For many anime companies in the US, the million dollar question is, “Why are so many fans willing to spend so much money on anime-related merchandise but not anime itself?”
One avenue of thought says that because a lot of people download these shows or obtain them for free and do so for so long, a lot of them simply take having free shows for granted. Figures and posters and such, however, cannot be obtained for no money. But I think this is looking at things on too narrow a level. I believe there’s something that manifests itself in different ways according to different types of fans, from moe fans to Naruto devotees to mech heads.
I think there’s a strong desire to get closer to the characters and the world of the anime, beyond what an anime shows. Even if it’s not real, we want to get as close to real as possible. By buying that left-handed bass, a person can feel like they have a bond with Akiyama Mio. By buying that Temari fanart at a convention, a person can affirm their fondness for the sand kunoichi, and in a much more direct and efficient way than simply buying the Naruto anime (which as a whole has like, 2% Temari content tops). By buying that Master Grade Qubeley MK II, a person can bring the fantastic realism of a mobile suit into the actual reality of their home, with the tactile nature of model kit building also contributing.
For the most part, anime fans definitely enjoy the anime they watch, but the anime itself remains in its own world behind the TV screen or computer monitor. Fans want to pull that world past the 4th wall and engage it more directly. But it’s impossible to make the world of anime our own, so the best we can do is buy tangible products that let us get as close as possible.