The Difficulties of Fansubbing: Brand Loyalty

In this (likely to be final part of the series) entry I'll be talking about what happens after we've finished working on a project and release it, and how predicting response is near impossible.

High viewership ratings is not something we aim for. I always use the logic that, if we were, we wouldn't be subbing Hello!Pro Kids releases. We are there simply because we want to fansub. However, that doesn't mean we don't read the response to our releases, or watch those download figures go up.

Why? We get some form of enjoyment out of watching them. We'll say, "Oh, look! This Nakky release is almost beating our Momo release!" And we imagine some sort of internal race amongst the projects we put out, to see who will fare better than its opponents. Outside of that little game, it doesn't actually have any influence at all on how we do things.

But for the purpose of this blog, I'm going to try to break down the various factors which decide how popular your release will be, and why this makes it unpredictable.

First, the most obvious factor is which members are involved. It's no secret that member popularity can be heavily lop-sided with, say, an Airi release drawing more people and a Kanna release. But how do you know which members have a higher following, and will attract more downloads? It's not easy. Your own perception of different members' popularity is often coloured by your choice of Idol. Most people feel that their Idol isn't as popular as they could be and won't hesitate to cry when someone they perceive to be more popular unjustly gets more lines or screen time. We've all been there at some point.

So you need a more unbiased approach. How about an opinion poll? These are all over the Internet, and many provide differing results. How large was the pool of people who voted? Was voting for multiple members allowed? What about voting multiple times? Should that be allowed? You might argue that it provides a more accurate index of fan dedication than a normal 1 vote/person system. 
Whatever you think, Hello!Blog's annual H!P member ranking poll is the best source of information, having, by far, the most publicity (as well as offering various voter incentives) and largest voter pool for more accurate results. Paul Thomas works hard to weed out any multiple votes and provides meticulous breakdowns of the results. Which member is most popular in which country, which member is most popular among each gender group, what the largest demographic of voters was, etc. 
But even this staggering amount of statistical data isn't truly enough to predict which members will net your project the most downloads. 

Although it provides the most accurate results in terms of the percentage of the community polled, it still doesn't have anywhere near the voter turnout you need to come to any concrete decision. If you held a general election and only 20% of the electorate turned up to vote, even if the leading party won by a huge margin, you'd still wonder what would have happened had the voter turnout been at 80%.

And then opinions change. Hello!Blog's member ranking finds out who your top ten members are. But most people only have definite choices for the first three or four members. After that it becomes very arbitrary. A person's 8th favourite member may be the 4th favourite 3 weeks later, or may have fallen off the top ten entirely.

But let's say that you have worked out which members will give you your best chance at a high download count. Does that put the cat in the bag?

Not quite.

Another factor is simply down to competition. How many other versions of the video are there available? It stands to reason that, if you release and there are no other options, such as DRIPs or RAWs, for people who want that video, then they'll download your subbed version because it is the first to appear. But if people have just downloaded a 7gb ISO of the same file the day before, they are much less likely to grab it again just to see it subbed. Similarly, I've seen cases where the subs and the first DRIP to appear showed up within the same hour. You'd think the subtitled version would get all of the hits leaving the DRIP out in the rain, but, for whatever reason, many people still opted for the DRIP.

Also factoring into this whether you are the first to release or not is simply whether people deem it to be worthwhile. If they grabbed and watched the RAW, and didn't think much of it, they'll say "It's not really worth grabbing it again just to see it subbed." If you release first, those people won't know what to expect. If the DVD turns out to be boring, they'll have to grab the subbed version before they're aware that it's not very good.

So what about the amount of work that went into it? Curiously, this doesn't seem to have much effect at all. Perhaps it's just because the more work you put in, the higher your expectations. We learned very early on that doing extra doesn't guarantee that you'll get extra hits. The KIDS project which, by far, had the most work involved was our release of Hagiwara Mai in Hachijoujima. With our effects and onscreen text matching up beautifully to the video, and with the increased difficulty of doing the only subtitles for an audio commentary outside of the two (three if you include the unreleased C-ute Alo-Hello) done by ICU-Subs. We were a new group at the time, and expected this to get a huge response, but, perhaps simply due to the other factors involved, the response it got was actually pretty underwhelming. Even now, 11 months on, it is still one of our lowest-downloaded releases (and, if you ask us, one of our best!).

Anyway, so you put a lot of hard work into getting your fun Aichan (or whomever) DVD out there first. Surely now you're assured a huge response?

While you've certainly got a good shot at it, the thing which will ultimately decide your reception is the label you attach to it, and the packaging you wrap it in. In short, your brand.

It's something which I don't like to acknowledge much. That is, the idea that names or brands are important. But there's definitely evidence, however circumstantial, to support the idea.

If we take a look at some of the best and most successful fansub groups we've seen in H!P fandom, you'll start to understand what I mean.

Take HPS, to start with. Said to be the oldest H!P fansub group, they made their home at Hello! Online, and made good use of the facilities provided of them, seizing an exclusive spot at the top of the tracker (which only recently was given over to all subgroups), and an exclusive part of the forum for them to talk to each other and to the fans. HPS became like the BBC of the subbing world. Those three letters come with an assurance of quality, in both the video and in the translations. And so, even if we don't realise it (or even if they don't), we are psychologically drawn to their releases because, even though they may be somewhat old-fashioned now, we're certain that it'll be an excellent release.

Now look at Hello!Fansubs and ICU. Where ICU built themselves on the charisma of He-Hulk, making good use of his knowledgability and sheer rhetoric, as well as constantly pushing the image of being a fresh new group, doing things in ways that were unique and had never been attempted before. 

Hello!Fansubs utilised charisma in a slightly different approach. Rather than clever marketing and impressive rhetoric, they had a leader in SacredCultivator who communicated with the fans. He would go to forums and talk to people, responding to their comments. He, and those fans, made great use of YouTube, back when it was still a fairly new site with a more cult following, posting up their subtitled PVs and talking with people in the comments. You could add him on Facebook, PM him on H!O and join the H!F forums, and he would talk to you.

And the torrent comments? Yeah. He might respond to those too.

And so, in a way that I don't think any other H!P fansubber has done before or since, he not only managed to create a hugely successful brand out of Hello!Fansubs, but also out of the name SacredCultivator. He has done joint projects and guest work for many groups, both in and out of H!P fandom. And generally, even without He-Hulk-esque rhetoric, people will grab it. Whether it's a 10minute PV making with only 5 lines of dialogue, or an hour and a half's worth of Alo-Hello footage.

Is it any wonder that H!F have become, arguably, the most successful H!P fansub group ever? Despite becoming ever increasingly old-fashioned themselves (Still releasing XVID?), SC built a brand from scratch and still manages to maintain decent figures. Not as high as they once were, but actually, the average has dropped across the board.

So what can you do? Will you get high figures when you just start out? You might. We didn't. But if you keep at it, I'm sure people will become familiar with your group's name and begin to trust the work that you do.


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