convenience vs cost

In an ideal world, you pay more for increased convenience. Want to save money? mow your own lawn. Have no time? Pay the local kid $20. etc.

This dynamic seems to be inverted online, however, especially with regard to digital content. Here, you pay for decreased convenience – a good example being DRM restrictions on video games, where legitimate, paid users of a game like Spore must suffer through all manner of annoying restrictions and installation limitations and game activations and whatnot. Meanwhile, anyone who downloads the cracked version off the torrents for free, gets a clean, enjoyable gaming experience unmarred by all the nonsense. Therefore we have the curious situation where anti-piracy policies serve to incentivise piracy rather than prevent it[1. Shamus Young’s ongoing DRM rants are the definitive explanation of this dynamic. I think he needs to write a book.].

A similar dynamic applies to anime, except that instead of invasive DRM you have simple expense. This is partly due to region-coding, which maintains artificial price differences between markets. It’s also due to the increasing cost of producing anime, which gets passed on to the end user. Price is not a barrier for people with steady jobs who enjoy anime as a hobby, but this probably doesn’t describe the target demographic very well. Another problem with paid, legitimate anime is that it comes mostly in DVD form, which is physical media. As such, it must be carried around, doesn’t fit in your pocket, can only be played on specific hardware and displays (ie, a TV with a DVD player attached), might scratch, etc. Even if you circumvent the expense issue by paying for a service like Netflix (which is not free, but significantly cheaper than buying anime outright), you still hae these physical media headaches to deal with. Even a completely free solution like ties you down, as its DRM keeps you locked into your web browser. Meanwhile, users who simply download fansubs get all the benefits – free, totally portable digital content – and even some extras (eg. superior subtitle quality). Again, the incentive on the end user is to encourage downloading rather than paying.

So the question is, who perpetuates this imbalance? Is there a way to get users to pay for convenience again? The power seems to be solely in the hands of the publishers here. There’s already a set of concrete suggestions for the gaming industry, which are eminently reasonable but probably will never be embraced. A similar set of suggestions could be crafted for the anime industry as well, but I’ll leave that to otaku who have more knowledge of the industry itself than I do.

Speaking as a consumer though, I can define convenience that I’d pay for. I currently pay Netflix $20/month, so that’s a good guideline for a budget. If I could purchase entire seasons of a given anime for $10, or individual episodes for $1, and have these come in DRM-free files that I can freely reburn to DVD for home viewing or convert to any intermediate format for whatever digital player I might choose, then I’d never need to download again. I would also pay an extra $.50/ep or $5 per season for quality fansubbing. Note that if the anime studios went DRM-free, and completely outsourced subbing to the fansub community, then the latter coudl legitimately charge for the service (which would be a true value-add).

Of course, the scheme above means someone could just seed the files they buy out to torrent. But so what? That’s what happens now, anyway. at least with my scheme, people like me pay more in. Revenue will increase, and that’s the bottom line.

5 thoughts on “convenience vs cost”

  1. I know I try to make a habit of supporting the anime I like, to the point of importing R2 DVDs of anime that will not be likely to grace the U.S. shores in a R1 release. But as you say, this isn’t feasible for everybody, and it is much easier to simply download the file for free.

    You do have some efforts like iTunes, but the files you buy from there are DRM locked where, for example, I can’t purchase the Dr. Horrible series and stream the files to my main viewing area.

    It’s nice to see some places that do get it, like BOST or Crunchyroll, though the latter does have some (not undeserved) reputation issues in some circles. Still, their deal with Directions to offer Time of Eve for free online streaming and DRM-free download of $2 per episode seems to be a step in the right direction. And considering what I think of the series so far, that is a heck of a good deal. And it is a DRM-free xvid AVI file that they put up; one I’m not restricted from streaming to my main TV setup at all.

  2. OK, but will the increase in revenue from reformed fansub downloaders offset the decrease in revenue from DVD buyers who switch to legit downloads? The fact that I’m willing to pay R1 DVD prices for anime doesn’t mean I’ll continue to do so if a comparable or superior product is available for substantially less.

  3. Nick, I actually found a Philips DVD player that has a USB port. I copy my video files onto a USB drive and watch them right on my TV. Its pretty handy 🙂

    Andrew, I think its a volume argument. If there are 100 users who are willing to pay $20, but there are $1000 willing to pay $10, then the revenue stream still increases. Of ocurse I dont know what the numbers really are, but Apple seems to have made it work with their approach to music. The same argument was leveled against them, that if users can pay 99 cents per track, then albyum sales would collapse. That obviously didnt happen.

  4. Andrew: I don’t know if that would necessarily be the case. The question should be would profits gained from former illegal downloads who switch to purchasing legit, inexpensive downloads outweigh the loss from former DVD purchasers who switch to purchasing legin, inexpensive downloads? I’m not really sure.

    Fledge’s point with iTunes and CD sales seem to be quite appropriate here. Getting illegal downloads of songs is still pretty easy, but I don’t see any loss in CD sales going to iTunes, necessarily.

    Fledge: Yeah, I’ve seen those. It only plays DivX AVI files, though right? I haven’t seen any DVD players that can handle h.264 encoded files or MKV files yet (though if yours does, please tell me the model number so I can nab it!). My setup right now can over the network without going through a USB, though I wouldn’t recommend it for anybody not technically inclined.

    Still, I might end up being an Anime track director for a nearby Sci-fi convention, and being able to put XviD AVI files on a USB stick when I’m in a hurry instead of having to burn then to CD to play would be nice to have when showing video and what not. I’ll look up the model number in one of your previous posts.

  5. I admit, in case anybody who’s looked at my website didn’t know, that I watch fansubs. In my case, though, if the show is offered here in the US on DVD, I buy it when it comes out, as any right-thinking person should do.

    Unfortunately, my influx of cash for Kanon ’06 didn’t help ADV that much, but still.

    Fledge (and anybody else), you might be interested in this little challege:
    I’d love to see how many you can come up with.

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