No Dubs, No Service?

Here’s another stray thought that has been spending way too much time cooking inside the grey matter, and it’s related to my last post. Basically we posit a few basic premises about the average dub audience and play pat-a-cake.

During the VHS days the number is something like 1:5 when it comes to sub-versus-dub sales. While that number applied to a fanbase over 11 years ago, it is probably a ball park reference in terms of a buyer’s preference. This is just some background info for you. If you look on the net for discussion about dub versus sub in pre-DVD era forums and what not, I think that’s what you’ll find.

The cost of producing a dub is drastically more than the cost of producing a sub. How much more is beyond me, but from what I’ve heard it is somewhere in the order of one magnitude. I’m also thinking the billing methods are probably somewhat different, since for each SKU you would pay the actors and producers, where as for subbing it would be more for per-episode. There are other constraints, of course, since it’s no problem to hire different people to work on different episodes in a series, but it can be a big problem to hire different actors for the same role. Location is also a bigger problem since recording and working with the ADR person is best when everyone is in the same room, where as this is basically a non-issue for the whole subbing process.

Well, nothing you didn’t know before. But let’s make one big distinction in the average dub-over-sub person: a lot of people think dubs are a good thing (and a non-trivial number of them disagree), but just because you like dubs, it doesn’t mean you hate subs; it’s a false dichotomy that became irrelevant as multi-lingual DVDs took off as the primary format. Most people love both, and most people rationally considered the presence of additional language tracks as a boon, either Japanese or some other language. Ok so I guess a lot of people didn’t factor in ADV’s Spanish dubs back in the day as a purchase motivator, but you get the idea.

What I’m going to posit next is pretty simple, logically. After the anime bubble in R1-land busted, the fallout mostly took out on the demographic who would not buy something that is sub-only. The supporting evidence is simply that companies have been releasing sub-only releases with some success. The corollary is that the margin value of these multi-language products has fallen below the marginal value of a sub-only release, given relatively fixed prices. In reality it might be worse, as dubs may bump up to cost of production to a point where margin is negative, in some rare cases.

Are the people who whine about $30/volume the same who cry for no-dub no-sale? I have no evidence of this, but one group is probably larger than the other, as the second group basically have little clout. At least price of anime has steadily fallen since the bubble burst.

And this is where I talk about S23’s “upgrade-to-dub” business, like their KyoAni x Key titles. I think it’s a brilliant idea. You want to re-release a title? How about one that has some solid added value at a higher price point than it was before? Not only you will bag the collector types who want to upgrade, you will have some chips against fans who whine against you, while earning some good will, and open up a new “tier” of market who would now buy something because it has an English dub. Most importantly S23 just mitigated the risk of producing a dub that nobody will buy. In CLANNAD’s case, that’s a lot of anime.

Granted, I don’t think K-ON or DBZ Kai is going to have that kind of risks, but what ex-ADV is doing is pretty boss. It’s something that only works when you are close enough to the fan base, that you can master the overhead cost of this “upgrade” process, and so on. For contrast, just look at FUNi–most of their title go through this cycle of value depreciation from a normal set, to a Viridian, to a SAVE. What is FUNi getting out of that product process? More work spent on different products with probably the same or less marginal profits, where as ADV is doing the same overall amount of work and making more money off it as time passes!

I guess in the end, sub-only releases are less content for your money, but I think no-dub-no-purchase positions are ultimately logically the reason why there were no dubs in the first place. For fans who want dubs, rationally speaking, there are no good answers to the question besides learning when to wise up and give in to buying, meanwhile still talk those company reps’ ears off about how much you’d want one.

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6 responses to “No Dubs, No Service?

  • Konstantin

    FUNi’s re-release process looks like a classic price discrimination scheme, where they capture customers with the highest willingness to pay by releasing the expensive set first, and then trawl the less profitable market segments with progressively cheaper re-releases.

    All told, I think those willing to buy the same show a second time on the same media are a small slice of an already tiny market, even if the new edition comes with bonus extras like a dub. The no-dub-no-sale segment would have to be pretty huge to pay back the costs of dubbing a show after an initial release.

  • dm00

    Based on interviews I’ve heard with dub actors (not many, because I’m not interested in dubs) I believe it is unusual in the US for an anime dub cast to all be in the same room at the same time — they’re rarely playing off one another, though I suppose it’s possible for a second actor to be listening to the first actor’s dub-track.

    Did “upgrade to dub” work for Bandai on Gurren Lagann?

    I suppose it’s worth trying — get your sub-buyers to finance initial development on a series, establish word-of-mouth, gauge the size of demand, etc. Also, get the series out quickly to undercut the lost sales due to fansubs. Then, once you’re confident a title will sell in the US market, do a dub.

    I suspect Sentai and Section 23 have, or at least will acquire, a decent idea of how well sub sales predict the size of a dub market: extrapolating from VHS sales at first, but then they might be able to use their “upgrade to dub” sales, as well.

    Good luck to them.

  • dm00

    PS., omonomono.com no longer redirects here (I assume it was doing so in the past).

  • omo

    thanks for the head’s up, not sure what went wrong…

    also, the dub actor thing, you are right. but the ADR person usually has to be in the same room.

  • otou-san

    The upgrade option seems to be a great idea to me: it’s a “put your money where your mouth is” situation for dub fans but allows someone like me (for whom the advent of DVDs meant no more listening to dub tracks) to buy something both quicker and cheaper. My only issue is that the early, sub-only releases like TTGL’s are just plain not nice pieces. Companies like Nozomi who do all-sub, or releases like Gunbuster which is amazing — these are great. But I’m afraid companies who do step-up are treating them as step-up in more ways than just the dub track.

  • omo

    I sort of agree with Gurren Lagann’s case, but that seems more singular than the norm. For what it is worth I own it and have never opened it, and missed out on the extras the later set included (anyway).

    But that is just me and not watching DVDs I bought, especially when sometimes they have great extras that’s worth the effort to get…

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