Why Are Some Releases Retailer Exclusive?

by Justin Sevakis,

Parker asks:

How do retailer-exclusive anime releases (like the recent Hunter x Hunter SteelBook at Best Buy) come about? How does a licensor like Viz pick the right retailer to work with and how do both companies benefit from the deal? And do they share the costs of producing the specific edition of the DVD/Blu-ray?

Making multiple versions of a DVD/Blu-ray release is a TREMENDOUS pain in the butt. While the discs themselves are usually the same (authoring and replicating multiple versions is usually prohibitively expensive), designers still have to come up with an alternate package, get it approved, add whatever extras are tacked on as an exclusive value-add (if any), and get all of those alternate versions approved by Japan, a task that may take a single email, or may take a year-long protracted and contentious negotiation with thousands of dollars worth of mock-ups printed and mailed overseas. The publisher then has to produce and manage inventory for a whole additional release, although the exclusive version is typically only printed once and shipped to the one retailer, so it's not as complicated as a normal release.

As you can probably guess, retailer exclusives are only worthwhile if a particular release is going to sell a ton of units. There are only a handful of releases every year that justify the time and expense, and fewer still where it's worth trying to explain the endeavor to the licensors. But when it works, it really helps in getting fans excited for a release, and can really drive pre-order numbers. That's particularly true if it's a title with a lot of pent-up demand, and the release is a limited edition one, and likely to sell out quickly. Funimation's different versions of the Cowbow Bebop boxed set was an example of this.

Retailers do not share in any production costs. However, they are definitely something that helps that individual retailer, and so if an exclusive version is arranged, the retailer will, in turn, promote the release as well. In brick and mortar stores, they'll give the disc dedicated shelf space on an end cap or specials wall. They might adorn the release with a shelf talker or some other display to call attention to it. They might feature the disc in a weekly circular, put it on the front page of their website, tweet about it. All of these are things that normally the retailer might charge the publisher for, but if it's something exclusive to their store, it's in their best interest to promote the hell out of it.

Again, very few anime sell enough to benefit from this strategy, so this is more something we see with mainstream properties, especially ones with dedicated fanbases. We'll see exclusive editions of discs with steelbook packaging, a coupon code to unlock additional web features, pack-in trinkets, or pretty much anything else the publisher can think of to make a different package containing the same discs special. And when done right, such a promotion can really, really work.

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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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