In the previous post I looked at some of the challenges faced by UK Anime distributors in regards to Blu-ray releases. it ended up inspiring a week or so’s worth of Twitter conversation. And, yes, I suspect at least one of the UK Anime companies has been thinking “Oh God, not this lot again”.
I am going to look into what, in my opinion, the companies may want to look into going further. Firstly I am going to do a general look at where I think the attitude towards Blu-ray releases might want to go, followed by another post detailing what the current companies are currently doing. Alongside some improvements I, personally, would like to see.
I do maintain that, in general, Blu-ray is going to be an important factor going forward. Maybe not in a spectacular way, but important nonetheless. Especially as more and more fans begin to get Blu-ray players (or more Blu-ray owners get introduced to Anime), people will be looking to find nice shiny HD Anime for their nice shiny AV kit. Track record and available back catalogue will mean a great deal at that point. I know that’s a much harder factor to quantify but, despite that, it is a concern regarding future purchases.
Here are some ideas that I think might possibly help going forward. That’s not to say I think any of these methods are without risk, they all have potential drawbacks involved. As times goes on, though, having a limited Blu-ray catalogue will itself be a potential risk.
Blu-ray as an Incentive
Making Blu-ray an incentive to buy the title at all would be one way of trying to convince the fence-sitters to go for the BD release. Releasing dual packs (BD+DVD), without or without a future separate release, or releasing the Blu-ray version first with a DVD version down the line would effectively encourage people to consider the Blu-ray version if they want to get the show early.
The obvious drawback with this is that it doesn’t always sit well with customers. Dual-format releases don’t suit everyone. If you don’t need the second format, it feels like you’re paying extra for a component you neither need nor want. Also, people who do rely on DVDs (or just favour the lower prices) don’t usually like having to wait for their format to come out a month or more later. And, like it or not, DVDs still currently make up the bulk of sales as far as I know. And ticking off the larger segment of your customer-base never tends to work well.
All the Anime has been doing this with some of their releases,. In their case, some titles start off with a “bells and whistles” Collector’s Blu-ray, with a DVD set and a standard-edition BD to follow down the line. This does seem to be working out for them, although so far they have only done with classic re-releases where people may already have an older DVD version.
Blu-ray as a Loss Leader
Run BDs at a loss, as long as you expect the license to gain a profit overall. Or use the mass-appeal ones to cover niche/hardcore interest. And basically invest in future sales. Some titles simply aren’t going have a profitable BD run, but may sell well overall. And some are just incredibly niche. Looking after the fans, your potential customers, however will keep them coming back.
Games console companies basically do this. Selling the consoles themselves at a loss in the first few years, making their profits from the game releases and the later sales when the components cost a whole lot less. And I think this is how some shop’s special offers work.
Take a hit on Product A to raise interest in Product B. Or simply to keep your company name in a positive light. Or make an overall profit on a license, even if the Blu-rays make less than their production costs. Naturally, only when the overall sales across both formats will net an overall profit.
I’m not saying to run every title at a loss, as that would quite obviously be bad. But for every few Titanic Ninja Deathgods almost-mainstream titles you release, throw out the occasional Quirky Fan Favourite with a Die-hard Fanbase.
This ties directly into…
Blu-ray as a Future Investment
As well as just looking at how well a Blu-ray release would perform right now, it is also important to remember that Blu-ray availability is very likely to fuel future sales. Especially as, here in the UK, streaming video isn’t quite as prevalent yet as it is in America – mainly owing to infrastructure and bandwidth issues. Also some people, especially collectors, just prefer having a physical copy. So there will always be the need to have a physical release to some extent.
Granted, this then becomes a very fine balancing act. Without Blu-ray releases, a distributor might run into major problems in the future. Over-committing to a less profitable format too early, however, may lead to not being around long enough for Blu-ray to be the dominant format.
This Goes for Fans, Too
And this is where the fans as well as the distributors will want to lynch me…
Seriously. If you have a Blu-ray player and are at all interested in the format please do buy Blu-rays where the option is available. As a niche format, especially in the UK where every sale helps, choosing to buy the DVD instead only hurts the viability of Blu-ray as a format. If Blu-rays don’t sell, the distributors won’t sell Blu-rays. And if DVD is seen as “good enough”, the distributors are more likely to play it safe. Especially in the more niche titles.
Similarly, buy UK where possible. If a show gets a UK BD announcement (even if there’s no solid date) then it is worth holding out for unless it is a severely inferior version. Opinions may vary on what really classes as “inferior”, though. But unless an import is miles a head of the competition, at least put some though towards buying the local BD.
If you can play Blu-rays but don’t buy the UK Blu-ray (of shows you actually want, naturally) then it is only contributing to the problem. Yes, there is more that the UK companies could do but we really have to meet them halfway. After all, how can they work to do better if the format doesn’t sell well for them?
And the biggest problem is that it is very much a chicken-and-egg situation. Companies won’t sell what doesn’t sell. Customers won’t buy what doesn’t work for them. But to change the situation, one side has to make the first step.
Future Back Catalogue
At the time of writing this, of two of the UK distributors, Manga UK have a larger Blu-ray selection than MVM. Up until a few months back MVM have tended to err on the side of DVD-only releases. And even then, some of their more recent announcements (Mysterious Girlfriend X and Kokoro Connect) are currently slated to be DVD-only.
In future years, however, this risks that someone looking to buy Anime on Blu-ray is probably going to be sending more money in Manga’s direction. Both companies, however, do sometimes look into re-releasing older titles. This can be important as having too high of a DVD-only section of the back-catalogue, or having key titles in it, could lead to people either buying something from a competitor or importing the overseas version.
Similar to the above points, releasing decent Blu-rays gets you a reputation of releasing decent Blu-rays. That’s a fairly obvious statement but the opposite is also true. Releasing badly mastered BDs or releasing the majority of your catalogue on DVD instead of taking a risk on Blu-ray gets you a reputation of not being trustworthy for future releases.
Although recent announcements have the chance of turning this around, MVM has been starting to get the reputation of “If they announce a title, just import it as they’ll never release the Blu-ray”. And even their recent announcements of a better production deal and several upcoming BD titles, I can easily imagine many people just continuing to buy the overseas versions to guarantee getting it. Which brings us to…
Where possible, release the format information when a title is announced. At the very least, announce the format when the release window is announced. Still umming and erring, or staying silent, about whether a BD version is coming out when the US or Australian version is already out (and compatible) is basically asking people to import instead of waiting. Sales are lost to people going for the dead-cert import instead of waiting for a maybe-it-won’t UK release.
And this then is further compounded when titles long-since importable on Blu-ray get slated for a DVD-only release in the UK. It just further convinces people that importing is the better route.
I don’t think any one of these is a Silver Bullet solution, and none of them come without an element of risk and faith, but they’re all little things that could help the format gain traction that will be much needed going forward.
DVD-only will hurt in the long-run and it is on the heads of the companies and fans to ensure that Blu-ray succeeds in future years. It will require walking a very fine line, though, as too much short-term risk could be equally bad.