Samurai Flamenco: UK Release and Related Issues

The Story So Far

So, about a month ago, Anime Limited’s CEO Andrew Partridge mentioned on an anime forum that the second part of Samurai Flamenco was slightly delayed owing to poor sales of part one. They still intend to complete the series but, to date, it still hadn’t recouped all of the costs of part one and they’d have the same costs for part two.

A major problem, as usual in the UK, is the BBFC certification fees. Home video must be rated to be legally released. This is mandatory and, unfortunately, this is done at a per-minute rate payable by the publisher or distributor. Apparently fees for part two would be around £2,100 and part one still hasn’t fully recouped its BBFC costs.

Unfortunately, I think the title has a few things going against it. Some of which are out of Anime Limited’s hands.

The BBFC charges being one of them.

Not on Crunchyroll in the UK

I think this got things off to a bad start. When Anime limited first started picking up brand new shows, they worked through partnership with Wakanim. A service which has since left the UK, although is still going strong in its home country of France. Although the show was available on Crunchyroll in America and elsewhere, it (along with Kill la Kill) were Wakanim exclusives here in the UK.

Both shows have since ended up on UK Netflix but not getting onto the most well-known legal anime streaming service can’t have helped.

Subtitle-only Release

Where Kill la Kill became pretty massive, Samurai Flamenco didn’t fare quite as well. Kill la kill got an English language dub. Samurai Flamenco did not. I think this worked against the latter’s interests. Unfortunately, the existence of a dub pretty much always relies on one being produced by an American company.

Personally, find most dubs unenjoyable. But that’s my personal preference. In wider sales figures, the lack of a dub will attract less general interest in the product. It’s as simple as that. But the difference in sales probably wouldn’t be enough for a UK-based company to fund a show’s dub themselves.

No Standard Edition (Yet?)

Anime Limited’s usual method of release is to have some sort of collector-oriented release first with a standard release to follow. As a general rule, especially if mandated by the Japanese license holder, the standard edition won’t be released until the collector version’s print run has been sold.

Granted, this means that the initial release always has a somewhat high price tag. The SRP is £49 with many retailers currently selling it for around £35. This is just for the first 11 episodes, though, a bit of a hard sell for some. Especially when, by this point, there’s only part One with no Part Two in sight. This is a bit of a high barrier to entry for anyone who doesn’t already have it, with no guarantee of being able to complete the series any time soon. And no use to anyone who liked to marathon a series and would ideally wait until both parts are out to buy it.

Put it all Together

As of now, Samurai Flamenco is a sub-only, collector-only release that you’d be expecting a lot of people to buy into Sight Unseen. That’s asking a lot. Future purchases will be slow. And even if part one does recoup its costs, will enough people still care about part 2 if and when it eventually comes out?

That’s a tricky one.

What to do

Crunchyroll

Anime Limited are beginning to work a bit closer with Crunchyroll at the moment. Some of their current and recent simulcasts have been on the service. Also, they did announce in May that more of their shows will be turning up on the service. Many of us are hoping tat this will include things from their back catalogue that Crunchyroll didn’t get UK licenses for the first time around.

Getting Samurai Flamenco to UK Crunchyroll viewers will help, at least a little. It will lower the barrier of entry quite a bit and I can only assume it would bring in at least some amount of additional revenue.

Plus, Crunchyroll already streams the show and with English subtitles in other regions, so they already have the assets. It ought to just be a case of authorising them to enable UK access.

Standard Edition

Bringing out a standard edition of part one would have the advantage of lowering the initial buy-in price. People just won’t bite otherwise. There would still be a level of financial risk involved in this method but some of the heavy costs are already covered by the initial run. BBFC costs, authoring costs, these are already paid. A second print run would be somewhat cheaper than the initial one. Plus the packaging would be bog-standard.

I do get the feeling that anyone seriously interested in the collector edition will have already bought it. Any potential future sales are likely to be to people waiting for a standard edition release. Those of us who don’t need artbox or additional packaging but who do like a lower pricetag for 11 episodes.

Part Two

Eventually they will need to take a chance on it oner rather than alter. Even if part 1 recoups, leaving it too long risks leaving the show unfinished as there just won’t be enough momentum left for many people to want to finish the series even if it does get completed.

Complete Series Set

This one could be a tough sell to the Japanese licensor, I know, but an all-in-one-go buy-in will work better for some people. One option would possibly be having this as the standard edition release. Release the part two collector edition but follow it up before too long with a standard edition complete series.

At the very least, this would have a slight advantage of only needing one set of packaging for the standard edition. And with the authoring and BBFC certification already being done, it should help keep the set’s overall production costs down.

The other thing is that I very much suspect that if and when any standard edition comes out, people will be wanting to just buy and watch the whole lot in a short a period as possible. Riding on the PR from a part two release should also help keep it in the fandom’s eye for a while, too.

Sword Art Online: More on Collector Editions

Not so long after my previous post, we’ve hit Announcement Season again. Frustratingly, the first anime-releated announcement out of the gate is another example of the same collector bias I posted about last time.

Sword Art Online II has been picked up by Anime Limited who will be starting off by releasing a DVD Standard Edition and a Blu-ray (technically a BD+DVD combo) Collector Edition.

And no standard BD any time soon.

Once again, as a fair few releases appear to be doing of late, the deck is being stacked against those who prefer physical Blu-rays but neither need nor even want anything more than a standard barebones edition.

To be fair to Anime limited, it is an Aniplex series. They probably had a hand in making sure that the only BDs available anywhere had a minimum price and/or a maximum quality. Western non-collector fans seem to matter very little to them. Which, as a general rule, is why I tend to avoid getting too invested in Aniplex shows these days. But SAO is a series I’m already in, so I’m kinda stuck.

Predictably, though, there is already a lot of complaint about the high-seeming prices. Even though retail prices tend to knock a chunk from the SRP (Suggested Retail price), it still means that the full 24 episodes is lining up to be around £100 or more, retail. And that really is more than 24 episodes are worth.
As I’ve said before, nothing wrong with collector versions existing. But standard editions for people who get zero value out of the physical extras really ought to be catered for at the same time. Booklets and artboxes just aren’t worth the price overhead for some of us.

UK Anime and Release Delays

I was listening to the latest MangaUK Official podcast and I wanted to comment on Anime Limited‘s Andrew Partridge’s points on how the “release lag” is seen these days. He was meCALENDARntioning some of the (negative) feedback he’s been receiving over the Kill la Kill release strategy, explaining that we’re actually getting it significantly earlier than we usually get Anime TV shows.

In the case of Kill la Kill I’m not sure that it’s just the lack of initial half or full-season boxsets that some people struggle with, more that there’s no non-collector edition straight away. And, for me personally, my main issue with the breakup of the series is that it’s a three-part release of a show that really feels like it has two distinct halves.
On the one hand, it’s nice that they didn’t have to do the four-part split that Sword Art Online got. On the other hand, even though each SAO story arc got split in two, one arc finishes at the end of set 2 and the second arc picks up neatly at set 3. In Kill la Kill, episodes 1-12 and episodes 13-25 just seem like too natural and logical a split not to go with.

On the timing between broadcast/simulcast and UK home release, I think this is where industry realities and entertainment fandom realities can unfortunately diverge quite widely. The usual 17 month delay, although common, is just too long. As was mentioned in the podcast, the hype dies down. Home release announcements are for things people finished watching a year or more previously. And this is indicative of two different issues that stack up to a big problem.

Firstly, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this, “To watch is to want”. If I enjoy something and find it has rewatch value, I am ready to buy it there and then. Western, Asian, animated, live action, anything. And this is all the more pronounced when it is something that benefits from multiple watches. I was ready to buy Inception the moment I left the cinema, and the several-months wait was difficult. And that was only about half a year.
Granted, shows being on Crunchyroll, Netflix, etc on demand is a good thing. But after streaming it the first (second, third…) time, I’m ready for something that doesn’t buffer, stutter, change bandwidth suddenly or glitch all to hell when I try to seek. (Streaming REALLY struggles with trying to rewatch or skip sections)

The other problem I think happens is that here in the UK people are already mightily sick of the lag it takes things reaching our shores. Yes, movies and TV shows tend to lag a lot less than they used to but people are basically fed up of non- simultaneous releases. And it’s not just Anime where people will import to get something earlier. (My GF is a huuuuge Supernatural fan. She buys the US BDs because WB don’t region lock them)
So having the US -> Aus -> UK lag doesn’t sit well with anyone who hates the lag in other things. We can’t switch off a pet peeve just because of something being a different medium or form a different market. People who strongly dislike a three-to-six month wait for a western TV show or movie to get a home release aren’t going to suddenly be OK with it just because it’s anime.

Put those two thing together and you get teh Kill la Kill situation. Where people were ready to buy it in April, have to wait all the way to november (initially December) and then have to buy a split release that only has a Collector Version so far. So people who just want the discs and are ready to re-marathon the series are completely out of luck. At best, they’ll have to collect over multiple months. And that’s just if they have the cash (and space) for the collector’s edition. Otherwise, it’s another year. And even then, it may still be split into multiple parts.

I don’t even know if there’s an easy answer for this. Non-Japanese releases don’t even get considered, as far as I know, until after a run is completely out in Japan. Then there’s the licensing negotiations, the dubbing, the OK-ing of materials. Even if there was no delay between the US and UK editions, these are still necessary steps before a home release can happen. They also aren’t things i can see the Japanese companies being in a hurry to change, either. From a fandom perspective, though, it is only going to get worse. Simulcasting means an increased amount of legal viewers catching shows as they first air in Japan. And the UK expectation of a same-year home release isn’t likely to go away any time soon, either.

UK Anime Fandom: A Review

OK, well maybe not exactly a review but I do have a few things to say based on observations over the past year or so.

There are some attitudes within the UK fandom that seriously piss me off. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, which is exactly why I rant about stuff on here, but some people just seem incapable of looking outside of their particular pet peeve and just want things to work the way they want them to work. Yet they’ll state their ways as being sure-fire things with no risk to balance out the rewards. Which always seems a little short-sighted to me.

The UK fandom has preferences just as varied as our American and Australian counterparts; we’re just a damned sight smaller. And, yes, that sometimes means that what we really want (in my case, everything on Blu-ray) just isn’t viable.
Yes, I loudly lament that fact and, yes, I try to think of ways to try and fix this. But trying to state that things are as simple as making a different business decision and it being a guaranteed instant success? I, for one, am not that stupid. (Nearly, but not quite…)

One of the recent fandom explosions is based around a blog post that Jerome Mazandarani put out and linked from the official twitter feed. It also builds on things he’d said before, regarding some of the contractual obligations that the Japanese licensors have them work under.
And, suddenly, people are up in arms saying that Jerome’s just blaming the license holders for difficulties based around Manga’s preferred business model.

It’s not that I completely agree with all of Manga’s decisions, but here’s where I have a few issues with the current mob opinion.

Obligations

Firstly, a lot of what Jerome says with regards to what they’re allowed to do and when make a lot of sense. They tally with the way Manga and the other companies have had to release things in recent years. They also tally with things that the other distributors (in and out of the UK) have been saying for a while.

Granted, you have to do a lot of reading between the lines to get the same story out of other companies. But it all carries the same basic shape. It just seems that Jerome is the only person with the balls to say it in public.

I will say that as much as I respect honesty, information and even bluntness compared to corporate secrecy, I do accept that this doesn’t always go over well with standard business practices.
Then again, what I think about standard business practices is fairly blunt anyway.

Also, in my case, I loathe secrecy and favour as much information as I can get hold of. So when two companies have similar problems and one of them is brutally honest about the business realities, I actually respect that. Hell, I can actually tolerate and accept annoying decisions if I understand why they were made – even if I don’t actually agree with the reasons.

Delays

The release order, as a general rule, will go Japan, America, Australia, UK. The order can vary a bit, except that Japan will naturally always be first, but this is the order things tend to be. And each release has a tendency to have a few months between them. You then add in the fairly common scenario where any English-language release doesn’t even start until the Japanese home release is finished. And as they tend to release things in multiple smaller chunks, this tends to add a significant perceived delay.

One of the obligations often referred to is the required window before they’re allowed to release in the UK. Manga (and other distributors) obviously want to ride the hype, ride interest from people having seen legal simulcasts and get their product out on shelves before people get bored and just grab a torrent.

This is where the fandom opinion begins to really get on my nerves, and where the commentators start to weaken their own otherwise sound arguments.

The “sell bare minimum releases for cheap” argument has merit. I agree with other fans that quite a lot of us would be fine paying a bit more for a more polished product. Saying that maybe publicly criticising the people you license from isn’t a great idea is also a valid point. As I said before, I personally find it refreshing. But people who don’t like this approach have valid reasons for doing so.
And then there’s always someone who says “And if they’d just get their releases out faster” at which point I realise that these people just have an axe to grind against Jerome and aren’t going to let little things like facts get in their way.

Fine, you don’t have to like someone complaining at restraints. Fine, you can blame some of the issues on a company’s own business model. But if they say that their hands are tied when it comes to how early they can release shows and you respond with “Stop complaining and release shows earlier” then you just come across as wilfully ignorant.

Mouthing off at your business partners is one thing. But purposefully breaking street-date would be a sure way of ensuring that there would be no future product to put out on the shelves.

Varied

The other main issue is that the fan base is very varied. You cannot please everybody; you can just cater to your chosen audience with your chosen business model. And inevitably, every fan will have some shows that they think were picked up by the wrong company simply because their type of show was picked up by someone that is not their type of distributor.

Here’s where tensions are running high, though. Manga tend to take the mass-market approach. Well, in as much as Anime can be classed as mass-market. They release affordable sets and tend to work down to a price point.  This is great for the more casual fan, or for people like me who have a lot of interests but somewhat limited funds. They don’t have many collector editions in fancy boxes or tins. Personally, I prefer this approach as I just like to be able to get the damned discs out of the damned case. But for some people, a release in a standard case is a total dealbreaker. Heck, for some people, choice of artwork of the exact placement of logos on the box can lead them to favour an imported release over a UK one, even if the actual disc is functionally identical.

Yes, the main variation we have in our fandom is that it’s not a simple case of “Collectors” versus “Casuals”. It is more that although all Collectors are Dedicated Fans, not all Dedicated Fans are Collectors.

You then get MVM, who tend towards slightly more niche releases at the expense of being less likely to release a Blu-ray. And you also get Anime Limited, who are primarily collector-oriented. And with the latter about to release their first non-classic series, it’s going to be interesting to see how their “Collector Box First, Cheaper Set After” works for recent shows.

I have a fair few Anime Limited releases, with some more to come courtesy of Kickstarters. They are very nice but damned if I’d want “fiddly box” editions for my entire collection. But there are some fans who’d love “high quality art box” editions for everything they bought.
(And I am purposefully using two very different descriptions here to refer to exactly the same type of box. Different people can, and do, see the same thing in very different ways.)

Similarly, I have a fair few MVM releases. And they do seem to maybe put a little more visible effort into their marketing push, likely because of their smaller catalogue. But they are also more likely to go DVD-only for some titles.

Manga may not be perfect but, for me personally, their tactic of getting a lot out (much of it being on Blu-ray) at a cheap-ish price in a simple box suits me down to the ground, simply because I don’t have the funds to buy as much as I do if it’s all collector boxes. But if I enjoy a show, or a genre, I want to have a physical copy of it. So I can watch when the internet’s down, in nice sharp quality with subtitles that aren’t crap.

Small Market

In an ideal world, every company would be able to release every series in their catalogue in both DVD and Blu-ray formats, as well as being able to offer standard and collector editions of the higher profile shows. Sadly, the UK market simply can’t handle that. So sometimes it is a case of releasing a slimmed-down version to get it out at all. Yes, they could just go for the collector-only release but would that really be any better?
Personally, I say no. I would (grudgingly) pay over the odds for the shows I really wanted but I’d be buying a whole lot less shows on impulse. Which would be a shame as they are some real gems (not available on streaming services) that I only picked up because the series set was fairly cheap.

Bringing it back to Jerome’s rants, it is clear that the UK distributors are basically stuck between the fans and the rights-holders. And of course he’s going to get annoyed when he feels like he’s being forced to agree to terms that means he can’t offer what he knows a significant chunk of his customer base really wants. All companies are often left fielding the same questions from irritated anime fans. And Manga, professional or not, are the only company who openly agree with things being “a major ball ache”.

And, in this day and age, delaying a physical release too far after initial broadcast is just a really dumb idea that has to die.

UK Market

The unfortunate, and simple, fact is that we aren’t the US market; we’re a lot smaller. The more casual side of anime fandom makes up a significant chunk of potential sales. And when you pay the licensors a minimum guarantee and have to fund a set minimum print run (and have to deal with the BBFC’s non-optional per-minute classification checks) you really can’t afford to alienate the more casual buyers.

The US, Canada and even Australia has the advantage of having a larger overall market so that the more dedicated fans are a significant number in themselves. Also the overall market size means they can work better on volume. Oh, and Anime seems to be a whole lot more successful on TV in those countries. Somehow, the execs and the audience over here just don’t take to it as well. Which also means that they can’t satisfy and/or stir interest from the casual audience anywhere near as much over here.

With a larger market size, maybe they would be able to manage standard-plus-limited edition dual-releases more often. That way they’d be able to satisfy all sides of the market a lot easier. The way things are, though, it’s often a bare-bones release or a super-shiny one. And although you’re not likely to get the casual audience to pick up a pricey collector edition, there is still a significant shank of the dedicated fandom who would avoid a collector release owing to price.

Going Forward

Do things need to change? Definitely! Eventually the more casual fans, and some of the space-limited dedicated fans, are going to go near-exclusively to digital anime. Maybe via streams, maybe via paid downloads. But eventually physical releases will be collector-only, and the distributors will have to adjust accordingly.

However, that time is not here yet. And if every company operated on the collector-only high-price route too soon, it would potentially kill the anime industry here in the UK. People just seem wilfully oblivious to that fact, though. It’s not the answer they want, so they’ll just pretend that it’s “wrong”. And I get enough of that crap working in IT Support.

And the other thing is that attitudes have to change on all sides. Manga’s strategy probably does have a limited lifespan and they will have to change eventually. But Jerome is right, too. Something has to give from the Japanese licensors’ side as well. And the customers also have to do a bit of meeting halfway. Sometimes you just have to deal with a higher price. Or a lack of art box. (Or a lack of simple Amaray Case). Sometimes you have to buy what’s out now in a hope that future releases will be closer to what you want. We currently have a UK anime industry. It would be bad if it fell apart. And although it could do a lot to improve, improvement requires customers and profits.

We have our own part to play.

Anime and Blu-ray in the UK (part 2)

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.

Future Reputation

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…

Announce Early

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.

In Conclusion

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.

Anime and Blu-ray in the UK (part 1)

blu-ray-logo-2I’m a strong believer in recent Anime shows and movies being released on Blu-ray. Hell, I’m actually a believer in any recent material created in HD to get a decent Blu-ray release. I suspect that the PR people in the UK Anime distribution companies probably see my avatar in a thread and go, “Oh Gods, another one of those!” Those of us who are really interested in more UK Blu-ray releases can be a little bit… persistent about the matter.

Especially in my case as, after a period of not watching a great deal of Anime, it wasn’t the DVD backlog on my shelves that brought me back into the fandom. It was renting some shows on Blu-ray, and seeing the extra quality, that truly hooked me back in.

 
Niche^3
The problem regarding Blu-rays for Anime in the UK is the customer base being a niche within a niche within a niche. Or, more accurately, a niche (Blu-ray owners) within a niche (Anime fandom) within a relatively tiny market.

Compared to the US or even Australia, we are a much smaller customer base simply down to being a much smaller population. So when you then factor in Anime fandom and Blu-ray preference, it is a ridiculously tiny share. The problem, however, comes in when you realise that we probably make up about the same proportion of home entertainment customers. So, understandably, we get annoyed when we see how we are treated in comparison to the overseas customers. The problem, though, is business realities.

Costs
There are still the Blu-ray licensing fees, the authoring fees, the initial production run, the packaging costs, any required marketing, etc. These minimum costs exist regardless of location. Added to this, in the UK we have our own particular burden to bear. It is illegal to sell home video material that has not been passed by the BBFC. They charge per-minute to check the video content and the rating label has to not only be present in the packaging but on the disc itself. (No buying pre-pressed discs from Australia, America or even Japan, then.)

For a large population like America or (to a lesser extent) Australia, this isn’t too much of an issue. Population size means that the niche audience is still large enough to take the risk, as they can recoup the costs. Here, not so much. Apparently they need to sell at least 1000 copies on Blu-ray to make it worthwhile. It used to be closer to 3000.

In a recent podcast, Manga Entertainment stated that production costs are falling and it can be cheaper to produce the BDs than the DVDs. This requires an overseas partner to share in the production, though. Which requires an overseas partner to be willing to work around any potential delays and even changes that the BBFC rating process imposes. And, as noted above, they can’t necessarily share in the actual production run unless the BBFC rating process is complete. So the best they can do is to share in creation of the master and then do their own run.

Current State of Play
As things stand, even when an English-language Blu-ray exists (even a Region B one, courtesy of Australia), a Blu-ray release is far from certain. Mainly down to the reasons stated above.  Add to this the fact that even of the people who aren’t opposed to Blu-ray, many are still fine with picking up a DVD if that’s the only option. Or, in some cases, will pick the DVD as it saves a few quid over the Blu-ray. The drawback to this is that it means that some BD-capable customers are helping the DVD format flourish to the detriment of the Blu-ray sales figures. There are other reasons, too, that are a lot harder to argue against. Like people with only one Blu-ray player. Or people whose friends or family only have DVD players. Meaning that if they need a copy that can “play anywhere”, they are limited to the DVD release – unless there’s a double-play release.
One of the problems with this, though, is that the segment of the audience that prefers Blu-rays can be… quite vocal. And I can only see it getting more so, even if it doesn’t grow in size that fast.

Simply put, I can’t see a huge uptake in Blu-ray owners in the near future. There will be slow uptake as people replace older gear or buy the latest games consoles, but it’s not going to be a sudden explosion by any means. Also, as noted above, some people will still buy DVDs for various reasons. Again, these reasons will slowly shift, but it is not going to be an overnight process.
People will have multiple players. Their friends/family will have BD players. They’ll get more to the HD quality and more and more find themselves preferring that over DVD quality.

There are two different tipping-points, though. The first is the sheer number of people buying Blu-rays. The second is the section of the UK Anime Fandom who go exclusively Blu-ray only. And this is where things potentially get… interesting. As there’s no guarantee that the first one will happen before the second.

In future posts, I hope to comment a bit on what the current UK distributors are doing and also to speculate on how some some of crowd funding ideas may or may not help in regards to Blu-ray releases.