This is a thing that’s been bugging me for quite some time. There’s this mindset that’s been bugging me for quite some time among people who, well, make their living criticizing anime – people like Justin and Zac of Anime News Network for instance. The idea is, that because the anime industry has demonstrated the market cannot support the levels of cost for mass production of Anime DVDs, and manga as books through regular channels, to levels that will cover the costs that the Japanese rights-holders want for licenses, prices will have to go up, and we, as fans, will have to live with paying $80 for four episodes of a TV show again (the amount Aniplex is charging for the first four episodes of Madoka Magica), just like in the old days, and prices for Manga will similarly go up.
The problem I have is this. Currently, while the US economy is supposedly in a recovery, it’s still somewhat in the crapper. The recovery has only really benefited a small number of people, with millions still unemployed, some who have been unemployed for several years. For example, I’ve been unemployed for about 3 years, and recently I’ve started going back to school. If I spend over $30 on anything, I basically have to justify it. Most of the time, I can’t. I can justify spending money on textbooks, I can justify spending some money on food, I can justify spending money on my web series (which I need to get back to, once my course-load permits), and so on. I cannot justify spending $80 on anime. I can fit Netflix into my budget, so if a show is on Netflix Streaming or available as a disk, I can watch that (I watched Redline that way). I can fit Crunchyroll into my budget. That pretty much covers it.
Thus, when Zac Bertchy and Justin Sevakis say that anime fans are just going to need to stop being “entitled” and accept higher prices, the same way that Video Game developers crow over systems that will be completely unable to play used games, I can’t help but wonder if the people saying these things realize just how privileged they are.
For those who aren’t familiar with the concept of privilege, here’s the general idea – you have privilege if you have a social or economic benefit that puts you above someone else. White people are privileged over Black people, due to the history of socioeconomic discrimination that African-Americans have been subjected to through systematized racism. Heterosexual people have privilege over homosexual people, and so on. That’s the privilege I have. However, as a person with a mental disability, the majority of people reading this (those who do not have a disability, or who are “neurotypical”) are privileged over me. If you are employed, odds are high that you have more financial privilege than I do. Currently, I’ve been unemployed for so long that I currently have no choice to live with my parents. This puts a crimp in my social flexibility. While this would theoretically provide me with a source of disposable income, I still have to pay for school, I have to pay for fuel for my car (which I need to get to and from school), I have to pay for tuition and books. Thus, I have relatively little disposable income.
Even before that, when I was in middle school and high school, I had even less. If I wanted to watch anime, if I wanted to read manga, I had to go to the local library. That was it. I discovered Ranma 1/2, Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, Ghost in the Shell, and Akira that way. Frankly, it’s a great way for someone to get into the genre. The only better way to get into the genre is to have someone loan you DVDs of shows they recommend, or to someone to put something on for you. However, by putting everything online, or putting it on mobile apps, and behind paywalls, makes things far less accessible. You make it harder to share with your friends. Who is going to take their Roku box to a friends house, just to show them a few episodes of a show that’s paywalled.
Once upon a time, Science Fiction Fandom was the most socially relevant and visible aspect of geek culture. When it waned, it’s because it was eclipsed by Anime Fandom. If we continue to paywall in our hobby, and make it inaccessible for new fans and lower income fans (new and old), it will die a slow death like in the Cask of Amontillado. We will then wonder why everyone at anime conventions are a bunch of old fogies, bemoaning the fall of our hobby, and wondering whatever happened to us.
Who knows – maybe the new fans will instead go to Science Fiction conventions.