In this post, I’ll be ranking common ways to “support the anime industry” from least helpful to most helpful, from the perspective of a Western anime fan.
I’m trying to make a point here.
Using pirate streaming sites not only doesn’t support the anime industry whatsoever, it funds people who have no scruples about using malware and intrusive ads to increase their revenue.
The decentralized nature of a lot of modern ways anime pirates download material limits the profit incentive for providing these files. As a result, while using them doesn’t support the anime industry monetarily, they allow those without the means or desire to pay for anime to watch it without much of the potential for malware and ads that pirate streaming sites often come with.
Depending on the service, your streaming subscription ranges from “doesn’t reasonably support the anime industry at all” to “might support the anime industry.” For example, your Netflix subscription supports Netflix and Netflix alone, and while they do fund anime, the fungible nature of money makes it difficult to tell if any given person’s subscription went toward creating a new anime, or supporting the anime they currently like.
It’d be just as easy to say that a specific customer’s Netflix subscription went toward making something like Cuties as it is to say it went toward making Yasuke.
With anime-focused companies like Crunchyroll and Funimation, because they sit on sit on production committees, you can be reasonably assured that some of your subscription money will go toward making an anime at some point down the line, but you won’t know or have any say in which.
Crunchyroll has an interesting business model in that respect, where part of each subscriber’s monthly subscription is divided up between the creators (the production committees) of each anime they watch on the service. That is to say, if you watch five different anime on Crunchyroll, your subscription is split five ways. You could make an argument that the more anime you watch on Crunchyroll, the less meaningful your contribution to the anime industry ends up being.
Domestic Source Media
If you buy the translated LN or manga based on an anime you like, that book has changed hands many times before reaching yours, each time involving a money transaction that brings it further from the Japanese publisher where it originated. In an abstract way, increased demand can, down the line, lead to a large windfall for the Japanese publisher, but individually, there’s no guarantee that your individual purchase crosses that threshold.
Domestic Home Media
The licensing infrastructure for anime is such that the company licensing the anime first pays itself back for the licensing fee paid to the Japanese rightsholders before a percentage of sales starts getting sent to those rightsholders. Similarly to the previous example, your BD exchanges hands multiple times before arriving in yours, but what we know about the licensing structure behind anime allows for a more direct contribution once a certain threshold has been passed, so an in-demand physical anime release may very well support the anime industry by contributing not only to the industry that made it, but the exact production committee that made the anime.
Merchandise purchased from your home country has a more direct demand structure. The anime merch industry is very pre-order based, and there are only a few distributors that deal in it. If you’re purchasing merchandise bought from a US distributor, especially anime figures, and especially lines like figma and Nendoroid, there’s a good chance that the distributor has a direct relationship with Good Smile Company, which either paid to license those characters or sits on the production committee themselves.
If you’re purchasing imported merchandise from a domestic seller, that seller first had to buy it from a Japanese company, whose distributor likely does business with GSC, etc.
Imported Home Media
If “support the anime industry” to you means “support the studios,” you can stop here. Because of the ways anime contracts are structured, studios are often entitled to a cut of sales of the home media and not much else.
Merchandise is one of the things anime is created to sell, keeping in mind that anime is not usually not treated as a product to be sold on its own. The animation is marketing for the source material it’s based on, and for the products created from the anime later on.
Imported Source Media
Anime is usually made to market the source material it was created from. Buying the light novel, manga, game, etc. the anime is based on, straight from Japan, is arguably the top way to support the anime industry, as it’s playing directly into the intended purpose of the anime and is most expediently fulfilling the business purpose of making the anime in the first place.
As you can see, directly supporting the companies that made the anime you enjoy is difficult without turning to importing, which is costly and time-consuming, especially if you’re not specifically a collector. The great thing about the anime market, however, is that there exists a tier of product for every budget.
People short on cash, but passionate about anime can still watch via very affordable streaming products if they care about going the official route. Those on an average budget can get the BD of the show they like, and the manga or light novel it came from to go with it. Fans with money to burn can spring for collector’s releases and expensive merchandise, and potentially importing those from Japan if they really want to.
But the common thread should be that they all want the products they’re buying. That they’re not buying out of a sense of obligation to do so because they heard about the wages animators are paid. Paying a lot of money for products they don’t really want, just to say they’re supporting people they don’t know in ways they can’t explain. The consumer is too far removed from the source to have an effect on that very real issue. It’s nothing for fans to value-judge each other on.
In many ways, “support the anime industry” is a marketing term, meant to get you to buy products and services that you otherwise don’t want and wouldn’t purchase, just so you can say you’re “helping.”