We say we should support the industry, but what does that mean?
The anime industry has a complex business model. Through it, we get anime, and we know there’s a studio involved somewhere, but there’s more that that.
The anime industry is a web of companies, large and small, interwoven by the flow of money. It’s a market worth close to 20 billion dollars. A lot of money exchanges hands, and when that happens, things get complex.
We also know that animators in the anime industry are notoriously underpaid. It’s a tragic reality that, luckily, some people are working to change.
Knowing both of these things at the same time makes them tempting to connect. The big money is in production committees, so they must be stealing it from the animators somehow.
Not understanding business models is dangerous. It makes you vulnerable to being taken advantage of.
You see, we got tricked.
We got played like Game Gear.
We fell for a marketing tactic, storytelling that didn’t represent the actual state of things. I used to believe it too.
“Support the industry.” “Support the creators.”
And the easiest way to do that is to subscribe to a streaming service. Crunchyroll, Funimation, take your pick. Your money’s making it back into the industry to support the creators. Promise.
But when an anime gets made, the production committee funds it, and a company on that committee retains the rights to it. That company sells those rights to a US publisher and we get our subs and dubs.
The studio that makes the anime (The creators) is a contractor. They’re hired and paid to do a job. When you watch Goblin Slayer on Crunchyroll, the animators have been paid for their work. That transaction’s been made. It’s done.
Sometimes studios can invest in the projects they work on and derive recurring revenue from that, but that’s not as common.
The industry you’re “supporting” is that of creating a return-on-investment for the companies that funded the project. Make no mistake, that’s just as important a factor as the animators, but there’s no connection.
There’s nothing you can do to the production committee that will get animators paid more without causing damage.
So how do we support animators?
The real question is: “Why do we need to?”
Or, moreover, “why do we need to?” Especially when that support is always tied to purchasing a specific product. Why does it fall on us to “support” struggling animators? We didn’t make the industry.
I probably own well over $3000 worth of anime figures. I didn’t buy them because I wanted to “support” anyone. I bought them because I wanted them and could afford them. They’re products I want to own. They provide value to me. I don’t “support” Good Smile Company or FREEing or Kotobukiya. I buy products from them.
I subscribe to HIDIVE because they have a good service and anime I want to see. Not because I want to “support” anyone.
I’m a consumer in a market. I buy products I want. I don’t buy products I don’t want. My money doesn’t “support the creators” and I’m fine with that. This isn’t a charity. It’s not my responsibility to make sure animators get paid.
The best way to ensure our anime market contributes as much as possible to the Japanese industry is to cultivate a healthy market over here. That means demanding excellent products and not buying products that aren’t good enough.
“Support the industry” and “support the creators” are things people and companies say when they want leeway to sell you a product that isn’t good enough.
Care more about what you’re buying than where your money is going. Because it’s not going where the marketing tells you it’s going, and that’s just the industry working as intended.