Home > Industry Information > Answer to JooJooBee’s Comment from ANNCast Interview Post

Answer to JooJooBee’s Comment from ANNCast Interview Post

Hi Everyone.  Thanks for the great comments on the ANNCast postJoojoobees, one commenter, asked a very good question that is one of the million dollar (in this market, maybe I should reduce that to hundred dollar -_-;; ) questions that even many people here in the Tokyo Anime Industry don’t agree on the answer to.  I’ll post the question and the answer below.  Btw, my answer is not the end-all-and-be-all – just my own opinion from my own very limited (5 years) experience here in Tokyo.

One question I have, though: You said the desire is to take their biggest hits and commoditize them stateside. This seems illogical.

  • A) You mention that a lot of money has already been invested in those properties, but surely much of that is in advertising to a domestic market that will be impossible to transfer to another culture.
  • B) If you think about it rationally, the properties that were not the biggest hits must be more numerous, so squeezing significant extra money out of several of them, might be easier than squeezing enough out of a single big hit to really matter.
  • C) Instead of worrying about what was a hit in Japan, you should probably be looking at what can make it in the foreign market based upon the tastes there.


This is a question that my colleagues in the industry constantly argue about. Here are my humble answers, the way I see them:

A)  Its true that most of the money has already been used in advertising, and that advertising is for a domestic market.  But have you ever heard the phrase, “re-inventing the wheel?”  Shows that are already big here, already have so many auxiliary items created for or around them that it is very tempting for executives to think, “We can just re-purpose those publicity/marketing/merchandise items for our market.”  Even if you can’t re-purpose them directly, at least you feel like it gives you a hint as to what are the aspects of the show that appeal to the audiences the most.

(For example, in Japan, Chopper is the most appealing character from One Piece to female audience members.  When you bring it over to your country, you don’t have to guess – as much anyway – when trying to figure out which character to use to appeal to female audience members.)

Of course, I must caveat my answer.  Most international buyers of Anime at this point in the industry have pretty good ideas on what will sell in their market, and what won’t.  They’re not always right, and sometimes they’re dead wrong, but they have an idea.

Hollywood, in comparison, doesn’t have to rely on ideas anymore when they try to figure out what Hollywood titles to export to a market.  They have NUMBERS.  That’s where the American entertainment industry excels.  Hollywood actually keeps statistics and databases on what stars, genres, directors, etc are bankable in what countries, and how bankable they are.  And they keep that database UPDATED.  (The Hollywood Gossip podcast THE ANSWER BITCH often talks about a website that lists the bankability of A-list Stars, but I can’t ever remember the name of it.  If anyone knows it, please let me know.)

B) Its sounds like you’re talking about the principal of “The Long Tail,” or something similar.  The truth is, in this case, I am in agreement with you.  Most Anime producers are still under the belief that entertainment is a “hit business.”  In other words, look for the biggest hit, and hope it makes enough to cover all the losses your “miss” titles caused.  Hollywood, on the other hand, is like a bank/investment fund.  The most profitable American studios’ goal is to churn out as many productions as possible at a consistent quality that achieve a consistent level of profitability.  With that thinking, its better to sell a package deal of 10 titles for $10,000 each, every year, than it is to sell one title for $300,000 dollars, every 3 years.  The 10 titles deal is much more safe, and thus attractive, to investors, and the staff that depends on you. (This was my soapbox during my master’s..lol.)

C.) EXACTLY!  Again, I agree with you completely.  If you’re talking about producers/sellers on the Japanese side, the problem is – most people in the Japanese industry in Japan don’t speak English and have never been outside of Japan.  They don’t think they can guess what foreigners will like, and they don’t want to (take that risk.)  That’s why I mentioned in the podcast that they need to hire international students from the countries they want to market too.  If you’re talking about the producers from the foreign country themselves, then we’re right back at question A) . 😉

Hope this helps.  Anyone else have ideas?

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  1. Chrollo
    April 20, 2010 at 3:09 am

    Why don’t anime studios just focus on creating children oriented programing that has a toy tie in. By doing that they can prey a healthy sized percentage of that market recognizes anime from childhood and that familiarity encourages them to partake in anime dvds and merchandise on a casual level.

    I think the last wildly successful attempt was yu gi oh. I don’t count naruto since that was never aired on network tv. Personally I think the majority of these toy tie in shows fail because they can’t make it on network tv. Shouldn’t anime studios make saturday mornings or afternoon timeslots their main focus again.

  2. April 20, 2010 at 6:24 am

    Thanks for taking my questions seriously enough to provide such a detailed response.

    With respect to A, I wonder if the situation isn’t worse than you imply:
    * Any printed advertising is likely to have some amount of text copy. Not only does this copy have to be translated at a minimum, it might need to get re-written from scratch (at least removing irrelevant references, e.g. to Japanese broadcasters, and seiyu, if not giving it an entirely different spin targeted at the new audience).
    * How much advertising money gets sunk into those pressers for the voice actors? Trying to advertise the show by making the Japanese actors available (through public performances, TV or magazine interviews, etc) isn’t going to be an effective marketing strategy outside of Japan. Even if you had videotaped a performance by the voice cast that was critically acclaimed, you can’t expect to get a lot of mileage from it outside of Japan.
    * All the money spent on actually distributing the content in Japan is, of course, not re-purposable. Any print or tv ad, for example, has two principle cost components, the cost to create it, and the cost to broadcast it. Even if you were to believe you could re-use the content (contrary to the cautions I just provided) you obviously cannot re-use the portion spent on broadcasting the ad.

    Re-inventing the wheel doesn’t cut it. The real way to look at much (granted not all) of the marketing costs when approaching foreign markets would have to be as “sunk costs”, that is these costs are effectively irrelevant when considering future action (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunk_costs).

    Anyways, good luck with all of your stuff; you sound like a busy man. In future posts, I would be fascinated to hear anything you cared to relate about your experience in setting up your own animation studios.

  3. Dean
    April 24, 2010 at 5:40 am

    I just listened to the ANNcast. Sorry for the late reply.

    The issues that plague the anime industry – industry not understanding or even caring what foreigners want, rights split among too many companies, new technologies for production and distribution not being adopted – seem to be handled pretty well by Japan’s video game companies. The game companies are global brands that seem to have all the rights in one place, they have good sales overseas, they successfully upgraded from 2D to 3D back in 1996, and they’re gradually getting into digital distribution now.

    Chi, what do you think would be easier, the anime industry rebuilding itself from the ground up to do things the way the game industry does, or the game industry applying its traditions and systems to making 3D CG TV shows and movies? I’ve been wondering for years why Square-Enix didn’t make a follow up to FF7 Advent Children.

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