I ended up caving for a subscription to my region’s main licensing company somewhat recently, which got me thinking, what drives people to piracy in the first place?
(…and no, when I say “pirates” in this post, I don’t mean those pirates.)
Important note: This post is not to defend piracy as a practice – always make sure to look for free/cheap legal options for anime/manga!
Despite admitting in the post about free/cheap legal options for anime/manga (linked above) I am a cheapskate, I ended up realising there might be enough in my finances to take the plunge for a subscription…only to be forced to use the 30 day free trial first, and then get billed the month after.
For a person who’d been stubbornly hanging on to as many free options as possible for a good 5 – 6 years (the fact I’d hung on for so long was a point of pride in itself, I realised, because that was about as long as I knew free, legal streaming options existed in my region), that was a bigger turning point to me than I thought it was, because thinking about dropping money on a subscription is fundamentally different to deciding on what to get in a store. It’s ensuring one year of simulcasts at the time they go live on the streaming service, plus movies and dubs. The dubs I can leave for the most part and movies I cut out of my life due to possibly finding discs of them, but I cannot understate how much the simulcasts factored into my thinking. As a blogger, getting access to simulcasts first means changing people’s minds in your favour, which has a lot of power when your medium is the typed word!
That aside, why do people choose to go the other way? The simple answer is not everyone is a blogger, cinephile or a “hardcore enough person” (whatever those words may mean to someone) to warrant using money on a subscription and sometimes the only way to access things is…a subscription, or money being dropped in some other form. Go figure.
Some people have money troubles, particularly broke high school/uni students who can’t approach their parents for money for whatever reason. Anime and manga, as niches which are aimed at all age ranges but predominantly focussed on young people who have the time to spare for such hobbies, are particularly fuelled by fanatics’ money, so they’re rather susceptible to this. This is where the emphasis on free/cheap availability comes from in that post.
Sometimes things – for whatever reason, e.g. they’re “too old” – get lost to time and so licensors lose, or choose not to use, their ability to touch the material. This was one of the biggest advantages of being a pirate when I was still one: as a fan of magical girls, most of those series don’t get enough interest to be financially viable for streaming companies unless they’re “recent” or “classic”. This is where piracy turns into a fuel for legal action, but also legal change – fansubbing and scanlation bring to light what’s been missed out on, while creating new fans of existing content in the process (which may have money to drop!) and then the parties with legal responsibility can get to work on these things. See how PreCure – a notorious pirating sink for fans – only became available in 2020 for an example. For manga in particular, a lot falls through the cracks and translators can’t possibly get to it all – translation is a long and tough process and not everything is worth the effort! – which is why freely (or cheaply) available legal options, regardless of their language, need to be championed and publicised.
Sometimes fans’ technology is outdated, so they can’t support whatever updates/apps etc. streaming companies force on to them. This is why apps for multiple platforms – and compatibility between those apps, for fans of multiple ways of watching (e.g. on phone and on computer, sometimes simultaneously) – are necessary for retaining audiences. The annoying thing is official video players can sometimes be a bit dodgy – Funimation’s comes to mind – and living with it can become not worth the money spent.
Some people live in regions which get the short end of the stick from sublicensors/licensors. The region that seems to be the most notorious for this for anime, from experience with the WordPress community, seems to be Holland for some reason…although I dunno why that is the case. These people pirate, either because they don’t know about the legal options available to them or because they just don’t get the coverage, full stop. (At least with manga, you can import them from overseas or sometimes you can order from your local store.)
One reason people use to justify piracy I’ve heard is that all the money from subscriptions goes towards production companies, not creators directly – in short, “sticking it to the man”. These days, you can support creators directly, so that’s not really a justification anymore.
I admit I used to be a pirate before I had the free and legal options available to me, but thinking about how far streaming services have come in this one decade – and how they’ve come to hold all sorts of entertainment, not just anime now – really boggles the mind.
So, over to you. What could streaming services do better to get people to
shut up and drop their money?