DVD/BD Sales Figures Fun

There’s not much more you need to know beyond this 2ch write-up on how to interpret Japanese anime DVD/BD sales. I say this mainly because, well, there’s not much more you need to know, unless you have a knack for spreadsheets. Knowing beyond a casual, internet-warrior level of what those numbers means is like a 8yo genius trying to teach his working-class parents how to calculate the angular momentum of a rigid body in 3 dimensions. It’s unnecessary and is an exercise in futility. But it’s really amusing to see how a lot of people just don’t quite get it, when they saw this Crunchyroll post from  yesterday. I could farm twitter for even more lulz, but that’s not going to be worth the effort. I guess successful troll is successful. But in some ways it is also insightful, so I’m going to try to say a couple things.

The obvious thing  here is to realize that DVD/BD sales figures are kind of meaningless in terms of revenue. This is something you can explain away in different ways, but basically it is the best part of the troll. I mean, DVD/BD sales figures are obviously extremely meaningful in terms of calculating revenue and profit. That is not just common sense, but the cold hard facts. So what’s wrong with this picture? Clearly there are other factors that also impact revenue/profit/etc; or better put, what qualifies as success.

TL;DR, that “infographic” compares apples with oranges.

[Actually I can launch into this other tangent about how most infographics out there are evil and you probably shouldn’t pay them a lick of mind, according to my small amount of actual education on interpreting data in graphical form (elitism: they teach college level courses on this stuff for hard science majors, except people who do infographic on the intarwebs are typically too academically challenged to take those courses).]

I mean, how many people who commented on that infographic knows about how late night anime are financed? How it compares to Bleach? Or how a mix media franchise works? I don’t even know all about all of those topics, and while I am nobody, I am less of one than probably most people who bothered to comment on it. Because if you are somebody you wouldn’t even comment on it!

Let’s identify the fruits in that list. It’s not all apples, nor is it all oranges, so what are they?

  • Stuff that were never planning to make money via home video releases, eg., Bleach, Naruto, One Piece, etc. People need to remember before the DVD revolution and how everyone nowadays know youtube exists, people generally don’t buy TV shows on home video. Movies? Sure, because it cost a ton of money to take the family to the theater, and you can buy the tape (or DVD/BD today) for a fraction of price (in NYC it’s approaching 1 BD to 1 ticket…which is just sad and pathetic). Why would you buy Bleach? Because you have dirty clothes, that’s why. I mean you would probably even buy a Doreamon movie or your child’s favorite episodes of One Piece just so you can pacify the poor little dude/dudette when you’re busy cooking lunch or something. It’s suspiciously the metaphoric fruit that is missing in this chart; probably because Japanese edutainment programs are horrid and nobody but Japanese kids (and their caretakers) watch them.
  • Stuff that were paid up front, eg. WOWOW anime, etc. This is something most people wouldn’t know, because these shows are relatively rare. A lot of the time what these channels will do recently is air OAVs, but it’s like if enough people watch Game of Thrones, HBO has already achieved its goals. In other words, some anime are created as premium programming, available only to those who have paid subscriptions to those channels. Video sales to them are icing on the cake. It’s like pre-Chappelle’s Show.
  • Stuff that were paid up front #2, eg. movies, etc. I split this one out because it’s obvious to you. I mean if Transformer 3 does a bijillionquadrubple bucks in the box office, who gives a damn about video sales (besides that it will also sell bijillionquadrubple copies)? It can sell less than Kaiba and still be like, “yo I make more money than all your mamas.” But as I alluded earlier, this never is the case with movies. In fact, movies tend to sell the best (see: bijillionquadrubple copies of Transformer 3). Part of it has to do with the fact that unless you are a Kara no Kyoukai, you end after one film. Or at least, you give this unspoken assumption about this is it and sequels? What sequels? It lowers the barrier of entry of paying for a series versus just an one-shot. [But in reality, when you buy a very popular film, the odds that it will have a sequel is pretty close to 100%. So if you can’t stand owning just the first volume and not the second (even if the second, third, fourth, etc is horrible), you really don’t have any business buying popular movies in this day and age. Or rather, that is their business, eh?]
  • Stuff that were used to recoup from investment costs, eg., most late night anime, etc. To be specific, this is why moe anime is made. Because they can consistently bring in a steady, if anemic, stream of sales. At certain pricing, it is steady revenue. This is why Bakemonogatari (and its kins) sales numbers are such a big deal, because they are by-the-book late-night anime business. Their sales figures on home video is a large narrative for home video publishers, since it’s usually their slice of pie at stake here. So that kind of shows get made.
  • Stuff that were paid for during the TV run, eg., the rest. Evangelion has pushed a lot of units on home video. But it would have been considered a success on the TV viewership numbers alone, because it brought in eyeballs, and sold real ads. However the fact that it was so successful on video too gave it a second wind, so to speak. That’s the Chapelle’s Show’s model. I keep on referring to Chapelle’s Show because for the longest time, old TV shows just didn’t sell on home video (see Bleach, Naruto, etc) but somehow, Chapelle’s show has become the sign post of home video sales floating enough money to justify the continuation of the show because of its ludicrous sales figures (compared to prime-time television). Is this a sign that our society is becoming more  maniacal about our favorites? Maybe someone else can tell you about that, but these kind of anime are in a league of their own. I mean, I speak of home video sales, but the key here is that this type of show don’t solely rely on it; it’s kind of just a sign of how crazy some otaku are about kiddy TV shows. They are the AC Gundams and Pokemons of our times, where their sales figures on home video only told a part of the story. As an aside, this group also fields the majority of original anime titles out there. Because as long as the models are cool and the video games are hot properties, the anime has already served its purpose.

To continue, a good 25% of the anime on that list is original. I think that kind of reflects the top Oricon charts, by overshooting it. The bottom tier is probably full of original titles. Does Denno Coil count? I’m not sure. Even this apples-to-oranges analysis doesn’t tell the story behind the difficulty of original anime breaking through things at a glance. At least it tells you how special Madoka is. (And to note, Nanoha StrikerS isn’t too far behind it I think).

In the same vein, it makes you wonder why we continue to include shows like One Piece, Bleach and Naruto in the overarching anime discourse in America. I mean, sure, they are anime, but they’re as anime as Kaiba. And nobody talks about Kaiba! Joking aside, it’s as relevant as its low sales figure. Maybe it is kind of like how anime fans may yell buttscratcha memes at cons, since Family Guy is not anime either. At least that one makes more sense than Marco Polo. Maybe even more so than Bronies. In my mind, Naruto is almost a meme. A lot of people read the manga or watch the anime, but it’s kind of the noise in the background and it isn’t really relevant to anything beyond Viz and fans of the franchise.

That’s going to lead into my last observation here. I’m kind of surprised; speaking of cosplay icons at American cons, where’s Trigun? Its sales figure was pretty abysmal too! If America was different than Japan, I can’t think of a better example than that. So why is Trigun missing from the infographic? Maybe that’s too apples-and-oranges in that graphic? It breaks the trend/trap set up by the infographic? I don’t know. But you know, people in Japan actually bought Cowboy Bebop, too. So you’ve got to wonder.

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13 responses to “DVD/BD Sales Figures Fun

  • 1

    “At least it tells you how special Madoka is. (And to note, Nanoha StrikerS isn’t too far behind it I think).”
    Well, Strikers did very well (about 22k average if I remember correctly without looking it up), but that’s not even one third what Madoka is averaging. Both are top tier smash hits however.

    In any case, getting your average anime fan to comprehend sales figures is… really really goddamned hard. Most people can’t even process the concept of two columns in a sales list (this week vs total), so getting them to understand why One Piece selling 2k per TV single is irrelevant, or why KoreZom got a sequel off 3k, or why 5k is sometimes-but-not-always sequel territory, is virtually impossible. But then that’s not just anime fans, it’s just your typical person being pretty shit at understanding that circumstances always exist behind the raw numbers.

    But then I am incredibly interested in sales numbers and economic trends in the industry I love so much. I guess this means I’m in your group of people who is wasting his time on an “unnecessary” “exercise in futility.” But I enjoy it nonetheless.

    And yes, I have a spreadsheet!

  • jpmeyer

    That post makes me headdesk further because I’m almost certain that that inforgraphic is kind of old and was originally used in a winking, trolling way where it assumed that its audience knew why those sales figures were the way that they were and intentionally misinterpreted the data in order to ask “U MAD?”

  • omo

    Yeah, someone pointed out its /a/ origin. But it’s the first time I’ve seen it.

  • Mushyrulez

    Are infographics really all that different from plaintext? I mean, to me it doesn’t seem like it, but there might be some hidden magical difference in the land of crazy information theory or whatever.

    Also, are those the sales of the latest or just the first? Cause for shows like Naruto/Bleach/One Piece… well, would you expect the /first/ volume to sell well? :P

    (that seemed to me the biggest ‘troll’ of the infographic)

  • omo

    The first volume generally sells the best. It’s often a good proxy for series sales figure (so you can compare series versus series, even if one may have 9 volumes and the other 4 volumes). For Naruto/Bleach/etc, it’s the easiest reasonable way to compare them actually.

  • IS RIGHT BEHIND YOU! (@ahm)

    NHK children’s shows are actually very good — if you watch Eigo de Asobou or Nihongo de Asobou it’s difficult to dispute that — but they air every day so if you buy the DVDs you are kind of silly.

  • omo

    Well, Sesame Street do sell theirs, so I imagine you can do the same for those NHK shows too. The question being what is the value of it.

    As for Eigo de Asobou or Nihongo de Asobou, I’ll take your word for it. At a glance I couldn’t tell if it was good or bad (seems kind of average actually).

  • dm00

    What’s “infographic” about putting a bunch of pictures next to numbers, when the pictures contain no information about the numbers?

    The presence of Bleach and Naruto were just distractions. What I found most interesting about that chart were the small numbers at which some very good (and very re-watchable) series sold. Considering that some of those sales were probably to rental places (for Kaiba, sad to say, a significant percentage), that’s pretty amazing. You have to sell a few thousand disks just to cover the DVD-production start-up costs, so sales in the hundreds are more than disappointing. The right column wasn’t all bad news: Planetes‘ sales were actually pretty decent.

    But the Japanese market has spoken: it will be a while before there’s another Kaiba, and maybe even another Dennou Coil (though, as you say, that one is a little different). And as for bringing those series over here?

    “Stuff that were paid up front #2, eg. movies, etc. I split this one out because it’s obvious to you. I mean if Transformer 3 does a bijillionquadrubple bucks in the box office, who gives a damn about video sales” — the people who are looking to make money by backing these creations. The people for whom this stuff is an investment.

    There’s an added element to movies: home video sales are only a part of the revenue stream. Indeed, for Disney, both box-office and home-video take a back-seat to licensing fees. If Ghibli had consented to Macdonald’s Happy-Meal Calcifers, Howl’s moving castle would have been in every cineplex in the US.

    Anime sees this, too. Part of the reason you get 12-episode harem series is every 12 weeks there’s a new collection of figures/telephone cards/character-CDs to be licensed.

  • Mushyrulez

    I was thinking more about how their popularity didn’t rise that much then / people didn’t want to buy dvds back then?

  • omo

    @dm
    To put it bluntly, a lot of your assumptions are not really right. I don’t know what to say besides to tell you that Kaiba is exactly the kind of show that trolls when you see its sales number, and you’re hook-line-sinker for it. Remember, it’s a WOWOW show. In fact I would say 80%+ of the information you stated in that comment have strong contrary evidence.

    As for film franchising, I didn’t get into it, but your “point” is actually repeated throughout my post, so it seems weird that you’re just pointing it out here. I leave out further degrees of franchising because the math and relationship gets pretty complicated there.

  • dm00

    Which of my assumptions are wrong?

    Kaiba is good and rewatchable. I think it is.

    – Fewer than 500 people seem to have cared enough about Kaiba to have bought it. Is there some other reason to believe that only 500 copies of Kaiba were sold?

    – You need to sell a couple thousand DVDs to break even. I might be wrong about that, sure.

    – An American company is going to look at Kaiba‘s DVD sales in Japan and add that to the reasons not to gamble on licensing it for the US. Is that wrong?

    The fact that the animators aren’t starving because they were paid by WOWOW doesn’t mean they’re any different from the other anime production companies that have been reported in the press as pinning their hopes on home video sales. Indeed, WOWOW hires them so people will pay for WOWOW. You don’t think WOWOW looks at past DVD sales when they think about hiring someone to produce content that subscribers will want to pay for?

  • omo

    I don’t know which one is wrong, but every one of them have STRONG EVIDENCE to the contrary.
    1. Kaiba is good and rewatchable – there’s evidence to the contrary lol. Sales figure aside, the reviews are kind of mixed and it’s clearly aimed at a more arthouse crowd. Maybe it’s good and rewatchable for those people who like that kind of show, but I highly doubt that is true for everybody or even majority of people who would watch anime.

    2. Am I suppose to use that logic and say fewer than 1700 people seem to have cared enough about Naruto to have bought it? Because that is clearly not true. While you can state for sure why you buy Kaiba, can you say the same for everyone else? I think you make the assumption about sales that both my post and the infographic makes fun of.

    3. “Break even” here is in reference to some entity. Who makes money from DVD sales? It’s hard to say who doesn’t, it’s easy to say at least one entity that does. And more importantly, “break even” infers to some investment, whose does it refer to, and investment in what? You can’t be saying things like what you are saying while playing moving goalpost with the back end.

    4. “An American…” did you even make this assumption earlier?

    5. We all agree that WOWOW don’t care that much about past DVD sales when they think about hiring someone to produce content that subscribers will want to pay for? I mean, that’s like saying the History Channel won’t show something that sucked on DVD sales. Or just because way fewer people watch college lacross, ESPN3 won’t show those games.

    There are other assumptions and statements you made in your earlier comment that are just … wrong. Don’t get defensive; you’re hardly alone.

  • omo

    Here are some of the other ones:

    – Infographic. I use this term because CR uses this term. The term infographics is just some slang, but to me as long as it arranges and conveys info via graphics, it probably qualifies.
    – The presence of Bleach and Naruto were just distractions. I think they’re as much distraction as, say, Kaiba. Again, they are different kind of things and don’t really belong. I mean a Narutard can say the same thing: “What I found most interesting about that chart were the small numbers at which some very good (and very re-watchable) series sold.”
    – Considering that some of those sales were probably to rental places. I think if they are Oricon numbers, it probably would exclude rental copies, as they are priced differently than normal retail. Maybe someone can help me out here.
    – You have to sell a few thousand disks just to cover the DVD-production start-up costs. This is what you said, which is definitely wrong. The break-even point (for entire productions coming from publisher/studio’s POV) is anywhere between 2-4k. The DVD-production start-up costs would be reasonably interpreted as just the replication/distro costs. If you mean something else you probably want to be…less specific?
    – …so sales in the hundreds are more than disappointing. Well, this is the wrong conclusion (sometimes).
    – The right column wasn’t all bad news: Planetes‘ sales were actually pretty decent. These are probably true! Well, I don’t know about PLANETES to say, but Sunrise probably didn’t lose any money on it (esp. with US licensing).
    – it will be a while before there’s another Kaiba… Uh, “another Kaiba” has already came and went. It’s called Tatami Galaxy. Now THAT show, we can talk about. But if your logic is internally consistent, couldn’t you ask yourself why did Fuji TV and Madhouse ask some guy who made shows that sold 500 copies to headline a spotlight anime segment? Maybe because those sales figures…doesn’t matter so much?
    – and maybe even another Dennou Coil (though, as you say, that one is a little different). I confess, I liked Denno Coil, but not that much. Maybe you can import that Blu-ray box that got announced today! It’ll be pimp. But as a production I think Dennou Coil is really the odd one given the circumstances surrounding it. So you got this one I guess.
    – And as for bringing those series over here? It’s outside the scope of this post, but let’s just say that it’s another kind of a mess. Probably worse than Japan’s “mess” because the market is arguably more complicated. Japan’s market is a lot simpler if we look closer; anime is staple stuff there after all so people had long figured out how that works.
    – “the people who are looking to make money by backing these creations. The people for whom this stuff is an investment.” These people already has their money made. I mean I guess I care if I make 5 bijillionquadrubple dollars instead of 4.5 bijillionquadrubple dollars. The point here is that home video sales is more like a safety net; you go all out at the box office/network TV slot.
    – “There’s an added element to movies: home video sales are only a part of the revenue stream.” ORLY! AWSM!
    – “Indeed, for Disney, both box-office and home-video take a back-seat to licensing fees.” These days the big ticket is international markets, so that’s true to a degree. It depends on your accounting and depends on what kind of a movie it is. Not every film turns into a happy meal. That said, I wasn’t thinking about Disney. I suppose Transformer 3 can still turn into a happy meal. [/zing]
    – If Ghibli had consented to Macdonald’s Happy-Meal Calcifers, Howl’s moving castle would have been in every cineplex in the US. But does that mean it will make a lot of money? It’s hard to say. I guess depends on what you mean by a lot. Flops? Yeah, Disney’s got a lot of those in the 00s.
    – Anime sees this, too. Part of the reason you get 12-episode harem series is every 12 weeks there’s a new collection of figures/telephone cards/character-CDs to be licensed. By “anime” if you mean not-Kaiba anime, you would be right. Not all anime needs this media mix franchise nonsense to profit.

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