Answerman
Why Do Companies Only Sell Some Shows Through Their Own Stores?

by Justin Sevakis,

Jitsch asks:

The German publisher Peppermint Anime has recently licensed the Monogatari Series – and then decided to sell the DVDs and Blu-Rays for Bakemonogatari exclusively at their own online shop. By now, the series is also available through Amazon Marketplace (also sold by the publisher, not by Amazon) and not available in any other online shops. Is there an advantage in distributing a show like this?

Retail partners are often not shown a whole lot of love by the publishers that work with them. The way disc sales work, the retailer takes a huge chunk of the revenues from each sale -- sometimes up to 50% of the suggested retail price. When a publisher is working on a release that isn't expected to sell a huge number of copies, they're often looking for new ways to wring every last penny out of the show to make the release worthwhile in the first place. And so it's happened several times that the publisher will look over at the retailers and go, "hmph! Well, I'm perfectly capable of opening up a small web shop and driving some packages to the post office. And then I get ALL of the money, rather than just half!"

I don't know much about the German anime or disc market, but I do know that this has been tried several times by publishers in the US, usually by Japanese-owned publishers trying to "cut out the middleman" and service the US market by themselves. Bandai Entertainment started off this way during the VHS era, by launching as their own e-retail site AnimeVillage.com. They later re-opened their own retail operations, and were initially the only place to get some Bandai Visual USA and Aniplex releases.

This tactic has always backfired. Fan buying preferences simply aren't very flexible, and most customers have a habit of going to one or two retailers over and over again. They often don't even find other retailers; if it's not available where they're shopping, it might as well not even exist. Sales for releases that are self-distributed are nearly always dwarfed by that of similar shows released through normal retail channels.

The few fans that do order directly often don't describe a great customer experience. Small retail shops simply don't have the manpower and infrastructure like an Amazon or a Right Stuf to offer deeply discounted shipping, quick fulfillment, or high-end customer service. Additionally, they usually only stock that publisher's own stuff, so being able to stock up on all your anime needs (or other things) and ordering enough to qualify for free shipping is impossible.

Ultimately, every publisher that has tried to cut out all retail partners have ended up backtracking and making their discs available via Right Stuf, Amazon or both. But selling direct will always be far more lucrative. It's really bad form to undercut your retail partners by offering a lower price, but some have tried to incentivize ordering direct with extra bonus items, or exclusive packaging. Those exclusives always lure a few people, but most still just go to their usual retailers.


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Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for nearly 20 years. He's the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.


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