Think of the status quo for your typical anime distributor. Think of what they offer, and how they offer it. Right now, I’d wager that you’re probably thinking of a company like FUNimation or Sentai, which offer 13-episode sets on DVD and Blu-Ray for about $40 to $70 apiece. Episodes are available for free or cheap streaming on the companies’ respective websites, and new title announcements are typically made between April and August.
Now, I’d like you to think of the status quo in the early ’90s. VHS tapes with two to four episodes, in either English dubbed or subbed formats. These would go for about $20 to $35, depending on who relesed the show, and whether it was subbed or dubbed. If you weren’t near a store, or didn’t have access to an anime seller, you’d be SOL. New shows were gotten through fansub tape distributors, and the new titles were pretty much exclusively announced via the convention circuit, unless Animerica or Wizard.
Over the past twenty years, we went from point A to point B by various parties bucking the status quo. Be it through necessity, or through a desire to gain an edge, companies pushed the anime market in new directions, which led to better deals for the consumer. Not every push was a popular one: Central Park Media’s VCD line, and ADV’s bittorrent push was fairly ill-conceived. However, each failure created a valuable lesson, a guideline of what doesn’t work in a small and crowded market.
Due to economic factors, many of the market’s players have been playing things safe. We’ve seen some attempts to buck the trends in the past year, with FUNimation’s premium boxes and hybrid packs, as well as Aniplex’s super-premium editions. Some of these have stuck and become trends in the market (alright, it’s mostly the combo packs), while others have failed to escape their initial launches.
In the coming years, companies will have to continue to buck these trends and go against the status quo, as consumers grow more fickle, and new markets need to be opened to those seeking more value and more bang for an increasingly tight dollar. How these will arise is unknown at this point. However, we will likely see interesting, if not always radical changes come from across the market, from the biggest fish to the smallest outfits.
I can only wonder how things will look in the next ten years…