Answerman How Do They Decide How Many Anime Discs Get Printed?
by Justin Sevakis,
How do anime companies decide the size of a bluray's "print run"? What goes wrong if they get it wrong and print too many or too few?
When a new show is licensed, any and all dubs are made, the subtitles are done, the authoring is in the can, and it's finally time to order a bunch of Blu-rays and DVDs of the final product, the big question to be answered is, "how many do you want?"
Anime doesn't often sell THAT many copies, especially compared to mainstream releases. A subtitled-only release of a sleeper show might move one or two thousand copies. A decent sized hit might sell fifteen thousand. A blockbuster will move 25,000 or more. Inventory control is very important. If you print too few, customers will be left waiting for weeks or even months with backorders while you try to quickly do another print run and get more copies out to retailers. Print too many, and you'll have wasted money, and will be stuck paying for warehouse space to house all those discs till you can sell them off -- preferably not at liquidation.
If fancy packaging or pack-in materials are included, the stakes are even higher. Those extra pieces often have to be ordered separately from another supplier, and shipped to the replicator to be packaged together. Things like art books and toys often have to be ordered from a Chinese factory in order to be cost-effective, and those require MONTHS of lead-time. If the replicator can't get more in time to fulfill a reprint order, you're basically stuck. (This is why so many fancy deluxe packagings of anime discs are limited edition -- they can really only easily coordinate a single print run.)
In order to figure out the order, the publisher comes up with a rough estimate of the number they expect to sell, based on how well similar titles sold in the past. They also factor in things like how much marketing the show is getting, how much buzz the show has online, and how the disc is priced. They also will determine whether brick-and-mortar retailers like Best Buy or Walmart will stock that disc, since there will need to be enough inventory to fulfill their orders. That alone can really throw off your numbers -- Walmart has over 5,000 stores in the US alone, and Best Buy has over 1,000. Just four copies for every Walmart store would mean printing 20,000 copies. (And BOY would you be in a hurt if they returned most of them!!)
While some DVD replicators will do print runs as low as 500 units, Blu-rays must have an initial order of at least 2,000 copies, due to the labor and expense involved in etching a glass master. Of course, the more you order, the lower the price gets, and so ordering as many as possible up front is definitely the way to go if you know you have a hit on your hands.
This is not an exact science, and publishers get their sales forecasts wrong all the time. That's why you have discs going out of stock less than a week after street date, and why you have six-month-old releases going on sale.
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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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