Reverse Importing

It’s not important how we got here, but Mike Toole pointed out how it is about three times the price to purchase all of Madoka on Blu-ray, versus how much it cost in the UK. Eventually he asked a more general question about how people feel about reverse importing:

Twitter anime nerds: do you think it’s immoral or otherwise dodgy to import cheaper legit DVD/BD from outside of your local region?

I guess here is my 2c, and it comes down to two ways to look at it.

For the longest time I have lived like an international citizen. I still do. Sure, I was growing up in America but I was also an immigrant. Invariably my access to anime was a little wider than the average American in that I could consume Chinese-subbed/dubbed stuff (I used to have these Canto dubs of MKR somewhere, they’re hilarious). The fact that I could be okay with importing a Korean or Taiwanese release and tough it out is no different than importing the Japanese release and tough it out. I guess I actually never imported from Korea, but I did do the other two. Especially Japan.

The last things I imported from another English-speaking region were the two Studio Ghibli films that are now finally coming over to the US–Ocean Waves and Omoide Poroporo. Well, I probably should pick up the JP release of Ocean Waves because that’s Blu and what I have is the UK DVD. But in this day and age, for someone so steeped in fandom online, region locks are akin to a minor inconvenience in terms of doing what I want to do.

I think anime is invariably something of an international product. It still amazes me how some Americans consumes it so out of context of its international origin, cultural background, and the context of how and why the shows they’re watching were first created. To me that there’s an international market for this crap is as natural as why Mexicans want to work in the States. I think that analogy is actually kind of what I want to get at.

Except unlike illegal immigration, region locking and such is simply the perpetration of a boorish business model predicated in a pre-global economy state of mind. It’s not about sovereign rights or anything like that. There is nothing natural about this; or rather,  it’s a human effort to do something unnatural. Moreover I don’t think natural or not matters at all. It’s just a matter of enforcement and doing what is probably the rationally best option.

I said region segmentation is boorish because I kind of read this. Of course, it’s more complicated than that, but faced with a new reality of the 21st century as the billions of people in Asia and South America arm themselves with social media, cheap-yet-powerful personal computing devices, wireless broadband, and wealth/spare time, this is just how things will go. Emerging economies gonna emerge, yo. Who are we to say they shouldn’t? It’s certainly the ethical thing to do in my opinion, that we let people buy the stuff as long as it’s legal and isn’t going to hurt anyone. Finally, copyright is ultimately a tool for merchants to make money; why use copyright in a way where that isn’t going to make you more money? And it’s ethical?

The other way to look at it is the practical take. I import from Japan, so when I buy something that way it is a very conscious decision. Take Nadesico for example. I thank Nozomi for not putting out a Blu-ray of Nadesico because I have no choice but to buy that standing collection of Nadesico Blu-ray discs (including the new telecine transfer for the movie). If they had released the same content in a box set oversea and sold it for $200, I would have purchased it in a heartbeat because that is about $150 less than how much I paid, plus it reduces certain amount of hassle.

But if I could’ve gotten the same import from the UK at $200 instead (for example), I probably would have–assuming it’s a similar product, including the video/audio quality, packaging, etc–and feel nothing about it. That’s the reality of the situation. In a similar way I feel this is how a lot of Japanese fans feel about importing anime from America (hello, Infinite Stratos).

The irony of me thanking Nozomi, hopefully, is not all lost on you. The truth I have some major doubt that anyone in American can produce the sort of quality box set that rivals your average premium Blu-ray disc box that Japan sells to their hardcore otaku buyers. Did you ever look inside the Kara no Kyoukai box and touched its interiors? Did you ever look at the bitrate on these discs? Transfers and upscaling aside,  Japan just does it better in this category, almost across the board, every time. And for a big spender that sense of value is worth that much extra dough. For a show very dear to me I am more than happy to splurge (when I can) on it to get the proverbial best possible treatment. Nozomi just gave me the reason to spurn them and make this an easy choice.

I think the choice is a lot more serious in the Fate/Zero case. The first Blu-ray box sold at Rightstuf over the cost of importing from Amazon Japan. In that case, do you import? I hounded the Fandompost/AOD forums for a while during those months and found that there are some people who would pay the extra $40 or whatever and support RS. There are also people who think encouraging people to do it at RS sends Aniplex a signal. That may all be true. There is also a compelling reason to do business with RS because they do provide customer service that rivals Amazon, and they can go the extra mile in the case with product recalls and the like, something you are going to be SOL with if you deal with a Japanese exporter.

But you know what? I don’t give much mind to that. I don’t buy something with expectation that I will have to deal with the customer service. That’s just me though. What was more convincing was when I went to the Ei Aoki and Kondo autograph session at AX, they asked me if I got my Rakkyo box at Rightstuf.

The reality continues. I think if you read Clements’ interview I linked earlier, he links to another anecdote about a certain UK release that got reverse-imported. It’s just how that game works, so I understand if the market is set up this way, and people will reverse import, it will lead to the production companies avoiding releases that make them lose money this way. If they can show they’re losing money this way (I think this is a very valid question that nobody has gave me any concrete evidence as to what the answers are).

That’s basically what I mean by consequences. If we’re okay with the Kadokawas and Nozomis of the world, as far as these reverse-import situations goes, then I guess everything is peachy. And to a degree they are victims, as are their customers, of this wretched system that we have in place to extract short-term value at the cost of long-term growth.

14 Responses to “Reverse Importing”

  • NegativeZero

    As someone who doesn’t live in the US, I pretty much import all my games and anime. And I buy a fair bit. I don’t buy TRSI’s Aniplex stuff if I can avoid it though, because it’s actually cheaper usually to buy the same product through Amazon Japan. Fate/Zero was ridiculous, if you were purchasing from outside the US they had an even higher price on it. :(

    Personally I subscribe to the notion that the only forms of region ‘locking’ should be language and availability. If more JP releases had english subs on the BD, I’d be a lot poorer.

    Incidentally I haven’t purchased a local-release anime DVD/BD since about 2007, despite the fact that the market in Australia’s pretty good. I was turned off by the terribly poor NTSC->PAL converted DVD video quality, and then stopped buying DVDs eventually because I’d move to BD. Now the majority of my BDs are Japanese.

  • NegativeZero

    Oh, I forgot to mention: buying from Amazon JP means you get courier shipping, wheras Rightstuf is the slowest shipping they can find, usually for insane prices. Add to that the fact the products are usually about the same price and it’s far more efficient to miss out on the translated booklet or whatever and buy the JP release. I imagine the difference is less severe when it’s rightstuf shipping within the US?

    • omo

      Yea, shipping within the US is an entirely different situation. In general they try to do their best saving money while offering similar services to their US customers. For free shipping I usually get the stuff within 5-10 days. I believe in Rakkyo’s case a lot of people opted for faster shipping by paying a little more, and in the end they built that into the price for the other two imported Aniplex boxes.

      But I don’t know why they priced Fate/Zero box 1 so much more than the Amazon price.

    • NegativeZero

      Fate/Zero had an additional markup on it through them if you purchased from outside the US as well, IIRC. It was quite significantly cheaper to buy the JP release for me. And when you’re talking about that sort of cash, shipping that’s not insured or trackable seems pretty dangerous. I think they’ve improved their international shipping a lot since I had that one package that was so badly ruined it had had to be taped back together by Australia Post – certainly the Madoka BDs came a lot faster and in better condition – but I don’t want to take the risk if I can avoid it.

  • Stef

    In this context, “immoral” means “unpatriotic”.

    Then the question can be answered easily. How much money is worth this product to you? Can you get it for cheaper elsewhere? If yes, go for it.

    • omo

      It never occurred to me to think of immoral as unpatriotic. I’m not sure if the average otaku can understand the full economic impact (if any) if a bunch of people (< 1000?) importing a few DVD/BD from one fairly large (pop wise) country to another. But that one you can actually answer by doing some simple math. I'm going to guess however nobody really cares if it is patriotic or not.

    • NegativeZero

      From my perspective, if there’s anything that could be considered immoral, it’s deliberately locking people out of being able to buy any version of a product in order to protect a single market. Especially since the region lock system they use for media is part of the DRM scheme and illegal to circumvent in a lot of places.

    • omo

      I don’t even think that is immoral if you have legal justifications for it (eg., this game is illegal to be sold in any country other than pedo-heaven-glorioius-nippon!)

    • Stef

      If patriotism isn’t in line, then I don’t know what is. Is searching for the best quality-price ratio immoral? In what way? Except from an ecological standpoint. It’s not like it’s about supporting the local industry. We’re talking about world wide entertainment distribution. And like you said, it concerns only a very limited portion of the market.

      PS: I speculated on patriotism because of what I gathered about the American salesman techniques, ie “Support your country by buying American!”. I could be wrong though.

      PPS: @NegativeZero: Yeah, this region system is the only thing that doesn’t make me want to import from outside of Europe. I just don’t want to spend money on three more DVD players for this.

    • omo

      Is searching for the best quality-price ratio immoral? In what way?

      I think you just rephrased the main question. It’s basically the one I’m answering.

      The reality of it is that nobody really cares about it, as you say, because this is an international media/copyright sort of thing where the money ultimately all goes back to Japan anyway.

      The only other “moral” sort of thing would apply if you approach it with a very strong property angle regarding copyright, as in, copyright holders can do whatever the hell they want with their licensed items.

  • darktruth

    Like the first commenter, I’m also from Australia who has switched to importing anime directly from Japan for a few years now. The only thing is that I go one step further to obtain store-exclusives that I like and in some cases multiple copies if there’s more than one that I want to get :P.

    Most of the time, the usual bonuses on the Japanese releases are drama CDs, radio DJCDs and interviews with the production staff which I’m interested in and can understand (thank you Japanese study in high school). Some of them can provide good insights and character knowledge for some series, while others gives some good laughs at funny side stories. These would never be included on Western licenses however (well maybe text interviews and video interviews on the discs) which I find disappointing but understandable. Mostly since drama CDs just isn’t really a popular or common bonus looked at in Western anime licenses and the hassle of spending more money on providing script translations.

    As for the reverse importation fears…I’ve wondered if the Japanese production companies have ever thought about pricing animes that have regular edition DVD/BDs at about 50-60% less than the limited edition’s RRP upon its initial release. Many of the limited editions usually cost about 1000-2000 yen more than the regular edition’s RRP, but the regular editions are still priced pretty high at around the 6000-7000 yen mark which probably turns off the casual Japanese buyers. It’d be interesting to see how well sales of regular editions would be if they had a massive price cut close to the American counterparts as the majority of the times it’s always the limited editions of animes that ranks on the Japanese DVD/BD sales chart.

    Sure there are re-releases of some series at a much cheaper price later down the track, but by then interest would probably be gone from the casual buyers or they might’ve changed their mind or moved onto another series thus using funds that would’ve originally gone to that release to a different company/series. It’s all about striking while there is hype and demand and usually for late night animes, those times are often towards the end of or shortly after its airing on Japanese television.

    Given how bare-bones regular editions are similar to most US anime releases these days, it could probably deter some Japanese buyers from reverse importing to actually buying their domestic release. That way it’s still gaining sales from their own local market, even if it’s not as much as the hardcore otakus that are willing to pay the limited edition prices, because just by still having a limited edition option available, there will be the devoted otakus who pay premium and get all the fancy extras while the casual ones have the option to own just the show at an overall cheaper price. Of course not all anime releases in Japan have a regular and limited edition made, but for the ones that do have it, it pleases both the casual and premium buyers.

    Don’t know if this would cut into the big rental market in Japan though, but it would seem a lot better than having foreign imports eat into their own domestic market in my opinion.

  • omo

    t’d be interesting to see how well sales of regular editions would be if they had a massive price cut close to the American counterparts as the majority of the times it’s always the limited editions of animes that ranks on the Japanese DVD/BD sales chart.

    So far it doesn’t really work. They have tried a bunch of times at this. There are times where it does, and more often than not the price cut doesn’t justify the increase in sales.

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