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Weeb-onomics: What is “Success” For Anime?

How can we tell if an anime is doing well?

It’s a more complex question that it sounds. Anime usually has multiple revenue streams, and none of those revenue streams are accurately reported. A given anime might make money from the TV broadcast, DVD/BD sales, and merchandise, not to mention international licensing.

Add to that the fact that many anime can take years to break even and you get a perfect storm of never quite knowing just how well anything is really doing. There are ways to estimate, but no way to tell with accuracy.

SomeAniThing, a DVD/BD sales statistics aggregator for anime, uses industry charts from Oricon Inc. to compile sales data for anime week-to-week. Oricon receives their data from a list of retailers, so while the data they provide is trustworthy, it’s not necessarily complete. Nor does it take into account other revenue streams, or even international DVD and BD anime sales.

And the industry doesn’t have any real incentive to report concrete sales numbers either. Doing so can only hurt them in the long run. While it might make for good press to brag about numbers for a high-selling series, reporting the numbers for a flop doesn’t help anyone, and could in fact make a studio less attractive to production committees in the future.

Despite all this, however, fans have made efforts to gauge the success of anime, using what little data is available.

The Manabi Line

What is the Manabi Line?

The short answer is that it’s a joke from 2channel taken too far.

The long answer is that it’s supposedly the number of average sales per volume needed for an anime to break even: About 2,899. The figure comes from Manabi Straight’s disc sales, which reportedly just broke even. People jokingly pointed this out on 2ch and people ran with it until it became a popular adage among people speculating on the market success of anime.

Not only is it near impossible to know if the 2,899 figure is accurate, the figure itself doesn’t take into account many other factors. Anime budgets vary (Not a whole lot, but they do), as do the lengths of shows and number of volumes per show. In addition, international licensing and streaming also apply to an anime’s potential revenue. Merchandise isn’t included either.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that, for a lot of anime, the anime itself isn’t the main product being sold. Many anime are glorified infomercials, meant to promote sales for the manga, light novel, visual novel, or game they’re based on. In a broad sense, all of those need to factor into whether or not a show “broke even.”

And since we only have incomplete disc sales figures to work from, there’s really no telling for sure just how well any given anime did. Disc sales can be useful for comparing anime against one another, and past certain sales numbers, it’s clear when a show is very successful, but the rest is uncertain.

It’s possible that an anime might’ve tanked in disc sales, but sold a lot of figures. We don’t know. Those numbers are proprietary information, and the companies involved do well to keep it that way.

This is part of the reason production committees have so many revenue streams and are willing to wait a long time for an anime to break even. Between the original TV broadcast, reruns, disc sales, merchandise sales, and sales of the source material, a lot of shows are bound to break even eventually. It’s just a matter of waiting long enough. A show might take years to break even, meaning that judging an anime’s performance as it airs or soon after it airs doesn’t really matter quite as much.

So, the bad news is that it’s very hard for consumers to accurately measure how well an anime is doing.

But the good news is that we don’t really need to.

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