From a fascinating article on AnimeNews.biz, about the $499 retail price for Aniplex’s Fate/Zero Blu-Ray box set:
Aniplex USA is importing the Japanese set as a limited run…importing the Japanese sets at a 20% discount is preferable to sublicensing the series and taking an 80% haircut on profits because of lower pricing on home video here. It’s getting to the point where Japanese fans are pitching fits about what we pay compared to them and Japanese companies don’t want to risk losing those fans to cheaper imports.
So that’s important: cheap anime for us means protests from Japanese fans, who still account for most anime sales. Japanese companies literally can’t afford to annoy Japanese fans, but they can afford to annoy us (the Western fanbase), because we don’t buy much anime anyway.
Again, this isn’t so much about fairness, as about the fact that we aren’t buying enough anime for the Japanese companies to care about us. Any number of Gaia posts about how much Westerners love anime won’t keep the studios in business.
This also explains–as the quoted article mentions further down–odd delays in Western releases: the companies are waiting for Japanese sales to taper off. If the companies released shows in the West shortly after the shows’ broadcast, the Japanese fans would just buy the discs off Amazon.com at the US $40 per show we demand, undercutting the Japanese discs’ higher prices.
Why are those prices so high? Because that’s where Japanese companies make their money.
That’s one tough thing: anime can be cheap for us, because we’re an after-market. Until recently, by the time a show came to America, it had already made its money in Japan. Thus, Japanese companies had no reason to demand high fees from American distributors like ADV or Funimation. Western money was gravy, so Western distributors could keep prices down.
Now, it’s a lot more complex. Westerners see shows as they’re released in Japan, and want their discs immediately and cheaply. But somebody has to make money off these things, and traditionally, the Japanese companies did it with high-quality Japanese box sets that were expensive to produce and expensive to purchase.
Our demand for cheap anime quickly is now driving a race to the bottom, and it’s the Japanese companies producing the anime we love that suffer. Now we see the alternative: we’ll all pay Japanese prices.
(Originally posted on Brent's blog.)