Robot 6

Media Blasters cuts staff, goes freelance

Just a week after Bandai Entertainment announced it would stop releasing new material — and laid off three of its five employees — another anime and manga publisher looks like it is hitting the shoals. Media Blasters announced yesterday it’s laying off 60 percent of its staff, although there is no plan to cut the catalog.

Media Blasters is chiefly an anime publisher, although it does have a small line of manga, under both its own name and in its adult line Kitty Media. This 2007 Publishers Weekly article mentions the company had a catalog of about 20 yaoi titles and was planning a shift from shonen to yaoi. Three years later, it canceled most of those titles. Blogger Lissa Pattillo commented back then that quality had slipped quite a bit:

Pick up a book from MB in 2004 and you had a professional looking package – pick up a book from MB (boys’ love in particular) after 2007 and yikes. Crimson Spell and Yokai’s Hunger, both popluar series with high-profile creators amidst genre fans, had some pretty shoddy treatment in regards to lettering and adaptation, especially comparatively to their older books. It’s a real shame.

It sounds like Media Blaster’s marketing wasn’t up to snuff either. As Lissa points out, the company hasn’t been updating its website or Twitter account; its website takes visitors straight to Facebook (memo to publishers: Facebook is not a substitute for a proper website).

What I found particularly disturbing was this comment in the Anime News Network article from CEO John Sirabella regarding the employees who were laid off:

He noted that the company will ask former staff members to continue to work on a freelance basis, but he does not expect all of the laid-off employees to agree to this. Sirabella also stated, “All of the small publishers are going through this sort of thing right now. Not just anime. Everyone’s transitioning from full-time staff to freelancers.”

That may be true — Tokyopop did it, too — but it’s a terrible trend. Basically, publishers are converting solid, well-paying jobs with benefits to lower-paid, less-secure jobs with no benefits. This is not only disrespectful and downright harmful to the employees, who are now being paid less to do the same work, it is also shortsighted. Exploiting your staff is not the road to a quality product.

We just had a long discussion about the structural problems of the anime market, and I won’t rehash that. Media Blasters is very different from Bandai, and it looks as if the company was having issues for quite a while. For the moment, at least, Media Blasters isn’t shutting down, and anime fans can relax in the knowledge that Squid Girl is on the way. It’s depressing to see the company join the race to the bottom in terms of the way it treats employees, though, and I hope this isn’t just one more loop on a downward spiral.

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