NYAF 2007: Central Park Media Panel Report
One of the last panels at the New York Anime Festival was for Central Park Media, anime and manga publishers for over 18 years. The panel was hosted by the affable John O’Donnell, managing director and co-founder of CPM. He began the panel first by handing out red plastic CPM bags, saying he would be doing something unprecedented at 4:30 PM, halfway through the panel. He then answered some of the most frequently asked questions that he’d been asked at their booth at the festival:
1. What are you doing here, I thought you were dead?
Reports of their death have been greatly exaggerated. O’Donnell recounted how the bankruptcy of Tower Records and Musicland last year left many anime distributors and publishers with several millions in uncollectable debt, and this hit CPM especially hard. They were still recovering from that hit, but O’Donnell wanted to ensure everybody knew that they’re still here and wanted to thank their longtime fans for continuing to support them.
2. What do you have new?
O’Donnell quipped, “Nothing. We got squat. What part of ‘We got hit bad by Musicland did you not understand?’” O’Donnell continued to say that out of necessity, CPM chose to focus on making the anime titles they already had more accessible by dropping prices. They were the first publisher to drop prices, with multi-disc sets of 2 or more selling at $5 per disc.
O’Donnell pointed out that the market for anime and the overall home video market has had a tough time over the past few years. The initial burst of home video was driven by the explosive growth of DVD, but the market penetration of the hardware is now over, which led to a general slowdown in purchasing that was further exacerbated by growing space constraints on the part of DVD purchasers. He also added that with Wal-Mart is selling Hollywood movies on DVD for $5, an anime title being sold for $20 is a much tougher sell, and that many anime fans opt for piracy instead.
He continued by saying that prices are very high in Japan now because there is so much competition between the different US companies. Competition among several licensors led to shows that would have been licensed for $15,000 per episode to ultimately sell for $70,000 per episode. O’Donnell pointed out that the sudden collapse of Geneon revealed that they were engaging in a strategy to lose money to gain market share, in the hope that greater market share would compensate for initial losses over time. However, a sudden $41 million loss led to the collapse and withdrawal from the American market. As a much smaller independent company without substantial corporate funding, CPM simply can’t compete with the other companies and is currently waiting for the market to come back to a balance. Japanese licensors have apparently gotten used to very high prices for shows, whether they truly deserve them or not.
3. What are you going to do next?
O’Donnell’s answer was to do the same thing as what they’re already doing: keep dropping prices, keep going, and keep in touch with the Japanese until they can find something they can license and bring to the United States.
4. What’s happening with Be Beautiful yaoi manga?
O’Donnell expressed a lot of frustration about the situation around the Be Beautiful line of manga, much of which was licensed under a long-term agreement from the Japanese publisher Biblos. Unfortunately, Biblos went bankrupt in Japan and sold the rights to all their manga to the yaoi publisher Libre. Because a contract was already in place, CPM felt that it still had the rights to the properties even though Biblos had closed down, with O’Donnell comparing it to a lease that does not get cancelled simply because the land owner goes bankrupt. However, Libre apparently did not agree with this assessment, and posted a public announcement on their website that CPM was publishing these comics illegally. According to O’Donnell, the original artists claim that they didn’t know about this and don’t agree with Libre. He went further to say that CPM has made many attempts to meet with Libre in Japan, all of which have been rebuffed. This was the first time that O’Donnell was willing to go public with his side of the story, and added that CPM is considering a lawsuit for damages over the issue, which may happen very soon.
He also expressed disappointment in the fan community, which judged CPM to be in the wrong without having all the facts available to them. He added that they are still publishing manga, including the Be Beautiful yaoi manga, although their release schedule has slowed down due to the financial issues. Not all Be Beautiful manga are affected, since some of the manga in the line come from other publishers.
Like many other anime companies, CPM is awaiting a winner in the high-definition DVD format war before attempting to see what it will cost to move their material to high-definition. He pointed out that nobody gets any benefit from high-definition video without purchasing an expensive TV set, the format battle is creating customer confusion, mastering fees are “ridiculously expensive,” and there aren’t a lot of installed units to sell to, making it a losing game for them to enter at this time.
To close out the panel, O’Donnell said that they wanted to thank their loyal fans. Since the show floor would close at 5:00 PM, he instructed all panel attendees to take their red bags, go over to the CPM booth, and fill it with anything they could fit into it. The CPM booth was quickly mobbed by massive crowds of people grabbing CPM manga volumes and DVDs. It was definitely one way to end the New York Anime Festival with a bang.