Back during the years of The Bubble, it was impossible to go anywhere and not see anime. Target pushed titles like Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex next to blockbusters like Batman Begins and Spider-Man 2, and Best Buy’s selections spanned an entire aisle. Nowdays, things aren’t quite as rosy. Anime’s presence at the brick and mortar has diminished greatly, to the point that it barely exists on shelves. At the same time, the market’s influence on the purse has shrank by the same proportion.

This is a dangerous prospect, as with a shrinking market share comes a shrinking mind share. In the economy of attention, this is something that a company absolutely does not want to do. Reduced mind share means reduced attention, which creates reduced sales, and so on in a vicious cycle. Attention is key to a successful market. As Seth Godin states, “Attention is a bit like real estate, in that they’re not making any more of it. Unlike real estate, though, it keeps going up in value.”

In a world that lives in the Attention Economy, it is vital to try to maintain mind share, to keep eyeballs on a market even as the physical presence shrinks. It’s a daunting task, and many would call me crazy to even suggest as much. It certainly is a daunting task, but one can’t just sit idly by as an industry circles the drain. But I digress.

The market is fickle. Remarkable products gain mindshare, but it takes far more to keep people coming. One potential approach is to build a tribe around these products. We’ve seen attempts at this already, as FUNimation’s new site rolled out of beta. The site is built with the sole intent of creating and maintaining a tribe of customers – happy, social, and (most important) paying customers. Forums, Facebook-esque profiles, user art galleries, and minor bonuses (behold, the Power of Free!) like convention footage and computer goodies are pushed to the forefront. The carefully maintained message boards are built around pushing a generally positive image for anime, or rather for FUNimation who deals in anime.

Among these tribe-building items, FUNimation scattered a number of opportunities to sample and purchase products. Everything, from video clips to news pieces is accompanied by advertisements for FUNimation’s network, products from the company, or other opportunities to get money flowing into the company’s coffers. Everything is geared around making money. However, the site also provides an interesting service, by providing a gathering place for a growing tribe. This tribe will (ideally) grow into a larger community, thanks to sneezers in the bunch who will expand the company’s supply of Attention by pulling friends, family, and associates into the tribe, or by simply luring them a bit with the samples and by generally using the Power of Free to its fullest. As the attention supply grows, the sales will ideally do the same, and the fight against a shrinking retail presence could become that much easier.

There’s no guaranteed formula for success in this situation. However, it appears that we’re seeing parties take the right steps to expand the market and increase the general supply of Attention. I cannot say how this will turn out, but it will certainly be interesting to watch this Tribe as it continues to develop.