In My View: The myth of supporting the industry

(Please note: I’m arguing from a Libertarian ethical standpoint. Your mileage may vary.)

So there’s been something that’s been bothering me for the last couple of months, but I haven’t really been able to put a finger on it. It wasn’t until I watched the special features on the Haruhi DVDs that it struck me.

Tucked in amid all of the rest of the credits on the ASOS Brigade special feature was a fairly innocuous line:

A special thanks to

All of the fansub lovers who buy the official DVDs and help support more creative works.

No special thanks to

Downloaders/bootleggers who never buy the official DVDs

Now in all fairness this little piece of propaganda has gotten fairly common in these circles in the past couple of years, and has spread like a cold in an elevator ever since the Geneon collapse. Now even past the self-congratulatory smugness of this statement, there’s something else that’s been bugging me: the idea that buying is ethically good. So let me set my opinion straight on this, the act of exchanging money for entertainment can be either a good or bad thing depending on the quality of the entertainment. But the simple act of “buying” is not necessarily an ethical thing.

That is unless you watched the fansubs. And then buying isn’t really an ethical act, but a form of penance, a way to pay back people who you took the entertainment from in the first place.

See what bugs me about this entire argument is that the focus is on the wrong thing. People seem to be confusing the cause with the effect. Anime is a product. DVDs are products. The anime industry, the studios, the directors, the distributors, they aren’t products. You aren’t and shouldn’t be spending your money to “support the industry,” you should be spending your money to buy a product. Now, I don’t blame the anime industry, I mean they got to sell DVDs, so they’re going to use whatever methods they can to convince people to buy. And I don’t really blame the fans; I mean everyone wants to believe that they’re the hero of their own story.

But, Jiminey Christmas, this idea that I need to buy to support the industry seems like it should come complete with children living in poverty stricken countries, while Sally Struthers tells us how, “You too can help the anime industry for low cost of $ .99 a day” And that’s my problem with it. If the product is worth buying, then I’ll buy it. If it wasn’t worth buying, then I won’t buy it. It’s that simple. I don’t need some sort of guilt trip to make me purchase a DVD. And I definitely don’t need some sort of pat on the back to tell me what my ethics should be.

But if the industry is compelled to say something, and evidently they are, a simple thank you would suffice. Because being thanked for correcting an action that was wrong in the first place feels a bit slimy to me.

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12 Comments

  1. Bravo.

  2. I second that Bravo. Great post.

    You hit the nail on the head when you said that “if the product is WORTH buying, I’ll buy it.” Unfortunately for the industry, it doesn’t seem like there are a whole lot of shows out there WORTH buying. If you’re trying to guilt people into buying a product to “support the industry” and keep it going, then methinks there’s something fundamentally wrong with the anime business model.

  3. I agree on many points, particularly that fans shouldn’t be spending money for nothing other than the sake of “supporting” the industry– if you can’t make a product people want to pay for, you have no business being in business, etc. Which is why I’ve always supported companies that worked to compete with fansubs (by offering legitimate downloads or bonus swag or whatever) rather than those that simply try to C&D subbers out of existence.

    However, I’m inclined to disagree that companies are pushing the idea of buying as a “penance” for downloading. Carl Horn has said this and he’s absolutely right: the problem with downloading anime and manga isn’t the downloading itself, it’s the downloading and not buying, because you are enjoying someone else’s work without giving them the agreed-upon payment.

    So, in my personal opinion, buying anime that you’ve already watched isn’t a “penance” for having downloaded it, nor is it supposed to be: it’s a way of saying “thanks for creating this thing I really enjoyed. Here, take some money so you can make more things I’ll like.”

    And yes, some people/companies can be pretty sanctimonious about it…but all in all, Bandai Entertainment isn’t one of them, IMO @_@

  4. @gia – I don’t necessarily think that the anime companies are pushing it as a penance. That’s actually my opinion of what buying the DVDs after watching the fansubs is. (I apologize on that point).

    I can see Carl Horn’s point from an economic standpoint. But from an ethical standpoint, I guess I disagree. I think the initial action is wrong. Granted, it might be wrong on a pretty limited level. I mean the whole argument is that “you can’t get these shows other than through fansubs as quickly as the fans demand it” which I can understand. But on the other hand, the product was made for sale, taking it without payment either means that the product isn’t worth paying for, or that the downloader has caused harm to the creators. Hence buying the DVDs is making up for the initial harm the downloader caused.

    But that said, you do make a good argument. And it’s definitely less bleak than mine. 🙂

  5. Buy what you think is good, don’t buy what you think is not good. A rather simple concept. ^^

  6. That’s me, just a little ball of sunshine 😉

    That said…as far as the company is concerned, as long as the viewer legitimately pays for the product at some point, isn’t it moot whether they downloaded it and watched it before? I can see how from a purely black and white standpoint the initial download was illegal and potentially ethically wrong, but to then purchase it as soon as it becomes legally available has the same effect as *not* downloading it and then buying it does.

    …Except perhaps for adding to the number of people who download, which adds to the perception that there’s way too much illegal downloading going on. (Even I’ll concede that people who download *and* buy probably make up a small percentage of downloaders.)

    Hmmm…

  7. […] The Myth of Supporting the Industry, from Sporadic Sequential. It’s a look at the idea that the industry is trying to guilt its consumers into supporting it. As I said in my comment on the post: I don’t support the idea that fans should support the industry for the industry’s sake, it needs to produce a product people want. But I do think fans should be willing to spend money on the products they enjoy– even if it’s buying the legit version long after they’ve downloaded and watched it. (Or hey, if you want to bypass supporting the US companies but still want to support the Japanese creators, you could always import the DVD from Japan. $_$) […]

  8. @gia – I think we’re just using different methods to get to the same point. I agree that the net-sum of someone who downloaded something that they thought was worth buying and then bought it is zero. And I also think the person who downloaded and didn’t think the item was worth buying has an ethical zero because the product evidently didn’t have any worth in the first place. (Essentially putting it up for sale would have been an unethical act on the part of the company.) And I also think the person who downloaded something that they thought was worth buying and then didn’t buy it (or at the very least rent it) is probably the only one who’s actually in the wrong.

    Which is why I think this invention of a seperate reason, “to support the industry” just seems a bit like throwing in a unneccesary variable. Because you should buy because the product that you didn’t pay for to begin with had some worth, not because the anime companies need your support.

  9. If the studios needed support I’d actually advocate donations to the creators. That’s the only way, imo, to say I support the industry.

    Just because someone doesn’t buy your schtick doesn’t automatically make him a criminal. Instead it just makes people want to hit you hard. Very hard.

    Penance thing? Well the Roman Catholic Church has (or had) ‘indulgences’, where you literally pay off your sins with money. Apart from the theoligical wrongness of this concept, I think it relates very handily here.

  10. @drmchsr0 – I agree about selling indulgences. It does seem to fit here.

    As far as donations to the creators… yeah I’d say I’d agree with that. I mean if it’s going to be a charity it might as well look like one.

  11. This is, again, only a semantical issue. Some understand the words “supporting the industry” as trying to keep the industry healthy, others as penance, some see it as payment for purchasing a physical product, as a reward, a contribution, as a kind of donation, some see it as a future investment.

    What the words mean to us doesn’t really matter. The industry takes our money to pay for their investments, whether it’s anime localization or anime production. Ultimately, we know that without our money the industry wouldn’t be doing well, as we can see from this past year. As fans we are compelled to support the industry, whatever the hell that means anyway, pure downloaders are not, therefore they are not fans.

  12. I’m late to the party, nevertheless, thanks for articulating this view point.

    The ‘support the industry’ banner have limits. We need to strip the naivety and idealism behind the ‘supporting the industry’ mantra. A poorly made product is a poorly made product, and I refuse to spend hard earned dollars to give myself a pat on the back.


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