Surprise! Apparently a 5-year-old anime can still pull in some numbers when it tries. US BD sales numbers just came out for late April 2016 and contained the surprising revelation that the complete version of Steins;Gate, released on September 30th, 2014 had sold over 100,000 copies in the US over the past 82 weeks.
Some people may have questions about this, so I’ll try to outline the situation and why it’s somewhat interesting.
Is this the first anime to break 100k in the US recently?
Nope, plenty of others have achieved that distinction. Attack on Titan had a similar total for part 2 of its 2-part set release as of March 2016, DBZ:F had sold over 230,000 at the same point. And US anime sales tracking is very incomplete (which is why I bother tracking amazon data in the first place), so others may have achieved the distinction. This figure is significantly higher than the sales totals for Hal (~11,000), the Bayonetta movie (~50,000), and One Piece: Strong World (~16,000), which had been out for a similar amount of time.
Why is this odd?
Data on how much anime sells in the US is a closely-guarded secret. Companies that rely partially on “support the industry/release” rhetoric have vested interests in not letting fans know when a title is failing or succeeding regardless of their purchase, so self-reporting, while not unheard of, is rare and imprecise. Nash Information Services, which publishes top 20 lists with figures and maintains a business-only* database with a more extensive but by no means comprehensive list of overall sales totals. However, Nash is more interested in tracking movies and TV anime mainly makes it onto their lists as an extreme outlier, as in this case, or an accident.
So while we know that the ‘hit’ line for a Sentai Filmworks title can be around 3000 copies and Funimation’s may be a factor of 10 more, we only have approximate ways of guessing which works are actually hitting those target numbers. The amount Steins;Gate moved here represents a fairly large success, making a $4 million dollar total just with this one set that would have justified a per-episode license payment of over $150,000, 5 times the peak cost of a series prior to the industry’s last big crash. That said, these numbers didn’t happen in a vacuum and some percentage of that gross is probably consumed by production/licensing costs and other, less-successful projects. There’s a lot we don’t know.
Why did it sell this much?
For once, there’s an easy question. Steins;Gate is hardly an average series. Among a very crowded 2011 class of anime that included Madoka Magica, Ano Hana, and Tiger and Bunny, it has managed to gain the most universal acclaim among many western fans. It’s a quite good series, and, what’s more, it’s getting a continuation soon. Perhaps most importantly, the whole series now costs only roughly 30 dollars as of now, down from what was a $55 launch MSRP in 2014, or ~$130 via the 2-part set released in 2012. That 2-part set, by the by, is not covered in this figure and I don’t have amazon tracking back that far so I can’t tell you how it might have sold. I could argue it might have been less since $130 is a much more restrictive price point. $30-40 is basically a fire sale price compared to that number – the $4 million gross from this set to date may well be less than the show’s initial Japanese marketing budget (it’s definitely less than the overall budget for an ambitious 2-cour anime).
But I ultimately don’t know. I can’t definitively say that the majority of fans didn’t buy early and this figure isn’t merely 1/3 of the series’ total US sales. I doubt that, but I can’t concretely refute it. I can say, at least, that the 2-part version is done selling on amazon, with part 1 ranking in the #70,000th place dead zone as of right now. The cheaper set covered in this figure probably apex predatored the 2-part version in the market as time went by.
Why did it sell -now-?
This is not actually the first time a series wound up in the #20 slot on the BD charts with a surprise surge: The Ghost in the Shell movie’s September 2014 rerelease (coincidentally issued the same month as this SG set) saw its total jump from 28,713 to 38,731 in one week of May 2015 (around the time a TV broadcast of the new series was airing).** That result ultimately vanished off of the revised Nash charts, but I have the tweets to verify I saw it happening at the time. Similar, less extreme things happened with the new DBZ movie and other titles after a Funimation store sale. I’m assuming this happened due to price cuts, either on the Funimation store or because amazon permanently slashed the price down to the 32-dollar mark.
As another side-note, it’s not a surprise that sales for this particular release weren’t so front-loaded. It wasn’t a new product when it was coming out, so the people buying it were not the kind of hardcore fans that would preorder, but newcomers and casual collectors who would more likely pick it up on impulse.
Is this total complete? Is it 100% accurate?
Unfortunately, no. As I mentioned earlier, the 2-part set is almost certainly not included in this data. Also, Nash info services is not guaranteed to track all stores that sell anime, and they have in the past revised their initial chart releases in ways that rejiggered the top 20. But they do track amazon and the Funimation store, so this should be a fair ballpark figure.
Does this total line up with what we’d expect based on previous data?
That is also a complicated question. The last two days of its launch week, this release ranked #853rd and #1131st on amazon. Ignoring early sales (reportedly under 5,000, negligible relative to this total), and extrapolating those two ranks out for the 82 weeks this release has been on sale gives us a range of base numbers.
#1131: 82 weeks*7days/week*66copies/day=37,884 copies
#853: 82 weeks*7days/week*114copies/day=65,436 copies
Either way, that’s a little low relative to the 105k (or 95k, excluding this latest week) we see. But the fit to amazon data tends to a) underestimate funimation titles, b) not account for sale prices, and c) only be accurate to within a factor of 2 anyway (so it’s within that error range depending on what figures you use). Given that, the 105k total is not really a shock, the truly surprising part is we got confirmation of it. Obviously, though, this does show that the model is still pretty flexible and dependent on what one puts into it.
Of course, now the release is hovering at #2000, so that result may be a bit front-loaded, but the overall data does show hints of how well it was on track. Though if the standard for something that will eventually hit 100k with a decent long tail of sales is “better than #1000 on its release weekend”, that’s a fairly long list.
I actually rather suspect that’s not the case, since pricier, incomplete singles may have a shorter tail, but since we don’t know enough anyway, let’s play that game. I went back through 2016 and checked – here’s everything that came out in the past 6 months that fits that list (Funimation titles marked with an F, other distributors also labeled):
One Piece s7v5 [F]
Naruto Shippuden s25 [Viz]
Evangelion 3.33 [F]
Pokemon Movie 1 DVD [Viz]
Pokemon Movie 1-3 Steelbox [Viz]
Zeta Gundam p1 BD [Bayview]
YGO GX s3 [Cinedigm]
Pokemon Movie 18 [Viz]
Psycho-Pass 2 [F]
One Piece c15 [F]
Fairy Tail p19 [F]
Date A Live 2 [F]
Parasyte c1 [Section 23]
Naruto Shippuden s26 [Viz]
Ghost in the Shell New Movie [F]
Maken-ki Two [F]
Black Butler s3 [F]
Akame ga Kill c2 [Section 23]
Black Butler: Book of Murder OVA [F]
Tokyo Ghoul vA [F]
One Piece s8v1 [F]
Pokemon Johto League Champions [Viz]
Psycho-Pass Movie [F]
Fairy Tail p20 [F]
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time [F]
Berserk Movie Collection [Viz]
Boy and the Beast [F]
One Piece c16 [F]
29 total releases on that candidate list, while some might not make it.*** You might see that Funimation has 17 of the 29 and think they’ve kind of cornered the market on these sorts of blockbusters, but most of their releases are actually sequels/continuations. Albiet, continuations generally own the list; the only non-continuations here are Boy and the Beast and Parasyte. Tokyo Ghoul and Akame ga Kill also represent less-old things, I suppose.
That was a lot of words. This news was unexpected enough to send me on some old tangents in ways that was quite fun to explore, I suppose. Wouldn’t be checking the US market if I didn’t enjoy rampant speculation.
*The fact that I spent 28 weeks abusing their free trial system -may- have something to do with that.
**Apologies for using my own tweets as a source. Didn’t take a picture because I didn’t anticipate needing one at the time.
***If I had to power rank what will crack the 6-digit line, I’d put my money on movies and cheap sets skewing towards younger audiences who might not buy anime regularly (so multi-part releases are out). Basically, the releases more likely to have long tails are up top:
1. Boy and the Beast
2. Berserk Movie Collection
3. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
4. Tokyo Ghoul vA
5. Pokemon Movie 1-3 Steelbox
6. Evangelion 3.33
7. Ghost in the Shell New Movie
8. Psycho-Pass Movie
9. Pokemon Johto League Champions
10. Any release of a second/third season
11. Any release with ‘part/collection #X’ in the title
12. OVA releases from long-running franchises