Potential research topics in anime/manga studies – Crowdfunding anime

One of the more common criticisms aimed at the whole process of scholarly publishing is that it just takes too long. The period between when an article is first submitted for publication and when it actually appears in a journal takes several months at the least, and may very well be year or more. For example, the authors of Are Australian fans of anime and manga motivated to learn Japanese language presented it for publication in the Asia Pacific Journal of Education in February of 2013. It was accepted that September, but did not appear online until June of 2014 – almost a year and a half later – and only now had made it into an actual issue of the journal. Similarly, the publisher of the Journal of Youth Studies received the manuscript for ‘Growing as a person’: experiences at anime, comics, and games fan events in Malaysia in November of 2014, accepted it in September of last year, and made it available to readers online the next month – but the article is yet to appear in an issue of the journal.

What the length of the publication process means is that scholars are often simply not able to “react” and respond in a timely manner to new developments in the fields that they are interested. If commentary on a particular event or issue does not appear until two years after the event took place or the issue first came up, by the time it does, such commentary may be largely irrelevant – words spent on a long-forgotten topic – to say nothing of the possibility of other, interceding events or issues that may make the commentary itself obsolete.

In fact, academic publishers have largely acknowledged this issue, and have been searching for ways to mitigate it. For the corporate, for-profit publishers, one way has been by allowing electronic access to articles as soon as they have been accepted for publication, regardless of whether nor they have been assigned to a particular issue of a journal – one example of this is the list of “latest articles” in Japan Forum. Non-profit publishers of open-access journals are beginning to forgo the concept of “issues” altogether, and are publishing articles on their journals’ websites continuously – this is the approach taken by Animation Studies and The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship, among others.

KickstarterHowever, these kinds of options are meaningless unless scholars who are interested in anime/manga make sure to pay attention to new developments in the field. One such development has been the use of crowdfunding to bring anime to audiences outside Japan. In fact, Western anime companies have been experimenting with crowdfunding (primarily via pre-order campaigns) long before the practice became widespread, but the emergence of major crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo has certainly made these campaigns more prominent.

The strategies, tactics, and operational issues of crowdfunding have already attracted significant scholarly interest. For example, Antonio Jose Planells, in Video games and the crowdfunding ideology – From the game-buyer to the prosumer investor (Journal of Consumer Culture, forthcoming) examines the reasons that funders have presented for backing the “10 most funded games on Kickstarter”. Steven Chen, Suni Thomas, and Chiranjeev Kohli ask a straight-forward question: What really makes a promotional campaign succeed on a crowdfunding platform? (Journal of Advertising Research, 56(1), 81-94). Their response, based on “a stratified random sample of 200 campaigns on Kickstarter.com…analyzed in a regression-based study” is that “[G]uilt appeals, utilitarian product types, an emotional message frame, and reward tiers were significantly – and positively – related to funding level, measured as a percentage of the funding goals”. And a more abstract, philosophical approach can be found in Yonkin, Peter, & Kashkooli, Keyvan, What problems does crowdfunding solve? California Management Review, 58(2), 20-43.

Currently, at least three companies are running Kickstarter campaigns to fund their releases of anime in the U.S. Funimation’s campaign for a Blu-ray and DVD release of The Vision of Escaflowne, with a brand-new English dub is already funded, with almost $250,000 in pledges (over a $150,000 goal), and still nine days to go. So is Animeigo’s, for a Blu-ray release of the classic Riding Bean OVA ($105,000 pledged, $30,000 initial goal). And the pleges for Pied Piper’s for the first-ever official North American release of Skip Beat currently stand at $65,000, with a $155,000 goal and twenty-five days remaining in the campaign.

Obviously, the campaigns differ quite a lot – in their specifics, objectives, their organizers’ histories and prior experience. But, this kind of situation presents an excellent opportunity for scholars. Can the scholarship on crowdfunding other types of projects be applied to crowdfunding anime releases? Or is there something unique and special about these particular campaigns that calls for new approaches? And, of course, can these new approaches themselves be applied to other campaigns?

Ultimately, “responsiveness” to ever-changing external factors is a challenge that scholarship in any dynamic field must face. And, going forward, it will be really interesting to see just how anime scholars respond to changes in how anime is presented to audiences around the world.

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