One of the more consistent complaints of the last few years is the pricing of certain titles. We’ve heard complaints about pricing since the beginning of anime – $30 for two subtitled-only episodes on VHS? $35 for one bilingual episode on LaserDisc? Oh, the glory days when a $30 DVD had four episodes on it and it seemed to solve all our problems.
Sorry, I didn’t mean to provide context there.
Towards the end of the last decade, the shift to half-season sets was a necessity for a number of reasons and while it means shelling out more up front, it eventually came with the positive that you usually had a clue as to what you were buying. While you would take more risks on a $30 retail disc with four episodes back in the day, you were often getting it for half that price at retailers. Dropping $70 retail for a 13 episode set is a little more problematic, but with the heavy use of streaming these days, you can largely see everything legally before the disc comes out – and through certain programs you can even check out the entire dub for a few bucks a month for a lot of releases. Suffice to say, it’s hard to go in blind unless you want to.
When it came to pricing, the big complaint of the previous decade was Bandai Visual USA, which had some really high priced movies and went full Japanese release style – on DVD – with several TV shows that couldn’t justify it. As the market was moving to season sets, you really didn’t want to pick up a DVD with one episode of Galaxy Angel. No matter how much of a fan you were.
While they closed up shop, eventually Aniplex USA was formed and we see a similar track being taken but with some smaller twists along the way. Working with more popular shows, ensuring some solid bonus materials, providing import opportunities, it felt more fan friendly even if it was really towards a more limited group of fans that were being served. Combining their entrance with a weak to non-existent economic recovery depending on your place in the world made it even harder for a lot to handle. To the point where a lot of people naturally dread when Aniplex USA gets a license because it means the title is unaffordable.
Not unviewable. Unaffordable. High definition streams certainly aren’t the same as a well done Blu-ray, but largely fans aren’t missing out, at least in the short term.
I’m not a fan of high prices for content that makes it out of reach of a lot of people, such as the majority of the audience you’re trying to reach – at a time when more people are starting to shift away from owning at that (which is also part of the necessity of raising prices! Oh, vicious circle.). I’m a big fan of Star Trek and I paid the premium pricing Paramount has always demanded for that property. But I only bought the original series on Blu-ray because that’s all I could justify. I’ve passed on The Next Generation because it’s a significant amount of money that would make me regret purchasing it.
But I can’t blame Paramount too much in a way. Because what they’re doing is something far too many content creation companies don’t do. They’re assigning value to their property.
One of the most frustrating things for me in the last decade was the way companies completely devalued their product. Central Park Media in particular did this, bringing out re-releases are ridiculously low prices not long after the initial release and making fans question why they bought when it first came out. Box sets came very quickly from ADV Films at times – sometimes shortly after the final volume of a series and you could get the whole thing on the dirty cheap. It made people shift from getting what they wanted to waiting because they knew it would come out cheaper.
Some Japanese producers put really high marquee value on their properties, which is one of those reasons Legend of Galactic Heroes likely won’t come out over here as the owners treat it as sacrosanct and US distributors can’t match what they value it at. And they’ve tried!
Aniplex USA puts value on their product. Their value and your value may not match. Sometimes their releases warrant that value because of what’s put into it on disc, the extras and the packaging. Other times there’s so little there to justify it for most people that you cringe over it. I absolutely adored the Garden of Sinners release, but it was too rich for my blood so I passed. But for those that value it, it’s one of those marquee purchases you have that you show off.
So yes, for a lot of people, Aniplex USA releases are too expensive for them. Thankfully, most distributors aren’t running things this way. If they were, we’d have a lot smaller market than we already do. We haven’t seen an uptick in pricing overall because of what they’re doing and if anything it may make other distributors more competitive because they’re showing their releases at what’s perceived to be a better value and price point. Of course, you can’t get the same show from anyone else, so it’s not a direct comparison. But since you usually do have other options for viewing it at the least, there’s something to be said there.
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