Jonathan Clements on ANN’s 18th Birthday.
Dateline: 27th July 1998. This is the anime news. ADV Films have decided to go after the Evangelion movies after all. Urban Vision will be releasing Vampire Hunter D. Drama at Anime Expo as security shuts down a “night of bishonen pleasure.” And Disney announces its English-language voice cast for Princess Mononoke. Anime News Network wasn’t the first online news source for anime in English, but it has long since become the market leader.
“I started ANN when I had just turned 18 myself, the month I’d graduated from high school,” explains founding editor Justin Sevakis. “I started it mostly out of frustration.” Print magazines in North America were split between Animerica, which openly shilled the products of one company, and Protoculture Addicts, which had a fannish attitude towards chronicling pre-existing shows. Sevakis wanted to know what was new, without fear or favour, and decided to cover it himself.
“I was not well connected within the anime community,” he admits. “In fact, the Project A-kon I covered in 1999 was my first actual anime convention, and the first time I met a lot of people. I didn’t know Japanese – and Japan’s internet presence was still pretty spotty back then too, so reporting on anything happening over there was next to impossible. So the early iterations of the site were very affected by those limitations.”
“The companies didn’t know what to make of me. Most of the time if I called someone for a comment or to clarify something, there were whispers of ‘Who is this guy?’ and a lot of confusion. But the site soon had a huge following.”
ANN maintains all its news archives online – someday, a statistically-minded academic is going to have a field day with the information that can be gleaned about the changing interests of fandom. Looking back at the first month of the website’s operation, its news section posted just seven items. In 2016, the average is 25 a day.
“We try to write about anything we think our readers will either find interesting, or anything they should know,” explains CEO and publisher Christopher Macdonald. “Every day there are a good 60 articles that meet this criteria, and we have to narrow it down to less than 30 articles.”
Macdonald cites a diverse readership, mainly “between the ages of 15 and 32, and 62% of them are male. Our biggest markets are North America, South East Asia, the UK and Australia.” But there are plenty of odd outliers. “I was recently contacted by a 52-year-old housewife in South Africa who wanted to share her passion for anime with her grandson. We also have a ton of industry that read the site. Statistically they make up a very small percentage of our readership, but I rarely meet a professional in this industry that doesn’t read the site.”
In 2016, the news part of ANN is only one facet of a multi-media enterprise with streaming video, a much-lauded podcast, columns and reviews, and a multi-authored database of anime and manga crews, plots, stats and reviews. The very nature of anime news has changed, from the simple coverage of new releases, to celebrity gossip like voice actresses’ weddings and reports on live events in Japan. The site even flirted for a while with its own comics mascot, Anime News Nina.
“Companies tend to realise that if they split up the same batch of news and release it spread out over time, it can get more coverage,” observes Macdonald. “But by doing this they dilute the importance of each announcement. As I said earlier, we can only post 30 articles per day, so if they dilute the importance of their announcement too much, it’s possible the news won’t make the cut.
“We’ve had to prioritise a few topics over the years, and we’re never happy when we do this. It’s always based on statistics. For example, we still post news about anime music, but they make up a smaller portion of our coverage, and we canned our music column years ago. When only a few thousand people read something, our time is better spent writing content that a few hundred thousand people will read… but we feel bad for the few thousand people who did regularly read our music articles.
“Our news reflects what our readers read. The day our readers are fed up with it is the day we’ll stop covering it.”
Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History.