Is it possible to figure out the ratio of pirated/legitimate purchases in the music industry? Hollywood? Manga? What happens when purchasing is the exception, as I suspect is the case with anime and manga? Can we quantify the effects on an industry when the consumer base values the product so lightly?
I mention manga because that’s an industry that was basically built in America and the west through decades of bootlegs and fansubs. Piracy is a huge part of the subculture, such that you’ll find very few people who watch anime with any frequency who haven’t fired up bittorrent to get some show freshly fansubbed from Japan. (There are alternatives — Crunchyroll comes to mind — but I would be willing to bet you can’t find a serious fan who hasn’t engaged in piracy.) And even if they’re watching every show through legit channels — damn hard to do — they’re probably reading tie-in manga on MangaFox or something, searching out the sort of things that will literally never see legitimate release outside of Japan. (This doesn’t even touch on the state of the adult anime/manga industry, which is exactly the same but worse.)
The normalization of piracy is not a death knell for an industry — anime and manga are small but hardy parts of the media landscape. But when it’s expected that the content will be available for free through relatively easy-to-access channels, it forces the content providers to go to where the consumers are, instead of forcing them to come to the creators. See, for example, the previously mentioned Crunchyroll, a streaming service dedicated solely to anime, generally subbed as fast as possible after airing in Japan for the English-speaking world. The popularity of the humor/parody anime Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt (yes, that’s the actual title) has earned itself a pretty active fanbase, on tumblr and beyond. It seems like an obvious candidate for import, but is only legally available on CrunchyRoll, with no plans to release DVDs in America. Why bother? Everyone who was going to watch it has probably already seen it online, either legitimately or illicitly.
One thing that works in the studio’s favor on this is that most of the subbing groups refuse to work on or continue to distribute anime that’s been officially licensed, which meant that Crunchyroll wasn’t under any obligation to fast-track a release of Panty and Stocking — but they did anyway, getting episodes subbed and available the same week they aired in Japan, because that was the speed of translation that fans were used to. If they’d dawdled, pirates would have swooped in and filled that demand, community codes of conduct be damned.