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SKU Overload - or- Reissuing In A Downward Spiral

Have you noticed on the shelves of your local Best Buy or Fry’s
multiple versions of the same anime? I have, and I’ve noticed the same
duplication on online listings too, and well, it’s beginning to strike
me as excessive for a lot of reasons. Now, reissues have their place
when something has sold out and has become hard to find, but when you
see the old version right next to the new version, well, why there is
already a new version? Ever since the distance between singles and
boxsetting seemed to drop to under a year, it’s seemed like a
questionable tactic as it’s punitive towards your early adopters and
towards the retailers (who now have to ship the old, more expensive
version back to the distributor,) but a lot of companies are still
doing the exact same thing today, only with different boxset editions.

The differences aren’t that notable either. Sure, the MSRP
(manufacturer’s suggested retail price,) is almost always lower on the
newer set, but that’s often offset by the fact the original editions
often start to see significant mark downs, especially for online
buyers. For example, it’s cheaper to buy the original Gunslinger Girl
TV series in it’s reissued singles from rightstuf.com than it is to buy the
first reissue of the series as a boxset, let alone the second reissue.
It’s further confused by the fact that atleast for FUNimation, the
older editions for a lot of their back-catalog are on more discs than
their later reprints. One of many examples of this is Welcome to the
NHK – the original half season sets were 3 discs each, now for the
complete boxset, the whole series is jammed on to 4. Now, that shift
doesn’t mean extras or audio/video quality were necessarily
jeopardized (though, it’s no Criterion or Super-Bit release,) but it does mean that you could end up paying more money
for less discs than by getting the old release to be on clearance.
Still, you might be wondering – why is this an issue? After all, it
seems like everyone makes money on it, and poor fans are almost
guaranteed a reissue at a price they can’t pass up, or at least a great
deal on the old singles.

Well, one problem is the reasoning behind why there is this constant
reissuing.
You see, various companies have stated at cons they reissue regularly
to keep a variety of titles on shelves, and for this I can’t blame them
entirely. Titles can’t perennially sell if they aren’t accessible to
buy, and considering floor space for anime at major retailers has
become an uphill battle, finding a way to get retailers to keep a title
that’s been out for half-a-decade on their shelves that isn’t Cowboy
Bebop or Evangelion is sort of essential. Otherwise, the show could
disappear entirely off shelves (though as I’ve said earlier, the
regularity at which I find to two editions of the same series next to
each other suggests this isn’t always a problem.) Plus, even though a
lot of the anime fandom is very web savvy and thus could buy from sites
with tons of variety like amazon or rightstuf, a lot of anime fans are
teenagers who don’t have credit cards, so stuff needs to be in real
world stores if you want to get a significant section of anime fans.
So, we get reissues, but there is a catch.

Constantly reissuing is undoubtedly inefficient and inefficiency is usually
a source of lost profits, or more frankly, everybody probably isn’t
making money on it, or at least as much as they should. After all, rather than just simply shipping the
titles and then having them sell out, instead new editions get shipped
out while the old editions clutter the same shelf, the old editions
don’t sell, so they often get shipped back to the manufacturer, and
then those old editions get shipped back out to 3rd parties to be sold
at clearance prices. I have to think by this point, all this shipping
is not just creating quite the carbon footprint, but that it’s soaking
up some money too. Perhaps even enough money that it might instead be
used as a kick back/incentive for real world retailers to keep the
title on the shelf at a new, lower price. Money would also be saved
because the graphic design department wouldn’t be constantly cooking up
new, different boxart for a series every year or so, and the brand
manager for said series (and probably for many other series,) would be
able to focus on newer titles rather than constantly dividing their
attention between new stuff and old stuff.

Now, the truth is, I’d guess every localization house has considered
that option (it’s very common in other segments of retail,) and well,
it must not make them as much money as releasing 5 versions of the same
show in 5 years, or at least it does for now. Like I said earlier,
constant reissuing sends a message to your hardcore audience – you
know, the early-adopter audience that used to demand and pay for crazy
limited editions, in part because they didn’t think you’d turn around
and box the whole show less than a year later for less than the cost of
one of those crazy limited editions – and that message is one word:
WAIT. Unless you absolutely adore the show, and you’re absolutely
compelled to buy it, just wait. Don’t buy singles ever, don’t buy half
season sets, don’t even buy the first pass at a complete boxset. Just
wait for the super discount edition boxset – it’ll be out in 3 years or
less, and unless it’s something you gotta have it now, that’s not really a
wait when you often have legal access to the entire show for free via
various streaming sites, and especially when you may still be working
through a backlog of other older anime titles as many long term fans are. I mean, unless you’re
truly enamored of the show, you could often buy 2-3 clearance legacy
titles you’re curious about for the price of one recent series you’re curious about. This
becomes a vicious cycle: as more fans wait for cheap/clearance
versions, the more the industry feels compelled to put a reissue out at
lower price point to bolster sales and keep the title on shelves, which in turn makes another group
of fans feel like they should have waited, so on future releases
they’ll wait too, making the industry feel compelled to reissue… and
well you get the picture. It’s also clearly already underway to some
extent; the failure of many limited edition versions and the gradual
phasing out of single DVD is proof that already, people have been at least
partially conditioned to wait for lower price points. Now, there is a
simple thing the industry can do subvert this, and it’s the same one
word message:

Wait.

Space stuff out. If on a given format (like DVD or Blu-Ray) you want to
reissue something 3-5 times so you can have 3-5 different price points,
that’s not too bad if it’s spaced over 7-10 years, and more
importantly, you’d create a sense of urgency. If people know their next
pass at a show is two years away, not less than a year a way, a lot of
folks won’t wait. Sure, you’ll have some people who will just turn
around and pirate it or in a best case scenario watch it legally off
hulu or youtube, but those people are going to wait you out for low
prices anyway. Sure, artificial scarcity not necessarily an upright
tactic either: after all, nobody likes the Disney vault but Disney, and
a lack of constant reissues means in some Best Buys and such, the niche
titles and the outright c-grade titles will disappear sooner than some
fans will be able to get them, but they might buy it online instead, or
they may turn around and demand that said retailer get it back in
stock. You might able to work with the fandom against the retailers’
policy rather than against the fandom (and your company) by subverting
the retailers’ policy.

Maybe this isn’t a major problem on the whole, and it’s
certainly not the biggest problem the industry faces in the coming
years, but it doesn’t strike me as helping anything either. Incentives
for retailers at the cost of your early adopters will completely subvert your
sales in the long term because nothing but the very best of series will
get first issue traction (anything less becomes a wait and see,) and
the price point for everything may have to start so low that the
licensing company can’t turn a profit on anything but a very wide
audience title, leaving the niche series that gave anime so much
variety (and thus draw variety of audiences to the medium) unlocalized.
A lot of anime fans already look for any excuse to not buy a given
title, so the industry itself doesn’t need to breed that problem with
clockwork buyer’s remorse, and they don’t need the sales loss from said
remorse to then undermine their ability to buy the variety of anime
necessary to keep anime fans interested in the medium for the long
term. To do otherwise could jeopardize the localization industry’s long term success.

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