Friday, April 13, 2007

Bandai Visual's Pricing Policy DOA

During a routine panel at Sakura-Con last weekend, Tatsunori Konno, who is the head of Bandai Visual USA, got in a little hot water with fans who openly questioned him about Bandai Visual's new pricing and release policy. In a nutshell, Bandai Visual is attempting to do something no other company has ever done - to release their titles like 'Freedom' simultaneously on DVD in the US and Japan.

This has created a number of problems:

First, since the US releases will not see the usual lead time to market, they can only be made available initially in subtitled versions. This is a rather desperate response to the piracy and downloading that is killing the industry, as fans simply refuse to wait for properly licensed titles to become available on DVD.

(For an example, just look at how many people have illegally downloaded episodes of Haruhi Suzumiya prior to the upcoming DVD release. There are already more series reviews out on in the blogosphere than you can shake a stick at from folks that have downloaded fansubs and already seen all the eps. The number of these people that will actually buy the series on DVD is questionable.)

The second, and most relevant problem facing Bandai Visual is with the DVD pricing. The Japanese DVD market is vastly different from the US market, however, since the simultaneous release means that the R1 US DVD's will potentially compete (theoretically) with the R2 Japanese DVD's, thus the US DVD's need to carry a similar price point as their Japanese counterparts. That means the most of the R1 DVD's will have 2 episodes and retail for around $40 MSRP ($50 in the case of Galaxy Angel Rune).

The business practices at work here taken as a whole are sound, yet terribly flawed. The Japanese are doing their best to exploit the US Anime market, which they are finally taking seriously, and are also desperately trying to address the piracy issue but without do anything to threaten their core market in Japan, which is still an order of power larger than in the US.

The lessons of the US market have already been learned, yet these types of mistakes continue to be repeated. Think back recently to when ADV got crucified for trying to release the first season of Gantz as two eps per disk for $18 MSRP. We just rolled our eyes when they announced that move, and the blow back among fans was so acute that the folks in Houston quickly reversed the policy in subsequent DVD volumes. Still, the damage had been done and the lower sales of the single DVD's caused ADV to advance the release of the less expensive series thin-paks, decreasing their overall potential economic return on the license. Not to mention their loss of credibility (face) with the fan base.

In the US subtitled releases will mostly sell only into the hard core fan base, which is fine with us, and do allow the domestic release of some titles that may otherwise be marginalized by economic necessities. But Bandai Visual's new formula seems destined for failure as far fewer US fans, even hard core Anime fans, can afford to pay $40 or $50 for 45-60 minutes of Anime. Granted, we'll do our part to make these releases more affordable, but the pricing issues effect us as well, limiting the potential sell through for us on some of the best new titles booked to be released later this year. Bandai Visual is determined to carry through this new release strategy, even to the consternation of the fan base and their retail partners, so we'll just have to wait and see if we, as fans, can embrace these 'early releases at a price' or if we'll have to send Bandai Visual back to school to learn about how Anime fans do business here in North America.

My estimate from experience is that it will be the latter...

1 comment:

Futanari said...

ADV should've learned from Madman down here in Australia. I don't think they've ever released an anime on DVD with just 2 episodes per disc (except for FLCL and the Rurouni Kenshin OVAs, but they could get away with those titles).