I always thought that buying anime merchandise in Japan would be cheaper. But after scouring through the stores along Akihabara, I realized one important thing: anime merch is expensive, wherever you are in the world.
After all, the anime audience is still classified as a limited consumer base. Hence, anime merch tends to run on small production runs. Unfortunately, a limited production run equates to a higher production cost. This, in turn, amounts to higher retail prices.
Nonetheless, there are other factors that affect the price of anime merch. And so, in this article, we will break down these elements and look into how we can get the best possible price for these hobby purchases.
Seven reasons why anime merch is so expensive
1. Anime merch is expensive because it caters to a niche market
According to Economic Times, a niche market is a specific target audience that requires specialized offerings. As such, even though anime’s popularity has exponentially grown in recent years, it continues to be considered as a niche market.
Now, niche products are generally more expensive than generic products because they fulfill a very specific demand.
Business-wise, these products cost more to produce because they only require a small supply. To better understand this concept, let us consider the following illustration.
The retail price of one Haikyuu! jacket is $80, while a Uniqlo jacket costs $30. Presuming that they’re both produced in Japan and have the exact same quality, why is the price difference so high?
First, it is essential to note the manufacturing process. To produce the jacket, the company had to create the design, arrange the cuts, adjust the equipment, and brief the stitchers. This would take the same amount of time and money, regardless if a company was releasing 100 copies or 100,000 copies.
Important note: an increase in anime watchers does not immediately equate to an increase in anime merch buyers. At the end of the day, only a small percentage of viewers are invested enough to buy anime merchandise.
Given that not a lot of people will purchase a Haikyuu! jacket, let us presume that it was produced on a limited run of 1,000 copies. Meanwhile, the Uniqlo jacket was constructed for worldwide distribution, so they rolled out 1,000,000 copies.
To make up for the cost of production, the Haikyuu! jacket then needed to be released at a higher price.
2. Anime merch is expensive because there isn’t a lot of competition
First things first: anime characters are copyrighted. Hence, official anime merchandise can only come from the production company of a specific franchise.
They then outsource the work to a manufacturing company or partner with retail companies such as Uniqlo, Nike, or Skechers.
This means that if you want to purchase “authentic” anime merchandise, you have to get it from them. They don’t even have competition at all. They can then price their items however they want.
The same concept applies even when the anime merch is distributed in other nations. After all, how many anime merch sellers are there in your city?
Given that the anime community is a niche market and that only mainstream anime usually have items imported in, being able to find merch of your old favorites like Angel Beats! or Sakura sou no Pet Kanojo would be like finding a needle in a haystack.
In business, not having a lot of competition means being able to price items higher. When people don’t have other options, then they have no choice but to buy what they’re looking for from whoever has it available.
For the most part, anime merch in big retailers are distributed accordingly:
- 50% from anime series that are currently on air
- 30% from mainstay franchises like Naruto and One Piece
- 20% from select older series
This is why distributors can confidently insert a high-profit margin.
If you’re a fan who wants a memento of your favorite anime, and there is only one store you can purchase the merchandise from, you would shell out the money in spite of the astronomical prices.
In contrast, if many anime merch stores were competing with each other, they would likely do their best to price their items fairly.
This is because you, as a consumer, can canvas around and make the decision based on the lowest rate you can find.
3. Anime merch is expensive because of Japan’s high CPI
The Consumer Price Index (CPI) is a measure that is used to assess the cost of living in a certain country. Now, consider the Mercer Cost of Living Survey for 2020 in the table below:
|1||Hong Kong||Hong Kong (SAR)|
|6||New York City||United States|
Akihabara, Japan’s center for anime merchandise, is located in Tokyo, the third most expensive city in the world. Its CPI ranks even higher than notoriously-expensive New York and Switzerland.
This means that people there generally pay a higher price for everything, as that is the standard of their living. Accordingly, anime merchandise is likely produced and sold for high prices as well.
When these items are then distributed in nations that have lower CPI, the currency conversion can be astounding.
4. Anime merch is expensive because of import costs
Anime merch in Japan is already expensive as it is. As such, we really shouldn’t be surprised if buying anime merch in other countries is even more painful to the wallet.
It isn’t just about currency conversions and variations in costs of living, although those are factors. It also has to do with distribution and import costs.
The distributor in your nation has to pay the Japanese manufacturers for the items that they will sell. They also have to pay for shipping fees, distributing costs, and import costs. They will then offset these by jacking up the retail prices.
5. Anime merch is expensive because of novelty products
Have you ever noticed how anime merchandise like character stands and anime figures tend to be more expensive than pens, notebooks, and cups?
This is because the former are novelty items, which means that people who purchase them have the money to spend on things that are just for display.
Most anime merchandise are considered collectibles, which technically makes them novelty products. People who purchase them are hobbyists or fans who have a budget allotted for such miscellaneous spending.
Retailers know this, so they price the products according to this market.
Now, you may argue that collectors of art pieces and luxury bags have an entirely different budget as compared to dedicated anime fans. That’s a fair point. However, it is also important to remember that there are anime fans like this:
6. Anime merch is expensive because of the quality
Official anime merch is almost always of high quality. This is because their distribution will be tied back to the title and production company themselves. If a product turns out to be of low quality, it will reflect poorly on the entire franchise.
Hence, to cater to different markets, manufacturers release similar types of products with price variations. For example, one Naruto cap can cost $30, while another can cost $50.
They come from the same manufacturer, so the difference is in the materials that were used.
Similar variations can be seen even among keychains and pins! Several years ago, my sister and I purchased matching Lambent Light keychains from Sword Art Online.
I bought the more expensive one, made of metal, while she purchased the cheaper one, which was made from plastic.
Unsurprisingly, my keychain is as strong and stunning as the day I bought it. Meanwhile, my sister’s keychain is still flimsy; only now, it has chipped paint.
Nevertheless, both keychains were actually of good quality. It just follows that the more expensive item is of higher quality.
7. Anime merch is expensive because people are willing to pay
The production of anime merch is a massive business. Understandably, retailers will want to maximize as much profit as they can. If people are willing to pay $800 for trading cards, then they have no reason to lower their prices. Anime merch will remain expensive for as long as people are willing to pay.
On that note, here are some of the most expensive anime merch (excluding anime figures):
|Primitive x Dragon Ball Super Trunk Phases Black Coaches Jacket||$95|
|Hunter x Hunter Phantom Troupe Puffer Jacket||$210|
|Bait X Astro Boy X Diadora Men B Elite Astro Boy Shoes||$250|
|Berserk Deluxe Volume||$250|
|Puella Magi Madoka Magica Ultimate Madoka Model Watch SuperGroupies||$290|
|Air Jordan 6 Retro ‘Slam Dunk’||$575|
|NERV Edition SH-06D Cellphone (Neon Genesis Evangelion)||$658|
|Hatsune Miku First Press Trading Cards||$859|
|Gosick Porcelain Doll||$1,000|
|Loewe Totoro Puzzle Bag||$2,350|
How to pay less for anime merch
Everyone wants a good deal, and given the high prices of anime merch, we will give you a few tips so you can save a few bucks.
1. Purchase from conventions
Did you know that over a hundred anime conventions occur in America every year? Some of the best and biggest conventions that you can hit up include:
- Anime NYC
- Sakura Con
- Anime Central
- Anime Weekend Atlanta
- Anime Expo
Purchasing in these anime conventions, with many booths, can give you more options than you would typically have. This would allow you to canvas and compare prices before making a purchase. By buying through conventions, you could also save on shipping costs.
If you’re lucky, you may even snag some merchandise from older anime. Since these items are fast-moving, sellers would want to clear their old stock so that they can have space for new inventory.
Because of this, you may find that some items from less popular series are on clearance prices.
However, if you’re looking to purchase merch from new or franchise anime, there is little chance that you’ll find deals in conventions.
As sellers there are aware of the demand, they may even jack up the prices of such items. After all, they have to make up for their seller and stall fees somehow.
And so make sure that you take a good look around and check prices online before you shell out for neer releases.
Here are some items that you can buy at anime conventions:
2. Look for sales
There are multiple anime merch websites that conduct sales every so often. These include:
- Hot Topic. Hot Topic frequently offers deals, usually ranging from 20% – 50% off.
- Box Lunch. Box Lunch conducts sitewide sales which also covers official merchandise. Keep your eyes peeled for their 50% off sales!
- Bigbadtoystore. Make sure to check their sale tab once in a while. They frequently update it with new items.
- Crunchyroll. Crunchyroll offers some good deals and sales. Some of the official merchandise that they sell are also priced better than other stores.
- Amiami. There’s a “special price” tab on the right side of the website. Go straight to that if you’re looking for the best deals!
- Animate. Their website has an enitre page dedicated to clearance items.
- JBox. JBox doesn’t really have a tab dedicated to sales, so you would have to scour the website to find the specific merchandise you’re looking for. Nonetheless, you will find items that are discounted by 20% – 30%.
- Tokyo Otaku Mode. The website has multiple tabs and pages dedicated to sales and low-priced items, so make sure to check them out!
3. Join the club memberships of anime merch retailers
Some anime merch websites offer club memberships. You have to pay a flat rate every year, but this comes with the benefit of extra discounts and pre-order prices.
A great website to look into is Rightstufanime. For $18 per year, you get 10% discounts on various merchandise, special coupons, and access to members-exclusive promotions.
4. Purchase secondhand
If buying brand new isn’t essential to you, you can consider purchasing secondhand anime merch. eBay has many items available; just make sure to ask for extra pictures and double-check that you’re buying from trusted sellers.
This video talks about Mandarake, a secondhand anime merch store in Japan that does international shipping:
Given the shipping costs, buying one or two items from the website may not be worth it. However, you can get pretty good deals if you do a bulk order:
5. Consider unofficial merchandise
If you’re really strapped for cash, and you just want a simple Naruto t-shirt, you can consider purchasing unofficial merchandise. They may not have the same quality or prestige as official merchandise, but they get the job done.
Just make sure to buy from official retailers. This will make sure that, at the very least, you are not getting knock-offs and are instead purchasing from a company that has obtained permission to make unofficial merchandise.