This is one question I’m sure many have asked or considered when importing anime DVD/BD releases. To be more precise, why would I want to import the original anime home video releases from Japan knowing their outrageous prices? I’m sure some of you who read my blog or come across some of my DVD/BD posts will ask, well I will try to answer why I do it in this post.
With the declining quality releases from the American and Australian anime companies (most notably lack of artbox to hold the single volumes), I considered on purchasing the Japanese originals having seen the valuable extras and efforts in package presentations. These were a huge factor for my switching of buying locally Australian licensed anime DVDs to the original Japanese premium releases. However, another factor is the long delay between the shows original release in Japan to its licensed version being released locally (which can take months to years) and my patience to wait that long to buy a show I really like decreased greatly.
Unlike many other casual buyers who purchase dozens and dozens of anime series at cheap prices from America, I select only a few of which I’d consider worth buying at the best possible Japanese edition. If I was to buy as much as the casual buyers, I don’t think I’d even watch over half of the titles bought and probably leave them to collect dust. This may also sound narcissistic but having also learned Japanese from studying it in high school, I don’t really require English subtitles to enjoy watching my anime, which cuts out the waiting for official translations and opens a lot of doors to enjoy many of the other bonuses that comes with their DVD and BDs like drama CDs and interviews, again many of which don’t come with the US or Australian licensed products. Obviously having the choice of being able to buy an anime series while its airing or shortly after airing in Japan is very convenient too, so that gave me even more reason to start importing. It wasn’t until about 2009 that I started importing regularly before completely switching over.
It’s also good to know that by buying the original Japanese releases, I’m supporting the industry more directly as the Japanese companies that makes the anime don’t make much extra money from foreign licensing or online streamings compared to actually buying/importing their DVD/BD’s. It’s also known that producing anime ain’t cheap and most of the ones that air late-night in Japan usually have a significant portion of its production budget used to buy air-time slots on Japanese television, thus they need to make back those money before profits come in, and usually that is through their DVD/BD and merchandising. There have been a series of articles on the Anime News Network that takes some in-depth look into the cost of producing an anime series and how setting the price for their anime DVD/BD plays an important part in making back its money and trying to earn a profit. They provide some very good insights about the anime industry which I recommend to read.
But wouldn’t lowering the price like the American ones increase sales?
Many would like to say if the Japanese companies lowered their price on the video releases then they’d have more sales, while that may be true, lowering the cost does not guarantee more buyers, especially with anime releases as it’s already a niche enough medium in Japan. I’ve heard some companies that have tried this in the past and the small increase in sales weren’t good enough to offset the overall loss they incurred from lowering the price compared to if they charged a more higher premium price with lower sales, but would’ve made more money overall in the end. I guess very few other companies would have wanted to change from their usual business model having seen the disappointing results from that example. Add in the fact that many Japanese otakus still prefer to rent videos rather than buy probably due to its late-night airing when many would be asleep and lack of storage space for home media (an average Japanese home would be pretty small compared to let’s say an American one).
Yes, it’d be great from a (foreigners) consumer point of view if the prices were way lower like the US counterparts but it’d be financially suicidal if there’s not enough sales to justify it, potentially leaving the companies deep in the red or even bankrupt as a result. You have to remember that they want to make an overall profit as much as possible. Hoping for an increase in buyers over a long period of time with constant low prices of different anime releases just doesn’t cut it for them, particularly if it’s a huge risk that will either make or break their company.
Well then, what should they do?
What is encouraging recently is that more Japanese companies are adding English subtitles to their releases which may help in getting more sales from foreigners importing, but the price point is still one big factor that I’m sure many will still complain about. The controversy that the Japanese blu-ray boxset of Kara no Kyoukai (aka Garden Of Sinners) made when Aniplex Of America announced they’re bringing over the Japanese import (in limited quantities) for North American fans to buy (with a translated booklet of the visual chronicle book) can be considered a new approach in introducing a new yet similar business model with minimal to no risk.
This brought in the hardcore American and international collectors willing to shell out big bucks for premium anime products, while it also introduced a typical Japanese pricing model for anime home video releases in the western world with little effort. Of course many casual buyers were outraged but that didn’t stop the set from selling out on the day of its release, which I think speaks volumes in showing that there is a group of dedicated collectors that will put their money where their mouth is compared to casual buyers who are quite fickle and unreliable. The same business model was done again for the first blu-ray box of Fate/ZERO and will also be repeated for the second box. It shows that this type of business venture can be successful if done properly and carefully on selected titles.
There have been other initiatives taken by the Japanese companies to be more inclusive of presenting their anime on a worldwide scale, e.g. Aniplex simulcasting Fate/ZERO in 8 languages on Nico Nico Douga, which in my opinion is a good step forward to increasing the number of potential importers. I’d only want to see them actually include subtitles from other languages such as French, Italian and Spanish on their releases as there are also importers from Europe that are willing to pay Japanese prices for anime, especially seeing how more and more licensed Italian anime releases are beginning to put out high quality products of their licenses that rivals the original Japanese ones.
Premium Italian Anime License Release Photo Example
But the prices are still high!
There is no simple answer to changing how Japanese original anime DVD/BD releases are priced. While there have been new business ventures attempted, such as the ones mentioned above, the current Japanese pricing is what it is due to the various factors shown in this post and linked articles. If anything, it’s only fair that if buyers want their anime home videos to be released as the same time as Japan gets it and with all the premium bonuses, then they pay the same price. Those who are willing to wait for a much cheaper alternative can still do that and wait for licenses to be announced from the various anime companies in the US, Australia and Europe. Who knows? Maybe in the future the Japanese companies might look into lowering their prices of anime video releases but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Personally, I feel anime home media are undervalued in the Western world over the recent years. Most of this is shown through the bare-bones releases and flimsy packaging of the products. Sure, the global financial crisis didn’t help matters and most likely changed how the Western anime industry operated to how it is now, but it’s rather disappointing to see that change result in most anime buyers outside of Japan criticizing these imports (in some places the importers and companies too) to the view that buying Japanese premium releases is just wasting money when their business model has been operating for decades. They don’t have to accept how the prices are but they need to be more understanding and aware of the economical factors that goes into producing an anime and its Japanese business model before criticizing and comparing it to the American companies since the two are quite different in how they distribute anime.
Remember, us foreigners are not FORCED to buy these Japanese releases as it is all a matter of choice, we have the options to spend our money on other products. I can’t say for the Japanese otakus whether they have options too (well, actually they do), but it should also be remembered that if it weren’t for the dedicated ones who actually buys the DVDs and blu-rays at those prices then we wouldn’t even be seeing much of those late-night animes made at all, especially if fans want to see sequels to their favourite series as the majority of the time those decisions are made based on sales of the home video releases.