Let’s say, for the sake of argument, you’re a fan of Attack on Titan. You watched the entire show as it aired and can’t wait for more of it. What if, tomorrow, a Kickstarter went up for a 12-episode second season of the show. How much, without knowing the reward tiers, would you give? $1? $10? $20? $50? $100 (like the U.S. disks for season 1 as a whole will likely cost)?
I’d imagine that, depending on just how much they enjoyed AoT, most people would answer with a number within their price range. Given the popularity of the show, such a project would be a fairly safe bet to break the current record for animation projects on the site (currently Bee and Puppycat’s $872,133).
But let’s make a key change to this project. Let’s suppose that, instead of a give-what-you-can model of pricing, this hypothetical Kickstarter only allowed pledges at or above $500 level. Even for a series with a lot of enthusiastic fans, I’m willing to bet that turns some of them off. Even if that $500 level includes a meet-and-greet with the anime’s entire cast and signed copy of volume 1 of the manga, that’s just more than what many people are willing (or able) to pay. And that is the crux of the matter when it comes to discussing who buys anime.
If you’re familiar with the Japanese anime sales figures I sometimes look at, you may be aware of something called the break-even point, a rule-of-thumb figure that sets a general line between profit and loss for a given show at 3000 disks sold per volume. (The math is fairly elementary. At 10 million yen per episode, 12 episodes cost ~120 million yen. Selling 3000 copies of 6 disks at 7000 yen per disk nets a gross profit of 126 million yen. While that number varies depending on things like show budget, alternative income sources, and how many episodes are packed into a volume, it’s good to have a rough number in mind because it sets a scale for what constitutes success and failure for a show. But what does that number look like for the U.S., and what does that say about the comparative purchasing power of western fans in general?