A prestigious economics think-tank of the Japanese Government has published a study which concludes that online piracy of anime shows actually increases sales of DVDs. The conclusion stands in sharp contrast with the entertainment industry’s claims that ‘illicit’ downloading is leading to billions of dollars in losses worldwide. It also puts the increased anti-piracy efforts of the anime industry in doubt.
The Japanese Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry (RIETI) has published an elaborate study that examined the effect of piracy on sales and rentals of Japanese anime DVDs. The results are quite remarkable.
While the music and movie industry often make outrageous claims about the disastrous effect of piracy on their respective industries, researchers are still divided. Some researchers claim a considerable loss due to unauthorized sharing, while others have found that the overall effect of piracy is a positive one.
RIETI’s study on the effects of piracy on the sales of anime DVDs in Japan falls in the latter category.
In their paper the researchers examine the effects of YouTube and the popular P2P-network Winny on DVD sales and rentals of Japanese anime episodes.
“Estimated equations of 105 anime episodes show that (1) YouTube viewing does not negatively affect DVD rentals, and it appears to help raise DVD sales; and (2) although Winny file sharing negatively affects DVD rentals, it does not affect DVD sales,” the researchers conclude.
“YouTube’s effect of boosting DVD sales can be seen after the TV’s broadcasting of the series has concluded, which suggests that not just a few people learned about the program via a YouTube viewing. In other words YouTube can be interpreted as a promotion tool for DVD sales,” it adds.
The results of the Japanese research confirm that piracy does not always have to be associated with a decrease in sales. Similar effects have been observed for music piracy and book piracy as well.
One point of critique based on the main conclusions of the study, is that the observed relation only appears to be correlational. This may mean that the results could in part be influenced by significant third variables such as promotion and overall popularity. Since the report is only available in Japanese we were unable to confirm whether this was taken into account.
The results of the study come at an interesting time. For years anime distributors where considered quite lenient towards piracy, but last week the American anime distributor Funimation announced lawsuits against 1337 alleged BitTorrent downloaders.
Although it’s not expected that one study will change the tune of the copyright holders who are currently pursing alleged pirated in court, the study does confirm that the availability of unauthorized streams and downloads do not necessarily harm sales. Quite the opposite. The challenge for the content producers is to find the sweet spot that will benefit them, and consumers.