Why Aren't Anime Sales Figures Made Public?

by Justin Sevakis,

Michael asks:

I was wondering if you could explain the mindset behind why anime companies seem to be so secretive with their sales numbers. I could be wrong about this, but I don't see any benefit to not releasing how many units "title x" sold or how many people are streaming "title y". If a title didn't do well, it didn't do well. Would saying " we only sold 100 copies of this, but were expecting more" (or even the opposite) cause them to sell even less? I just don't know why the companies aren't more open with their numbers.

It's a question a lot of people ask, but allow me flip the question and ask you - why would a publisher tell you those numbers? What benefit would that give to them, other than getting the benefit of countless fans' Monday Morning Quarterbacking their handling of each release?

As much emotional involvement as we have in our favorite anime, the actual sales figures of a show are none of our business. No consumer company publicly announces their sales figures. None of them. The sales charts that we get from the Oricon charts in Japan and the Videoscan charts in the US are coming from outside consulting firms, who have deals in place with key retailers to come up with a sales estimate. Those numbers are not actually being reported by their publishers. They're just rough estimates based on how many sold through certain retailers -- and they're wildly inaccurate.

There is no good reason for a company to divulge such sensitive information to the general public. If something is a success in the general sense, the company will absolutely want to crow about it. But if a show is just a middling success, or a bomb, there is absolutely no benefit in that being common knowledge. The fans will just jump all over you, telling you that you suck and that you did your job horribly and that's why the show tanked. The licensor will be embarrassed at the public failure. The retailers will start assuming that you can't pick hits, and start buying less of your product. Why would you invite that on yourself? Of course WE want to know, and other people want to know, but I can't think of a single reason why a publisher should tell us.

To further complicate things, it's not always clear, even to the publisher, how many discs have sold. They know how many they sold to Amazon and Right Stuf, how many went out to key wholesalers and major retail chains like Best Buy. But how many of those actually sold through to the end consumer? How many are sitting in their warehouses? How many might eventually get returned? The publishers have no idea. Months will have passed before they have to write a revenue report for the licensors. In the mean time, they'd just be speculating as to how many copies actually made it into the hands of the fans.

There are a ton of reasons not to release numbers like that, and very few reasons why they should. It might be information we'd all like to have as fans, industry nerds, competitors, and other people who follow this stuff, but we are the only ones who would benefit.

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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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