Ask John: Why Does Dubbing Cost So Much?
Subtitling anime is relatively inexpensive. Consider, for example, that countless amateur anime fans worldwide routinely produce professional quality subtitles at no cost, using only their own knowledge and their personal home computers. Subtitling can be accomplished by as little as one person working alone. Dubbing, however, has significantly greater requirements. An effective, professional quality dub requires multiple actors, a director, and recording technicians who all need to be paid for their time and work. According to professional voice actor Kyle Hebert, “The average dubbing rate in Los Angeles is $64.25 an hour with a 2 hour minimum.” This rate applies to SAG or AFTRA union-member actors. Non-union sanctioned voice acting work may cost a little bit less. But several actors earning over $100 each to provide voices for just a single short anime episode, compiled with the costs of booking recording studio use, and paying a director & technicians to produce the recording, then technicians to master and mix the recording quickly adds up. Multiplying those costs by 12, 13, or 26 episodes definitely costs far more than paying a single translator to sit at a keyboard and produce subtitles. At least since 2008, $10,000 per episode has been the ballpark range for the cost of producing a professional caliber English dub for a single 25 minute anime episode.
These days, with the diminished American anime market, numerous anime titles reach American distribution without an English dub. When the cost of producing a dub can easily run over $200,000, many anime series brought to America will never sell enough copies to recover that expense, so the only viable method to release the show domestically is to reduce its localization costs, the most expensive of which is typically the dub. Adding an English dub does make anime more marketable and attractive to consumers, but many niche shows brought to America are most likely to sell to hardcore fans that will purchase the show regardless of the availability of an English dub. When including a dub will only marginally increase sales, the expense of producing the dub makes the difference between a license that breaks even or generates revenue and a title that loses money and drives its distributor into debt.