The Power of Visibility

Since I’ve liberally invoked Harry Potter’s business model, I should probably point out an excellent example of the power of visibility from my experiences studying the market for anime generally and Sailor Moon in particular. This applies to every market from children’s books to political thrillers, but it is most apparent in our school-age markets because it combines all the things we’ve just learned into a very powerful practical history lesson.

When I was working for DIC Entertainment as a marketing consultant, one of my key responsibilities was projecting and/or tracking the success or failure of various initiatives for the English-language adaptation of the series. Sailor Moon premiered in syndication through a distributor called The Program Exchange. It debuted in 1995, before Pokemon and before many of the more successful anime series had an opportunity to build their own audiences.

One of the interesting conditions that led to Sailor Moon’s ultimate success was the fact the original Japanese animated series already had a large and growing fan base in the United States even before the show was adapted for the U.S. market. The manga also had a readership, even though it was necessary for some of the books to be translated digitally and distributed to fans without authorization by Kodansha, Bandai or Toei. Some episodes of the show were subtitled by other organizations, also without permission. This only served to increase the demand up to the point where the original syndication package was released by DIC.

While the relationship between the “subs” (fans who preferred the Japanese version) and the “dubs” (fans who preferred the DIC adaptation) is probably best left a subject further studied in my book, the fact is Sailor Moon’s syndication deal is a conclusive example of what happens when a commercial product has limited to no visibility. The key problem with the DIC version of the show in 1995 was that syndication left scheduling up to individual television stations. Sailor Moon wasn’t on a network in the U.S., so episodes could be (and were) scheduled at what could be generously called “haphazard” times. Many fans complained they had to set their alarms for the dark and early hours to keep up, as their favorite show was on at 5AM or some other unpopular hour.

Remember this was a billion-dollar property with tremendous success in Japan, Hong Kong, Italy, France and Spain. The risk of the show producing sub-par ratings was minimal, especially considering the already established fan base and their widespread and growing activity online. Nevertheless, because the show wasn’t visible to its key audience, it struggled to the point of near failure for the two years between 1995 and 1997.

A number-one property was driven to the brink of total failure because nobody could find it. It was invisible. Recall Shane’s Laws of Bookselling. If your book is invisible it will not sell. If your book doesn’t sell, it’s because it is invisible. If your internationally-famous legendary animated television series is invisible it won’t sell either.

But then something happened.

Because of changes in the U.S. broadcast markets in the mid-1990s, new shows were having much better success when they were on network television. In Canada, for example, Sailor Moon was on YTV, which was a nationwide network. Here in the U.S., the show eventually found its way to Cartoon Network, and became the 4PM anchor series in a block of programming called Toonami.

Within three years, the series had expanded to four seasons and saw its ratings triple. It had a #1 movie on Amazon, and it helped kick off an anime revolution that is still influencing home video, streaming, interactive, merchandising, television and American culture more than 20 years later.

Consider this for a moment. There was no difference between the show that failed in syndication and the show that helped turn Cartoon Network into the #1 cable channel in America. It was exactly the same product. What changed?

When Sailor Moon was on Cartoon Network at 4PM weekdays for two years, it became visible. That made it possible for DIC’s series to make history, help kick off the $4.3 billion dollar anime industry and help vault Pokemon into a market worth 11 figures.

When Sailor Moon was in syndication and being scheduled at five in the morning, it was invisible and it accomplished nothing except to upset its fans and drift to the brink of total disaster.

That, my fellow authors, is the power of visibility.

One thought on “The Power of Visibility

  1. Not leaving a comment. I’m just trying to get in touch with the author(Mr black) to ask a question. If this is the wrong place, I apologize. I couldn’t find a specified email address, so I guess this will have to do.
    I ran across one of your books, for the second time, this evening and was again thwarted by the lack of an obvious starting point to listen to your work. I’m not trying to be a smart ass, or a “troll”, I’m actually just a sci-fi nerd that listens to way too many audiobooks for youtube to keep up with and am sincerely interested in your books! I’ve listened to a sample or two, but I’m one of those OCD types that cannot bare the thought of listening or reading things in the wrong order. That’s my problem, not yours, but I do imagine there have been more sci-fi nerds than just myself, wanting to give your books a listen, but finding themselves equally as stymied by the apparent, complete lack of organization your youtube channel seems to present. I say “seems to” incase there is some sort of organization that makes perfect sense to you, that I’ve just missed. I’m not trying to pass judgment in any way, I am rather trying to bring to your attention, the possibility that no one, other than yourself, can make heads or tales of it? 🤔 Put simply, I can’t figure out what book to listen to first. I’ve gone through the playlists, trying to the tiny print in the pictures, but that just gets more confusing, because it would seem, there is more than one series of stories. I don’t consider it my place, to tell you how to run your youtube channel, but I would like to suggest that if you put the book numbers in the playlists titles, and maybe took some time to put the chapters in order, it’s very possible you would get a significant uptake in “veiws” of your story’s! I WANT to listen to them! I could have just asked the simple question “could you tell me what book to start with”, or something of the sort, but that wouldn’t have given you the feedback you need to ,maybe, consider the issue and take steps to avoid losing “viewers” who, like myself the first time I ran across your youtube channel, would spend some time trying to figure it out, and just giving up to listen to other books that are more obvious. I don’t know if any of that even matters to you. Maybe the youtube part of your writing career is just a platform to bounce thoughts off or get a little feedback before sending something to print. I kinda doubt that though. Who would throw out a source of revenue these days? 😲 I sure wouldn’t! Having your books split into chapters, rather than throwing them out there in big lumps, suggests to me, that you might be more clever than those that do. I don’t make videos myself (yet), but I’ve heard enough youtubers begging for “likes”, hitting that subscription button, leaving a comment, and watching their videos to the end, to realize how it works. I can’t imagine be daft enough to throw an 11 hour video/audiobook out there and expect to get a whole bunch of people “viewing” it at all, let alone all the way to the very end! Bite sized pieces are smart. Especially if your writing is terrible! I don’t mean you, I mean if a person isn’t sure they have a blockbuster, having a 10 minute first chapter might still bring in some complete views, rather than a pile of 2 minutes and quits. Ok…for crying out loud… I’m sorry for writing a 10 minute book of my own. I don’t even know if you’ll see this! I’m tired and was just looking for a good story to start. I’ll fall asleep to it, but finish it tomorrow. I would have liked to do that on you youtube channel, and I seriously did spend not only a solid 10 minutes just trying to figure your presentation method out, but probably twice that long writing this stupid message you might never get! Hopefully, if you do get this, it will at least suggest to you how serious I am about wanting to listen t you material! I’m still not sure it’s just me that is malfunctioning! I am very tired, and it is after midnight. Again…sorry for the diatribe! I just wanted to listen to something as I fell asleep. Goodnight, Goodluck, and if you have a minute to spare, could you please just let me know where to start? That’s all I wanted to know! 😆😆😆

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