Today I present a post written by Yuyucow, who looks at the intricate world of Anime sales analysis, he has written before on this subject here, so make sure to check that out! You can also find him on Twitter.
This post starts with the wild assumption that everything about anime preorders, from what they are to why people misinterpret them, was clarified by my previous article. If that’s not the case then you’d better go back, since I’m not talking about that again. Preorders are in the past, our cartoons are now on sale. So… how do we know how they fared?
Welcome to Oricon, a wonderful site willing to track media sales and then charge insane amounts of money for the data. It’s by no means exclusively for anime, it also covers other forms of media entertainment alongside DVD and Blurays. The vast number of retailers that report back their sales makes it a quite reliable site, by far the best in that regard. While it’s true that some stores are not tracked, especially those that operate online exclusively, we know for a fact that those don’t account for many sales at all. Although as you’ll see later, Oricon isn’t flawless by any stretch.
Once they have the info it is time to distribute it. In the worst way possible. Our first problem here is that we’re talking about another business, a company that will obviously not give away their work. While its daily tops and the Tuesday 30 DVD/20 BD report for the previous week are made available for free, everything else is exclusive to their customers. Luckily, amongst them are many kind souls willing to share their expensive numbers. This means that we consistently get a list of the 100 best selling DVD of the week as well as the 50 best performing Blurays. Anything that doesn’t manage to rank in there may or may not be included in the monthly/yearly reports, which may or may not be made public. In most cases, it’s gone for good. This gave birth to what we refer as “weekly threshold”, the minimum number of sales to make it to those lists; on heavy weeks it might cut off many titles even with the Thursday update, while minor weeks can get pretty much everything on the preliminary Tuesday data. If you’ve understood this, you already know more than this site by the name of ANN, which keeps posting the incomplete reports because they don’t know any better. Now you can mock them too!
Much like Amazon Stalker’s case from my previous post, the general advice is not to take Oricon’s data at face value. If you deemed its reports more trustworthy because it’s supposed to be real sales results, welcome to the wonderful world of partial and incomplete info. You may have already guessed its main issue when I explained the way it works; the system is fundamentally flawed due to the limited number of titles that are included in their reports. The sold units it might miss for an average late night otaku show are arguably not that many (though comparatively it can be quite the chunk), but tackle a huge franchise and we may be talking about hundreds of thousands of unreported sales. And it only gets worse with time, since those series manage to keep selling over time, be it because of new people getting into anime and buying this one series everyone talks about or new iterations convincing fans to purchase previous material they didn’t already own. Haruhi is a great example in that regard because it’s been around for several years already and we know about the great disparity between Oricon’s claims and real sales: about 500k according to the former, well over one million going by Kadokawa’s official sources. Quite the gap.
A similar case would be anime aimed at unusual demographics. While it more or less works for otaku shows thanks to their very frontloaded sales, Oricon absolutely fails to keep track of anything else. Take something like Nodame Cantabile into account: a rather well known josei manga that got both animated and real life adaptations. It’s quite likely that some normal person who enjoyed reading the manga on the train or caught the drama on TV by sheer coincidence would be interested in the anime. And as it turns out, that’s exactly what happened; one of its producers advised not to take Oricon literally because Nodame actually sold 3 times what was reported.
At this point you might be wondering if it has any use whatsoever, considering it chokes with both mainstream and long-lived franchises and isn’t even fully accurate for everything else. There’s got to be a catch, a reason for making companies spend a lot of money for their full data. It’s quite simple: Oricon is consistently flawed, meaning that it serves as a proper comparison for similar projects. Be it a cheap series or some massive Aniplex production, it’s as a great tool when analyzing the relative success of a show when compared to its kind. This, however, raises the issue of determining how much money was put into it, which I’ll leave aside for the moment. Just as a final remark to illustrate its importance exclusively as a comparison device: quite recently Oricon decided to hunt down the dedicated livedoor sales boards because they weren’t exactly happy about their precious reports being shared for free on the internet. This made some people panic because losing the Thursday data would render any comparison between series before and after the incident meaningless. Luckily it’s still being leaked and it’s doubtful that it will ever change, however, that shows how people who maintain this stuff are aware that its only meaning is having a database under the same set of conditions.
I’ve done my best to avoid the tricky parts, but at this point there are some vital questions that need to be addressed. Unless your driving force is seeking an infinite amount of useless trivia, I have to assume that those who have put up with my ramblings are at least a bit interested on why is it important for anime to sell; the answer is simple, the implications not so much. We all know this is a business. That’s the cause of many of the issues the medium suffers as well as the reason it manages to stay alive, so you’ve got to learn to live with it. The reasoning after this is easy to understand: anime needs to sell, Oricon is a good tool to know if it did. If only that was all. As I mentioned earlier, our data is only useful when comparing similar productions. And how do we know how much money has been put into an anime? Well, we /don’t/. Estimates based on the studio, staff and apparent production values of the show is all we can do, since no serious committee will mention how much money it has invested in a certain project. In extreme cases, whether we’re talking about an exceptionally big work or a blatantly cheap anime, that can be enough to deem the success of a show, more so if its sales are similarly polarized. Even ignoring broadcasting costs and money spent on advertising, this is in most cases too intricate to get a definite answer.
In addition to that, you have to consider that Bluray sales are sometimes rather irrelevant. While that sounds contradictory with what I just said, it’s just a reminder that direct sales are hardly the only source of revenue – and in some cases, not even the main one. Gamers have already gotten used to Free to Play models and DLC, but in this case the scheme is arguably more complicated since we’re talking about cross promotion between different media and alternative ways of making money. I can bring up many names that would help clarify this, Chihayafuru being the first that comes up to mind at the moment due to its upcoming second season. But I reckon that something broader would be even better: visual novels. Contrary to popular belief, their adaptations have a clear tendency of selling like absolute crap. The only 4 companies that have managed to get actual hits in this medium (TypeMoon, KEY, Nitro+/5pb and Leaf) already had a massive following and simply managed to appeal to their loyal fans. So why did we get so many of them? Ports, rereleases and its associated wave of merchandise, that’s why. I won’t go as far as to say that they don’t care about the disc sales, but the concept of “advertisement anime” really does apply here. Some of those adaptations are conceived as the weekly reminder that this neat game is being sold on your new console, maybe even back-ported to Windows with a bunch of useless new material. So go buy it! In fact, buy the anime as well!
I started this by advising to take Oricon with a grain of salt, but for more in-depth performance analysis it simply comes down to a case-by-case issue. While I’d love to be able to give you some guidelines, I’d have to add so many exceptions that it would be meaningless. Sure, I can affirm that TV series averaging over 10k units are a hit and that anything below a 1k average is a flop, but you could have guessed that already. A few years ago the concept of the “Manabi Line” was born due to one of its producers commenting that it barely managed to break even, but that’s hardly more than an arbitrary number at this point – I wouldn’t even say that it’s outdated because that would imply it ever was meaningful. Sadly there’s no way to make this more palatable so if you want to get a feel of how this works it’s time for you to do some boring research (starting here is a good idea!).
I never intended this series of posts to get more people interested in the industry side of things (if anything, I want to scare you guys away), it’s more of a summary of the limitations of the tools we use so that people stop misusing them. With the main two out of the way I’m not sure I’ll touch this topic again in the near future. I’d say that it depends on the feedback I get, but that’s just an euphemism for “if I see people massively misinterpreting similar data I might bother writing more”.