Free subtitles nowadays can be performed by a group of people known as ‘Fansubbers.’ ‘Fansubbing’ is a word used to describe fans who are not paid professionals that translate and subtitle international films and television programmes. Fansubbing consists of a large online community and is a self-organised process carried out by passionate and dedicated fans. These fans have no monetary gain, so they do it purely because they love and support the show/film.

Fansubbing became a phenomena within the Anime community in the early 1990s. Many Americans wanted to view the Japanese cartoon shows with English subtitles but because they were not made available, fans took matters in to their own hands and translated and subtitled the episodes to share it with the English speaking world. It has since become incredibly popular in the digital age that we live in. The availability of free software such as subtitling programmes has made it easier for fans to share files and start their own ‘fansub’ communities.

Fansubbing is never done by one person alone, and has developed in to a complex, almost professional process that consists of several people within several stages. This includes copying the television or movie file and then including the steps of translating, editing, encoding and distributing.

The competitive edge

It’s important to realise just how much impact these fan subbed videos can make due to the large volumes of people they reach. In this day and age a lot of people watch pirated movies and television programmes online and it’s difficult to regulate internet file sharing across national borders.

Despite the millions of people watching these fansubbed files, it took a while for the multimedia industries to put out their own subtitles and dubbing to compete with the ones already out there. By not responding sooner, they allowed this phenomena to distress their sales figures. Why would someone buy a subtitled DVD when they recently watched one for free online?

A picture of a piggy bank: many people use automated subtitle machines because it's cheaper

Despite the popularity of some television shows, a lot of them are yet to be fully globalised. Unfortunately some of these industries do not give in to the demand of subtitling/dubbing, so illegal fansubbing can seem to be the only way that international fans can watch their favourite shows. Thus it’s important that the TV and Film industry don’t ignore the popular demand of their products but capitalise on them instead, and do as soon as possible. Sometimes the time lag between broadcasting a show in the original country to the new one, can be from several months, or even up to several years. This can be frustrating and simply too long for fans, who decide to take matters in to their own hands.

It’s time for the professionals to take over

It’s important to note that official subtitled versions released are far more superior to fansubbed versions. You can even take a look for yourself if you’re in doubt. There have been so many quality complaints that there is now a demand for high quality releases and professional subtitling. Despite the best efforts of fansubbers, the majority of them are not professionally trained in translation or subtitling. Also working in such large groups as they do is bound to cause quality issues due to the inconsistencies caused when there are too many unnecessary people involved in a process. Viewers would rather pay and have accurate subtitles, than have free ones that simply don’t make sense.

Thus if you are aiming for an international market, or if you haven’t originally but you see the popularity and demand, act quickly before fansubbers do and choose the right agency that knows the process and produces a high quality service that keep your viewers happy.

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