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The cultural economy of popular media in Japan as a hybrid of amateur and professional markets

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Nele Noppe

on 29 August 2014

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Transcript of The cultural economy of popular media in Japan as a hybrid of amateur and professional markets

The economy of popular media in Japan as a hybrid of amateur and professional markets

Nele Noppe

The market for amateur media in Japan
"Hybrid economy"?
However, the Japanese government is not supporting this "hybrid economy"
What advantages are there to a vibrant, working dojinshi market?
Lessig: dojinshi exchange in Japan may represent a system where amateur and professional media creators have indeed found a way to work together to advance each other's goals, even though those goals seem to be very different (maintaining social relationships vs. making money).
How can two groups with such different goals cooperate?
participants have very different goals
participants have very different values
Most of these popular media have "amateur" equivalents. Amateur manga, amateur games, amateur novels and short stories, ...
This is because a majority of amateur media are "fanworks", meaning they use existing characters from copyrighted media to make new stories - without the permission of the copyright holders. This is technically illegal.

In other words, the dojinshi market is a very "gray" market that is not/cannot be openly recognized in government statistics.
How do they manage to cooperate to create economic and cultural value?

A gift economy is a system of exchange where the currency is not money but social interaction.

Participants' goal is to create and maintain social relationships.
At first sight, fanworks exchange in Japan does not look like a "gift economy". People aren't distributing things as "gifts"; they're exchanging them for money, like in a market economy.
Fanworks exchange in Japan is a "hybrid economy" that combines elements from "gift" and "market" economies in order to work better.

(Lessig 2008)
Creation and distribution =
market economy
People's motivations and goals =
gift economy
"hybrid" economy
The most innovative thing that the Japanese cultural industry could contribute to the world right now is not yet more new kinds of "content". It's the new business models for making and distributing content that Japanese fans and industry have developed.
Fanworks outside of Japan
English-speaking fans (among others) make roughly the same kinds of works as Japanese fans, in the same impressive numbers.
However, the way they distribute fanworks is very different from the way Japanese fans distribute theirs.
Free online distribution


Paid offline and online distribution
(this is a generalization, there are many exceptions on both sides)
Why do English-speaking fans not sell their fanworks? There are many reasons, but an important one here is that Western media companies enforce their copyrights much more strictly. If a fan tried to sell fanworks like dojinshi in the US, for instance, they might be sued.

In English-speaking fan communities, fanworks exchanges is all about the fun of sharing one's creative work with friends. Most fans would never think of trying to sell their works.
English-language fan communities don't involve money in their exchange of fanworks

Fan studies researchers in the West have theorized fanworks exchange as a "gift economy"
Gift economy
Market economy
A market economy is a system of exchange where the currency is money.

Participants' goal is to make money.
An economy is a system of exchange.

There are many kinds of economies.
Participants recognize and respect each other's motivations.
Advantages for fans
Closer relationships between fans and companies allow both to trust and support each other against common threats.
Having financial power means having influence.
Amateur creators can get financial compensation for their labor, allowing (some of) them to make some money and invest in becoming better artists.
The door to a professional career is open.
Advantages for media companies
These "amateur" media are often of high quality, and the market for them is not small.

Dojinshi sales conventions take place all the time, and some are massive (Comiket: 500 000 people)

Dojin shops are large chain stores that can be found in every major Japanese city.

There are no exact numbers for market size, but some estimates have recently been made.
These media are not part of most official economic statistics gathered in Japan. Statistics on the size or evolution of the Japanese media industry generally do NOT include dojinshi or other kinds of amateur media.

(Yano Research Institute)
Manga, popular music, games, and so on are economically and culturally influential popular media in Japan.

The economic and cultural value of these media is well-known far beyond the communities of fans who like them. It's recognized by the government, academia, the industry, ...

Or rather, what is the dojinshi market doing differently that allows it to flourish in an age of digital and globalized media exchange, while the commercial manga industry's way of doing things is losing its efficiency?
"The dojinshi market works well because it's a "hybrid economy" that combines the best aspects of two kinds of economies, a market economy for professionals and a "gift economy" for amateurs."
They can easily recruit new talent from among fans.
Companies can let the dojinshi creators innovate, so they don't have to take commercial risks trying a new thing that may not work.
Letting fans pay money for other fans' new/innovative works shows companies very clearly what people are willing to actually pay for.
A hybrid economy for making media is a system where participants from a "gift economy" and a "market economy" cooperate to create value. This can be social value, cultural value, monetary value...

Lawrence Lessig, 'Remix' (2008)
General assumption:

Amateur market = "gift economy"

Professional market = "market economy"
Companies say: You're making money from our intellectual property without permission and we don't really like it. But that's okay, because we acknowledge that your main motivation for doing what you do is to share your love for our media with your friends through creative work, NOT to make money off of us. And you contribute a lot to our market economy in other ways.
Fans say: You get involved in our fan communities and social relations, and you make money off innovations that we made without paying us. But that's okay, because we acknowledge that your main motivation is to make money, and you contribute a lot to our fannish gift economy in other ways.
Advantages for the (cultural) economy in general
But survey data show:

A. Most people who sell dojinshi report that their main motivations are sharing their work with friends, not making money.

B. And indeed, most people who sell dojinshi really are operating at a loss.
Lessig: hybrid economies are the future. Amateurs who used to be relegated to gift economies now have the technological means to make and distribute high-quality works. That puts them in the same playing field as "professional" companies who work according to market economy logic. Companies that want to make money end up competing with fans who just want to have fun. That leads to a lot of problems and mutual distrust and anger, because the current copyright system is not built to deal with the kinds of things amateurs can now do.

It makes much more sense for amateurs and professionals to work together in hybrid economies, instead of treating each other as rivals. Everyone will be much happier and the economy will be better off.
Japan's system of dojinshi exchange is under threat. Creating derivative works like dojinshi without the permission of copyright holders is copyright infringement in Japan, just like in Belgium, the US, or most other countries. In other words, dojinshi exchange is actually illegal.
The TPP is being pushed by (mostly Hollywood) media companies that want to strengthen copyright regulations and enforcement all over the world. They believe this will somehow help them fight piracy.

Seeing the problems that the anime and manga industries have with enforcing their copyrights overseas, the Japanese government is jumping on the "stricter copyright laws are the answer to all media industry problems" bandwagon.
I propose that rather than hiding the dojinshi market from the world and possibly making it illegal, the Japanese government would do well to recognize that the dojinshi market is an innovative business model that can be held up as an example of how to organize cooperation between industry and fans in the new media economy.
Dojinshi exchange can only continue thanks to a loophole in Japanese copyright law. Copyright infringement in Japan cannot be investigated so long as the copyright holder him/herself does not file a complaint. Japanese copyright holders never file complaints against dojinshi creators, so the dojinshi market can keep working.
But the Japanese government has now joined negotiations about the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), an international trade agreement that also aims to harmonize copyright legislation among participating countries. If Japan participates, the government may have to change Japan's copyright law so that copyright infringement must be investigated and prosecuted even without a formal complaint from the copyright holder.

That would mean that Japanese copyright holders could no longer "protect" dojinshi creators by simply not filing complaints against them.
The problem is that the Japanese government is making no move to protect dojinshi exchange by pointing out to its fellow TPP negotiators that changing its copyright laws would force Japan to kill off a lucrative and vibrant pillar of its media industry.
This flies in the face of mountains of research in the fields of economics, law, media studies, and fan studies that says that the solution to piracy and other problems of the digital economy is not stricter copyright laws, but:

DIFFERENT copyright laws that do a better job of regulating relations between individuals and media industries in the digital age
NEW BUSINESS MODELS that help media industries cooperate with their fans rather than fighting with them
Dojinshi exchange brings direct revenue to a host of other companies whose services dojinshi creators can pay for because they have money:

printing companies, transport companies, dojinshi shops, art supplies companies, and so on.
Dojinshi exchange has been going on since the 1970s, and it's widely acknowledged to have been a key element in the impressive growth of the commercial media industry in Japan.
Also, the Japanese government collects taxes on dojinshi creators' income.
For example: amateur manga (dojinshi)
A manga/anime/game/.... fan draws a manga of her own
She sends the manga to a specialized dojinshi printing company that can do small print runs of very high quality for a reasonable price
A transport company sends the boxes of newly printed "dojinshi" to a dojinshi sales convention
The fan sits behind her booth at the convention and sells her dojinshi directly to other fans
She may also ask online or offline dojin shops to carry her dojinshi so it can be bought by fans who couldn't make it to the convention
Fans sell dojinshi they no longer need to second-hand dojin shops, which basically work like second-hand bookstores

How does dojinshi exchange work?
(generalizing here, this is just what most/many people do)
As a consequence, amateur media like are little known beyond fan communities, although the market for them is very lucrative.

And growing!
But why is this market for amateur manga growing?

Judging by the downwards evolution of the professional market for print manga, should amateur print manga not be shrinking as well? What is the market for dojinshi doing right that the professional manga market is doing wrong?
How does fanworks exchange in English-speaking fan communities work?
A fan writes a story or draws a picture using characters from a copyrighted work.
She publishes the story or picture online, on her own website, dedicated fanworks archives, or social media.
Other fans can see and read the works for free. No money exchanges hands.
In other words, Japanese fans are making their works not to make money, but for the same reasons as English-speaking fans - to share creative works with friends.
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