days?
Obviously, it's a difficult market right now. Our company is obviously not the biggest out there, and over time we have looked to grow our business by looking to support the industry as a whole through providing services, both to other players but also to the customers through our storefront, catalog, and more.
The business has matured, and as I have said in other interviews, it has never been a better time to be a fan - the breadth of available programs is incredible compared to the old days, and the pricing now is competitive to other entertainment offerings where in the past anime was sold at a premium. Unfortunately, on the business side it's much tougher; the drop off in overall unit sales has a domino effect in terms of difficulties acquiring new licenses, budgeting for features for programs - such as including a dub track - becomes difficult or impossible, and a glut of customer choices for entertainment (feature films, video games on multiple platforms, TV, TV DVD, online legal streaming,etc) causes more competition for each entertainment dollar. And that's not really including the entire economic downturn which has stipped many of these entertainment dollars away from customers in the first place.
Finally, the advent of streaming (both legal and illicit) has changed buying patterns, and there has been a drop off of DVD sales that I think can be attached to that. The industry has to continue to adapt, and in the past virtually all revenue has come from DVD sales. Although streaming has increased in popularity, paid streaming revenue has not come close to the revenue previously received by DVD, so there is not a corresponding replacement of the lost DVD revenue. Unpaid streaming revenue from fansubs removes any income from the publisher or the author, so that is even more damaging.
I think that key will be the presentation of these products in the future - just like TV DVD, we will need to figure out a way to give a value-add to the customer in order to convince them to buy the media versions of the products, whether it be packaging, extras, dubbed versions, or something else, and we need to work with the publishers to get them to understand the importance of these features and the timeliness of the releases here.
The other issue is the fact that there are few national retailers carrying the product, and as unit sales drop, they look to replace this product with something that has higher turns, decreasing the availability of anime at retail. There are many customers that buy only at retail because they are cash customers or individuals who don't have a credit card, do not wish to use one, or don't wish to buy online. I am seeing a return to our industry roots, with more sales to the comic/specialty market than in the past for retail, along with the online sellers of the product through our site and others. Unfortunately, this decreases reach as the traffic in these channels is not the same as the mass market guys. The industry as a whole will have to make significant changes to accommodate this shift in the customer base. The old business models won't support the current marketplace. I do feel that this has also alienated also some, which doesn't help either.
The industry will adapt - but it will be an ongoing process. Anime still remains popular, so it's just a matter of continuing to figure out a way to deliver it profitably to the customer base.
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