In December of 2011, I wrote an editorial on Aniplex’s angle on official imports after the first Fate/Zero Blu-Ray boxset was solicited at $399 after a 20% discount from Japanese MSRP.
At the time the editorial focused on how the initial reaction to the boxset and Aniplex in general leaned towards a general misunderstanding of how the company positioned its releases, as there was much complaining and overall petulant entitlement over the fact that the show was being sold for such a high price compared to domestic releases.
Now, with Friday night’s announcements of both the Nisemonogatari domestic limited edition Blu-Ray release being released almost simultaneously with the official import of the Japanese OreImo Blu-Ray boxset, we can see Aniplex’s strategy show itself in how it decides pricing for each release.
The Domestic Limited Edition: Nisemonogatari
Starting with Nisemonogatari, rather than taking a specific amount of Japanese inventory for itself and adding translation work for the pack ins and the series to release simultaneously with the Japanese version, Aniplex of America decided to produce its own version of the Japanese set (glaring error notwithstanding) in order to maintain the previous pricing floor with the previous Bakemonogatari set which was also produced domestically and identical to the Japanese set. This allows them to sell the Nisemonogatari set for $150 through RightStuf, albeit with significant distribution restrictions in order to avoid reverse importation to Japan. However, this still does not stop more savvy resellers from shipping copies to Japan completely.
In these examples, Aniplex of America has clearly decided that producing both series domestically with identical treatments to the Japanese version for identical pricing would be the best way to drive sales of both series, as the series have a wider audience and demand thanks in part to being made available to stream online legally before either series was officially slated for home video within the past year, reviving demand for Bakemonogatari in one case, and driving initial demand for Nisemonogatari in the other case.
While not as expensive as the Japanese boxsets even with the customary Amazon discounts and expected exchange rate fluctuations, there is still much hand wringing from the majority of fandom due to the timing of the release, as the Bakemonogatari boxset was recently released in November and Nisemonogatari is being released next month, with barely a three month gap between releases, making budgets for anime harder to manage for many, but not impossible to find the funds to do so.
Since it was expected that Nisemonogatari was to be solicited for release much later in the year due to the Japanese release schedule for the series being very recent, the fact that Aniplex announced it so soon also plays into their oft-repeated refrain of figuring out how to release series in a more timely manner.
Since Aniplex of America is a direct subsidiary, they have more leverage on what series to release and when as opposed to a domestic distributor operating at the mercy of master licensors with little recourse on what is decided without extensive negotiations, again tilted toward the master licensor and to the detriment of the licensee.
This is where AoA makes the most of its position in the domestic industry and puts pressure on everyone else in terms of licenses and releases despite a lower volume of new releases per year. The lower volume of releases and sales works in their favor since there’s more profit per unit sold, making the strategy viable despite its many detractors.
However, as I’ll attempt to explain below, the official import model that it relies on to sway importers faces its first real test with next month’s official import of the Japanese OreImo Blu-Ray boxset.
The Official Import: OreImo
Where as the above releases are a reflection of Aniplex’s seeming ability to tailor their release strategy to better take advantage of the demand for two popular and evergreen shows, their choice to directly import the existing limited edition OreImo Blu-Ray boxset and using current Japanese inventory with a set number of copies being set aside to have translated materials packaged inside them seems like a rare misstep in the execution of their usual official import strategy.
To begin with, OreImo has already received two previous releases in the US, one was an extremely limited Limited Edition DVD boxset in 2011 which sold quickly to fans of the show and those that made the best of the fact that there was no Blu-Ray release of the series.
As expected, the release completely sold through and more fans of the show popped up clamoring for the series to become available again in a cheaper version. Their wishes were granted last year when Aniplex released a barebones version of the series in a new set which was much cheaper than the collectors set but still did not satiate those that wanted a Blu-Ray version.
The long awaited OreImo Blu-Ray boxset was announced last night during Aniplex’s Live Panel, although after the initial excitement of the release wore off an hour later, more astute observers noted that the official pricing for the Blu-Ray box was $40 more expensive than ordering the boxset directly from Amazon Japan with the current exchange rate taken into account, with the set currently priced at $237.45 after conversion.
The boxset will be posted for pre-order on Monday the 21st for $278.98 after a ~15% discount from the $330 MSRP from RightStuf, which is leading many to question whether the boxsets were priced before the recent decline in the strength of the yen as a result of new fiscal policies going into effect in Japan, which is a theory gaining traction with many importers.
However, outside of the pricing issue for the boxset, the biggest question is the availability of the market for this version of the series after two previous DVD releases.Since the series is now two years old on home video in the US after experiencing a bumpy start as a simulcast in 2010, who is Aniplex targeting with the Blu-Ray box at this point?
The series was more polarizing than popular in the US and the only people that stepped up to buy the series on DVD were the most intense fans of the show lacking an alternative on Blu-Ray, while the more casual fans of the series were simply satisfied with having a streaming option available.
Unless the listings on the 21st reveal additional details that aren’t immediately known now, there’s no incentive for anyone to double dip for more than ~$240 from Japan despite English subs not being officially listed on the Japanese box set, and even less with the official import at ~$280, unless Aniplex of America is treating the extra $40 as a kind of convenience fee.
I can’t imagine Aniplex of America operating under the mentality that people are blind to Amazon/HMV discount pricing in Japan, unless this was a case of being caught out by exchange rates when setting pricing, which I’m inclined to believe.
I’d normally have no issue with Aniplex of America’s pricing for the set, if this was the first release for OreImo on home video in the US to begin with, but it faces an uphill battle with this release because unlike Fate/Zero, it has a cheaper version already available and the potential market is substantially smaller than the market for Fate/Zero.
If it works out for them, their model still shows viability and is proof that it still works, two years on. If it doesn’t, then it can be chalked up to a lack of attention to both local market demands and Japanese discount pricing. That’s not to say the official import model doesn’t work at all if this release doesn’t do well, it demonstrates that the strategy requires more attention to fine details than lower-priced domestic releases.
Conclusion: On the Incessant Complaints Over Pricing
As I addressed in the previous editorial, Aniplex were well on their way to establishing themselves as a collector oriented distributor and two years on, it seems that the majority of the fanbase still refuses to understand that fact. In fact, the complaints have only grown more pronounced and dare I say it, more entitled to the conventional inexpensive R1 release.
Unfortunately, nothing I can say will make these people understand that because they refuse to listen to reasoned explanations and dig their feet in, petulantly clamoring for cheap anime from Aniplex, reason be damned. The constant noise does tend to wear me out to the point where I’ve resorted to tuning it out as of late.
That said, I would like Aniplex of America to consider another label or brand for cheap collections of anime in order to get these people to both stop their incessant complaints and petulance about its anime releases being too expensive and to open up a wider market for its titles for those that aren’t dedicated collectors. Note that I am asking for consideration, I’m not telling Aniplex of America what to do.
As an idea, since it has such a publicly apparent better than average relationship with Funimation, it could consider sublicensing its directly held titles for a sublabel dedicated to budget releases while keeping the Aniplex side dedicated to limited editions, since Funimation seems to specialize in the budget area as of late. The sublabel could also open up multiple opportunities for expanded promotion between both companies outside of what is already being done across social media and other avenues.
With that, I leave it to you consider what I’ve written and form your own opinion.