A few weeks ago, Amazon announced a paid subscription service specifically for anime called Anime Strike. Although Amazon’s previous licensing efforts showed that they already had a clear interest in anime r, this is a new level of commitment to the medium that fans have never seen before. Normally, one of the biggest corporations in the world investing in anime would mean good things for fans, but the way that Amazon is approaching this new service is damaging for both viewers and the industry in general. Instead of offering it for free to Amazon Prime subscribers or as a standalone service, they’re taking an approach that demonstrates a blatant misunderstanding of the people who watch anime and what they’re willing to put up with.
For those who don’t keep up with the streaming service battleground, there are two big players in anime streaming: Crunchyroll and Funimation. Crunchyroll can be used for free with ads, or as a paid premium ad-free service, while Funimation is exclusively premium. Other more “mainstream” services such as Hulu and Netflix also offer anime, but their library is relatively small in comparison to the big two. Recently, Crunchyroll and Funimation announced a partnership where they would be sharing their libraries, so competition in this arena is, for the most part, relatively scarce.
However, Anime Strike is still a new vendor in a crowded market. In order to access the entire library of legally streaming anime, fans need to subscribe to at least five services: Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Crunchyroll, and Funimation. The reality of the world today is that people don’t want to pay for networks anymore, they want to pay for streaming. So, the average TV watcher who only wants to watch sitcoms and dramas could probably survive with Netflix, Hulu, and one additional service such as HBO Go or Amazon Prime. However, people who want to watch anime legally face a streaming landscape so fractured that they typically have to pay for a service they don’t particularly care for just to watch one or two shows. The partnership between Crunchyroll and Funimation has allowed for less stress in that regard, but with the reveal of Anime Strike, things are only about to get worse from here.
Let me be clear, this is not about an unwillingness to pay for anime. The massive success of Crunchyroll shows that people are very much willing to pay for anime, provided the service functions well and can provide a good library. This about how much people are willing to pay for anime. To access Anime Strike, you have to pay $4.99 on top of the regular subscription price for Amazon Prime, for a total of $15. For comparison, a Crunchyroll premium membership costs $10 a month, while a Funimation membership costs $5 a month. This means that it now costs a total of $30 a month to get access to a full anime library. On its own, that doesn’t sound so bad, but this is assuming that the only thing anime fans spend money on is anime. While some of them do, the majority of them are also spending money on things such as video games, movies, and other streaming services. Plus, anime skews towards the younger audience, and we all know how well they’re doing financially these days. Asking them to pay more for Anime Strike than they do for any other streaming service while singlehandedly doubling the price of keeping up with anime is a tough sell.
This is all bad enough, but what is Anime Strike actually selling? Not much. While they do have the exclusive licenses to some great shows (Kino’s Journey, Princess Tutu, and Scum’s Wish being some), it’s nowhere near the extensive library of the cheaper Crunchyroll, Funimation, or even Hulu. The value simply isn’t there. If anything, locking a few good shows behind an expensive paywall will only encourage fans to seek these shows out through other alternative methods, which is the last thing the industry needs right now.
For several years, anime in western circles was a culture steeped in piracy. That’s subsided a bit recently, but it’s business decisions like Anime Strike that allow the culture to persist. Driving away everyone except the most loyal consumers doesn’t help anyone except the people who profit off of stealing other people's’ work. It’s good that Amazon is committing to anime as a business model, but this is not the way to go about it, and if anything will do more harm than good. Anime Strike as a concept isn’t unsalvageable, but if it fails, then Amazon will either have to re-examine their business model or come to the conclusion that anime isn’t worth investing in. Hopefully, it will be the former, because the latter would be a huge missed opportunity for Amazon, anime fans, and the industry in general.