Nami ThinkingIn last week’s discussion, we reviewed just what comprises a “crappy” customer. We looked at how this customer functions both as a monetary agent and as a form of leverage on the greater market. And, while we briefly discussed how crappy customer differ from the devoted, I’d like to look at this group in a bit more detail. Specifically, I’d like to outline the view of the market for the crappy customers, in addition to looking at several forces that can, and do pull his attention from the anime market.

A “crappy customer”, as I’ve mentioned before, goes by numerous names in the industry. They’re “transient customers”, “casual buyers”, “outer markets”, and “infrequent shoppers.” They’re people who are seen as the most difficult to attract in any niche, due to their habits, and their loose affinity to the market. Unlike the so-called “best customers”, they’re often engaged in several markets of varying importance, with numerous potential sellers vying for their time and, more important, their money.

In an entertainment-centric business like anime, demand is typically elastic. By this, I mean that external factors have great influence on overall consumption habits. How much a person buys, what he buys, and how often he buy are dictated by things such as price, quantity received for said price, and current income of the individual. Traces of this can actually be observed in the everyday marketplace just by hovering about certain forums when releases are announced. In particular, you’ll see people balk when Aniplex reveals their latest premium-priced boxed set, or when Media Blasters announced one of their properties will again be released in “singles” (single DVDs, often 4-6 episodes per release). These reactions will often translate into results at the cash register – titles that fit into these categories will often sell less than the current industry standard release. Were we to chart out the sales of every release in the past four years (assuming we could get said data), we’d be able to sketch a clear bell curve that places these outlier releases as the “tail ends” of the curve.

Interesting enough, though, movies on the whole are seen as “unitary elastic” – overall expenditures remain fairly constant, cash-wise, as prices change. By this logic, the core market will continue to purchase in price increases, even as the “crappy customers” go elsewhere, leading to roughly even pricing overall… to a point. Anime, being a more specialized product, sees wider fluctuations due to its nature.

For the same of explanation, a product inelastic demand is one where external factors have little influence on a person’s buying habits. products like salt, matches, toothpicks, and even coffee would see little change in market consumption habits if their prices were to rise by $1 a unit tomorrow.

One may ask: “Why court this group if they’re not going to stick around?” And, honestly, he’d have a valid point. Why should a business cater to these people, these… “outsiders” that will buy one or two titles, only to move on to the next shiny object that rears its head? In this questioning, we’d be careless to dismiss the numbers game wholesale. Point blank, there are roughly 311 million residents in the US. Commonly discussed figures for anime sales tend to focus on tens of thousands of units at a high level. That is, if we do the math, figures that make up for just over .0032% of the US population. 3.2 thousandths of a percent of the population, per 10,000 units. Appealing to even enough to bring sales to 150% of their current levels – so, to bring a 10,000 unit release to 15,000 for example – would make a tangible impact on the bottom line.

Beyond that, though, is reach. Crappy customers, by their nature, tend to be sneezers. The term “sneezers” was first defined by marketer Seth Godin in Unleashing The Ideavirus as follows:

SNEEZERS: Some people are more likely to tell their friends about a great new idea. These people are at the heart of the ideavirus. Identifying and courting sneezers is a key success factor for ideamerchants.
Godin, Seth. Unleashing The IdeaVirus. 2000, Do You Zoom Inc., p.38

So, these so-called “crappy customers” are, in many respects, a business’s most potent form of advertising. Because they spread ideas and interests to their friends like one would a virus, they’re more likely to attract new blood into an industry. And, as they attract new crappy customers, new expectations begin to build from an industry. From these expectations, one would expect the businesses being patronized to react. Since future actions could mean the difference between continued growth and killing a good thing dead in its tracks, many businesses will do their best to satisfy this growing constituent without alienating the core customers that will continue to patronize and support the business in leaner times. There is often nagging, threatening, and gnashing of teeth that comes with this – boycott calls aren’t uncommon, for one – but they tend to be fairly toothless in the greater picture.

As we observe the current market, it’s fairly easy to see titles that have attracted these “crappy” customers – they dominate the sales charts on Amazon, Wal-Mart, and other retailers. They’re the ones that can actually be found on the local Target’s shelves. They’re the titles that the greater market demands – they may not be the best titles around, but they do have the greatest appeal to the widest market. They’ve been able to overcome other competition from the entertainment industry to find a market.

In the coming weeks, I’d like to take a look at these competitors – outside hobbies, substitute products, and the like – that could feasibly compete with anime. These will likely be handled as case studies, detailing specific items, so that we don’t fall into the trap of generalizations and over-simplification.