Why Would A Japanese Publisher Restrict Exports?

by Justin Sevakis,

Miguel (and a few other people) asks:

It seems Avex Pictures recently (publishers of "Yuri!!! on Ice", "Osomatsu-san", etc) have restricted exports of BD and DVD releases for their shows. Why would they do this? Isn't exporting from Japan more beneficial to them than if a Western fan bought the release in their country by another publisher? Could these Western publishers be making pressure for these type of changes to happen, and do they even have enough power in the market to negotiate something like this?

This is one of those things that, at first glance, makes no sense. Why would a publisher -- the original publisher, no less -- voluntarily restrict potential sales?

The answer, of course, is in the labyrinthine decision-making process of the production committee. We don't know exactly why Avex made the decision to enforce a ban on exports (which is something a publisher can do in Japan, but not in America). I don't know anything, but given the current state of things, I might wager a guess that it was one of the following: KEEP IN MIND, THESE ARE ONLY GUESSES.

  • Avex only has distribution rights for Japan for the titles they're involved with, and other members on the production committee get to oversee international distribution. With other countries becoming more and more important to the revenues of the anime business, it became important to someone on a committee that Avex wasn't overstepping their sales jurisdiction. Perhaps as an overreach, Avex made sure to secure their entire distribution channel against unauthorized export.
  • With Japanese companies making a stink about cheap Western discs, and Japan incredulous that US law doesn't allow publishers to block exports, one of them might have made the excuse that Japanese media companies DO have that ability, and yet none of them do anything to control overseas sales. This might have been a reaction to such a conversation.
  • Avex is preparing a move into overseas markets, similar to how Aniplex and Pony Canyon have opened up US distribution channels. In preparing for this, they are making sure they're not going to be competing against sales of their own product.
  • Or, what most likely happened... some salaryman in charge noticed that people weren't following the "rules" of media consumption and decided to make blind and pointless enforcement of long-established and somewhat outdated rules a priority. (This sort of thing happens more often in Japan than you'd think.)
    • International exports make up a pretty small share of anime sales. Japanese discs are very expensive to fans in the West, and they usually don't have any English on them. Yuri!!! on Ice might sell an extra few hundred copies to fans overseas, but the vast majority will wait for localized versions with lower price tags. For the handful of fans that this scenario will not satisfy, I'm sure it's only a matter of days until alternate means of purchasing these imports materialize, if they haven't already. This is the internet age, after all.

      Avex is mostly a music label, and one with a long history of taking the international market very seriously (albeit mostly in Asia). I expect they know that some fans overseas will be inconvenienced, and I would be pretty surprised if they didn't at least take into account ways to serve the market. How well they actually know international otaku and how they like to be fed remain to be seen, however.

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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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