Why Don't Anime Companies Release Sales And Viewership Numbers?

by Justin Sevakis,

Michael asked:

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.

Well, as much as we might want to know how our favorite anime are performing, 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 sales 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, and they're not very accurate. (In fact, they miss up to 50% of sales by some estimates.)

It's the same with streaming. While people are used to YouTube being very public with viewership numbers for everything, no other site that streams professional content shares how anything does with the general public, aside from a ranking page displaying what's on top and what's not. Netflix infamously doesn't even release viewership stats to the show's CREATORS.

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.

And what even IS a successful show? What IS the magical number that makes a show profitable? Fans are full of theories: the most widely circulated is probably the ridiculous "Manabi Line" theory, which was a joke on 2chan that stated that the 2,899 units the show Manabi Straight reportedly sold was generally the number anime generally needs to sell to break even. It was a joke, but people took it seriously, and then as gospel. For Western releases, you'll have no idea how much the show cost to license, if any outside partner chipped in money, if the Japanese government's JETRO agency helped defray the cost of localization.

The truth is that, depending on the show, the budget of the show, the cost to get the rights to adapt the show, the arrangement of the production committee, the arrangement with the TV broadcasters and international streaming partners, the plans for merchandise and marketing of the original work, and any number of other variables that fans can never know, the number of units a show needs to sell or stream to be successful are a giant mystery, and varies wildly from show to show. Releasing those numbers would fuel fan speculation, sure, but wouldn't actually make anyone smarter. In most cases, those numbers don't give any reliable impression of whether or not it was successful. They will only tell you if a show did REALLY REALLY well, or completely tanked. And frankly, you can probably already figure those shows out for yourself.

You can get a good enough idea of how well a show did by seeing the streaming ranks on Crunchyroll and Hulu, and paying attention to the general fan chatter, and the availability of merchandise a few months later. That's pretty much all you can do. But exact sales numbers remain something we don't often get, and there are plenty of reasons for that.

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    Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for over 20 years. He's the original 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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