You might’ve heard about the big difference in price between American and Japanese anime releases. Put simply, we get anime a lot cheaper here. While we can often get an entire series for $60-$70 here, a single two- to four-episode volume can cost as much as the equivalent $90 or more in Japan.
There are a couple interesting reasons for this.
At the beginning of Japan’s home video industry, niche media (including anime) was often expected to only sell relatively few copies, and mostly to video rental stores. These stores pay a premium for their merchandise, as they’re expected to make that money back in rental fees over time. As a result, home video anime ended up costing a lot more than other media, as nobody anticipated a collector market for such niche entertainment.
Otaku, however, proved them wrong. Not only did they want to own anime on home video, they wanted it so badly that they were willing to buy them at the high “video rental store” prices.
And it stuck. Since otaku will buy the stuff anyway, there was no reason to lower the price. In fact, lowering the price was experimented with, but only resulted in less revenue overall, as the lower price didn’t entice people who previously weren’t buying anime to buy anime.
The upside of this is that it allowed the anime industry to run purely off of otaku passion for a while. As other home video markets had to scramble for ways to increase revenue (including lowering prices), otaku continued buying anything that caught their eye.
Home video anime is a specialty market of a specialty market. Not every anime fan wants to own his or her media on physical media. As a result, it becomes a balancing act about finding the people who want it badly enough to pay a lot for it, and then setting prices at a level that will serve as many of them as possible and sustain the market.
Aniplex of America has been criticized for their pricing strategy, which often has Blu-ray box sets approaching $200, compared to companies like Funimation or Sentai Filmworks, which average closer to around $30-$80 per set.
Similarly to anime vs. other home video media in Japan, it’s a quality vs. quantity thing. While Funi and Sentai have to do a lot of marketing to expand their home video audiences, Aniplex can rely on hardcore collectors to buy their shows at those prices, as long as they deliver value: High-quality releases, beautiful packaging, extras like postcards and artbooks, etc. They can expect their American fans to have already seen their shows via streaming services, and to be buying the disc release as a collector’s item, rather than as a primary way to watch anime.
When you’re producing a specialty product for a specific audience, part of your strategy might have to include pricing at a premium, not only as a profit maximization scheme, but as a way to ensure your business’s sustainability and make sure you can continue to bring a quality product to your customers for years to come.