Call#: Annenberg Library Reserve P94.65.U6 J46 2006
Henry Jenkins has emerged as the leading scholar on fan communities and participatory cultures. In specifically addressing anime fansubbing communities, Jenkins presents a familiar argument of piracy actually serving as a promotional activity for anime properties. He notes that by the Japanese anime industry being tolerant of grassroots activities in the United States, “much of the risks of entering the Western markets and many of the costs of experimentation were borne by dedicated consumers.” This tolerance of fan activities represents part of a Japanese cultural tradition that permits expansion and engagement with media properties. For example, manga artists and studios have permitted the appropriation and infringement of their copyrights by amateur artists in the doujinshi market. Rather than viewing these activities as a threat to the value of their properties, Japanese companies have recognized that collaborative structures are important in “developing compelling new content or broadening markets.”
As other scholars such as Leonard and Kelts have noted, anime fandom helped build up a structure for an American market through experimentation with unfamiliar content and promotion of niche titles. Jenkins's analysis of how companies must balance fan engagement along with protection of their properties is particularly relevant to the ongoing controversy in anime fandom between fansubbing groups and licensing companies.
At the Futures of Entertainment Conference, several panelists discussed potential models for understanding the motivations behind participatory culture in fan communities. As a result of increasing access to the internet and lowered barriers to participation, audiences have developed an expectation about the ability to autonomously engage with the materials that make up their cultural space. In order to succeed, media companies must be able to meet these consumer demands and also effectively incentivize and reward individuals for creating value. The interactions between these fan communities and the media companies that attempt to capitalize on their labor is therefore framed as a “social contract” that ought to produce benefits for both sides. Many of the mistakes that media companies have committed in their interactions with fan communities have been a result of misunderstanding the ethics and ecology of remix culture.
An understanding of community dynamics is essential for discussing anime fandom, which has been one of the most vibrant and engaged fan communities in the United States over the last 30 years. Indeed, the anime market in this country developed through the voluntary labor of fans that imported and translated works that would have otherwise been unavailable to the English audience. The anime industry therefore stands in the enviable position of already having a well-developed community that is engaged with and interested in their media properties. In order for the anime industry to continue its growth and expansion into the U.S. market, companies must develop business models that demonstrate an understanding of the motivations behind these fan communities and utilizes them as vehicles to monetize fan labor. Although the industry is still in the process of developing and deploying a digitally-grounded model, companies have demonstrated an awareness of the demands and expectations that fan communities hold and are attempting to incorporate them into their plans.