What is the charm of Kpop merchandise, which has long extended outside of CDs and albums?

From clothes, jewelry, to photocards, Kpop companies are releasing more and more Kpop groups everyday.

Collecting is a popular hobby for people around the world, and for music fans, CDs and record discs are popular items to collect. However, for Kpop fans, the range of goods one can buy is way wider, and all sorts of merchandise, from albums, jewelry, to photocards can cost a fortune if they are rare.

However, to non-fans of Kpop, it is confusing why a piece of paper can amount to so much. While Kpop merchandise stems from the USUK music industry, there are still certain reasons why they are on a whole different level in the Kpop world. 

*Merchandise, also known as Kpop merch, are goods related to Kpop idols, which can have logos, photos, or other elements of Kpop idols printed on them. 

Kpop idols often release eye-catching goods to attract fans 

The Kpop merchandise culture originates from the industry’s 2nd generation, where “inclusions”, such as posters, stickers, bookmarks, and photocards, were included in albums. These inclusions were later sold separately as well, and can generate extremely high revenues for Kpop idols and their agencies. 

Posters, photocards, and stickers of their favorite Kpop idols are greatly treasured by Kpop fans. 

Among these merchandise, two of the most popular include Kpop albums and Kpop lightstick. Instead of just plain and regular lights, each Kpop group would have their own specific lightstick designs produced by their companies. Fans can then bring their favorite group’s lightsticks to concerts and other events, which is a great sign to tell which group they were a fan of. 

SNSD’s lightstick.

Other than a mutual design for each group, many groups also released different versions of their lightsticks, and even limited editions. The price of lightsticks are generally high, but since they are unique and beautiful, big fandoms such as BTS’s ARMY, BLACKPINK’s BLINK, TWICE’s ONCE, and so on, would hunt for these goods, especially prior to concert nights and tours. 

The ARMY Bomb (lightstick of BTS) is something every fan of BTS dreams to own
The yellow Bang Bong (lightstick of BIG BANG) is the first lightstick in Kpop history

Moreover, Kpop companies also release photobooks, T-shirts, hoodies, caps, and jewelry to cater to every of their fans’ needs. The releases can come every comeback, event, or season of each Kpop group, so every Kpop fan has grown accustomed to them.

BLACKPINK wearing their merchandise T-shirts in their concert
Red Velvet
Red Velvet releases a lot of expensive photobooks

Outside of goods released by the agencies, famous and impactful Kpop idols like BLACKPINK Jennie, BTS V, SNSD Taeyeon and more, can even sell out casual items they use and wear. Fans would also purchase goods represented or promoted by their idols, and call these items “cheap moment”, since they now share a similarity with their favorites. 

V used to make a scented candle brand went viral for using it
Eyewear brand Gentle Monster released a line designed by Jennie, and their site ended up crashing due to too many orders

Kpop photocards are every fan’s treasure

Kpop photocards are photos of Kpop idols, often selfies, printed on laminated paper and got their corners rounded. Their first appearance was back in 2010, as an inclusion in the SNSD album “Oh!”

Kpop’s first photocards
The appearance of photocards in SNSD’s 2010 album “Oh!” created a new wave in Kpop

At the time, the photocards of SNSD gained great reception from fans of the group, who found it a lot of fun opening their album to get a random card. Ever since, most Kpop albums include photocards within, and Kpop fans also developed a hobby of collecting photocards. Recently, even Korean music stores started to issue exclusive photocards of their own to improve sales.

Photocards are distributed at random, so Kpop fans get a new thrill waiting to see what member they got on their photocards.

Each album usually includes only one member’s photocard. Because the photocard is random, fans often go to great lengths just to get the photocards of their bias. Gradually, photocards of popular members in the group become even more sought after than the albums. 

A simple photocard of Irene (Red Velvet) became a rare and sought-after item among fans 
Irene is among female idols who has the most expensive photocards

Knowing the trend of fans collecting photocards, entertainment companies nowadays release many special versions of idols’ albums to boost the sales. Limited editions can be priced at 2 or 3 times higher than the normal version but still go out of stock. They are even sold on the black market for 10 times more, yet there are still buyers. For example, BLACKPINK Lisa‘s limited edition of her solo album LALISA was sold out on websites and resold with much higher prices.

The limited version of LALISA “sold out” because of its unique photocards 

With great demand and buying power, fans often exchange, buy and sell through social media platforms or online communities. There are many cases where big fandoms of groups like BTS, BLACKPINK, EXO, TWICE… are willing to “bulk buy” albums just to pick up photocards of their favorite members.

BTS is one of the groups whose fandom is willing to buy albums in bulk to grab photocards of their favorite bias

The charm of K-pop idols’ merchandise

In the past years, the trend of pouring money on idol items has become an issue in Korea. According to reports that surveyed high school students, some people spend up to 800,000 won to buy 50 albums of their favorite idols. Fans said that because the company released many versions, they didn’t want to miss anything of their idols, so they tried their best to save money.

twice nayeon
Buying multiple albums increases your chances of meeting idols in person
But the way many fansigns are organized is often controversial by making fans kneel before their idols

Buying a lot of albums is also a way to increase fans’ chances of winning tickets to exclusive fansigns where they can interact directly with their idols, receive autographs, take photos, etc. All of this just comes from fan’s love for idols.

The K-pop industry grows thanks to a well-invested system of training idols, carefully crafting images that attract young people. Knowing their audience, management companies have come up with different strategies to stimulate demand, creating events for idols to meet fans to strengthen their bond. 

It is also undeniable that Kpop idols merchandise often have very eye-catching designs and good quality. The feeling of holding an idol’s album, photobook, and photocard can be really “addictive” for Kpop fans, just like many people’s hobbies such as collecting paintings, bags, perfume… Many people do not regret huge amounts of money to own what they want.

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