Anime Sols LogoIn the online world, we’re beginning to see a shift in the way people shop online. In addition to the standard retailers like Amazon and Right Stuf, a new niche has grown that places the customer in a different situation. This new model, known as crowd funding, places customers in the role of the investor, as they put their money where their mouths are.

In a crowd funding model, the customer makes a promise to pay a certain amount of funding into a project, be it a film,an album, or even a product, given that project crosses a certain funding thresholds. Often, these investments are tied to rewards, which include anything from shirts, to silly thank you letters, to the products themselves. If the goal isn’t met, the project doesn’t receive anything, and the customer doesn’t pay a dime from his own pockets. However, this insurance comes at a cost – if the project becomes a success, no matter how massive, the crowd funders are not entitled to a cut of the profits. Likewise, if the people working on a project go bust before it hits market, the customer is out of his investment with nothing gained.

Since the advent of platforms like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, we’ve seen this model take off. The response has been especially bright in the gaming industry, where indie developers take their concepts to the masses, in order to escape the shackles of a larger publisher. Unique products like the Oculus Rift, and the Sprizzi drink machine have become realities, and success stories appear to be bubbling to the surface every other week.

It was only a matter of time before this model extended to the anime world. With thousands demanding titles that are either out of production, or “too risky” to license, it’s not surprising that we’d eventually see some enterprising organization see if people would put their money where their mouths are.

AnimeSols 001Last year, we began to hear rumblings about Anime Sols, a joint venture between several Japanese anime companies. The list of investors was impressive, with companies like Tezuka Productions, Studio Pierrot, and Yomiuri TV confirmed to be on-board. However, much about it remained shrouded in mystery, until the chatter eventually died out, and most forgot about its existence.

Earlier today, Anime Sols opened its doors to the public, offering their own take on the crowd funding model. The site features dozens of free streaming episodes from eight titles:

  • 24 Hour TV Specials
  • Black Jack
  • Blue Blink
  • Creamy Mami
  • New Yatterman
  • Tekkaman
  • Tobikage
  • Yatterman

And, while each title features full episodes for free viewing, the video pages contain the typical “Kickstarter-esque” layout, with funding and backing information adorning the right side. The tiers, which begin at $5, and go as high as $2,500 in some cases, contain various rewards, from a guaranteed DVD boxed set, to dinner with the show’s producer. the funding goals, as one would expect, range from about $16,000 to a higher end of $22,000.

AnimeSols 002While the site itself looks dated beyond belief and even the site’s FAQ is still MIA, the service itself is proving to be promising. A number of shows are already seeing several hundred dollars in initial donations, an there is a definite interest that seems to be spreading through the Twitter and Facebook channels. However, some have already begun to find potential caveats to pledging in the service’s terms of service. Specifically, the following line:

Once a pledge is made, cancellation of that pledge is possible only at the sole discretion of Anime Sols.

This goes against the grain set by many crowd-funding sites, which allow for users to back out as needed. And, as one would expect, it is causing a bit of unease among a number of potential funders.

Personally, I’m curious about how Anime Sols will fare as a player in the market. At the moment, they have the novelty of being the first anime crowd funding site, and the only licensed provider of titles like Creamy Mami. the service’s real test will begin once the first funding drives begin to end. As one may notice, Anime Sols features zero advertisements at the moment. And, outside of some crazy promotional deals, bandwidth isn’t free. So, with this in mind, the company’s current model hinges entirely on the pledge drives. Barring the addition of advertisements or a subscription model in the future, Anime Sols will need to earn enough money to pay for the rewards, the company’s employees, and the server fees via the good graces of customers working on the “pay what you want” model.

It’s a gutsy move, for sure. The risks of failure in such a model are incredibly high, as it requires a trusting and willing customer-base in order to even consider pledging money with a product so far off. And, since the company is the new kid on the block, they have much to prove. Personally, a part of me hopes the service takes off. The model’s success would open the door to an incredible alternative consumer market, with the potential to reach far beyond the normal scope of anime. We could see releases of titles that were mainstream hits once thought to be lost to the sands of time, like Shounen Mowgli: The Jungle Book (which aired on Canadian television), or SF Saiyuki (which aired as Spaceketeers). It would allow for customers looking for that long-lost childhood classic to finally obtain a copy, or for long-time watchers to discover new shows to enjoy. Frankly speaking, if Anime Sols takes off, and does its job well, then everybody will win in some form or another.

So, readers, what are your thoughts on this new player in the market? Share and comment with your views!