Fans are willing to shell out big money on their idols

By Zsarlene B. Chua, Senior Reporter

IT’S no question that K-pop — Korean popular music — has carved out a big chunk of the music world for itself and the resulting “fandoms” have evolved from being just fans clubs to actual forces of nature that can troll and derail a political rally and the social media of US President Donald Trump. And these K-pop fans spend — and spend a lot — for their favored groups. A recent study by Southeast Asian e-commerce aggregator iPrice noted that fans of the group BTS (the fandom is called Army), can, on average, spend upwards of P68,000 ($1,422) on merchandise, concert tickets, and albums.

“It’s a huge number, but that person has collected at least 15 studio albums/EPs and attended five concerts aside from having numerous merch,” iPrice said in the study released on its website on Nov. 25. BTS fans spend much of their money on both merchandise ($545) and concerts ($541).

The study mapped the buying behaviors of the fans (presumably Southeast Asian based on the methodology) of three different K-pop groups — Twice, BlackPink, and BTS — by adding the “the average price of each category in iPrice’s database of hundreds of merchants and billions of products,” according to the study.

The study is also based on standalone online concerts and concert tours in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong and excludes music festivals, joint tours, or performances in awards ceremonies.

Fans of girl group Twice — the fandom is called Once — spend an average of $824, with the bulk going towards concerts at $446. Fans of girl group BlackPink (called Blinks) spend an average of $665, with the bulk of it — $349 — going to merchandise, which can be attributed to the fact that the group has fewer EPs and albums than Twice, which has about 20 albums and EPs, or BTS which has 16 albums and EPs. BlackPink, in comparison, has just two full-length albums, three EPs, and three live albums to its name.

According to the statistics portal Statista, “All in all, the South Korean music industry had a sales revenue of around 6.1 trillion South Korean won — and an export value of about $562.24 million.”

These numbers may come as a surprise to many, but seasoned K-pop fans have spent much more for their idols.

A Super Junior fan of 13 years told BusinessWorld that she thinks Elfs, as the fans call themselves, may spend more than $1,000 for their group. She herself has spent over a million pesos on her collection.

“I like collecting photocards and going to concerts… it reminds me of my memories with them,” the fan, who goes by the name Leny Magisj (she declined to use her real name), told BusinessWorld on Nov. 25 over the phone.

“I was there at their lowest and saw them at their highest,” she said of the group.

Super Junior is the 15-year-old group behind the 2009 hit “Sorry Sorry” which has a pretty solid fanbase in Southeast Asia, China, Taiwan, Japan, and Latin America, among others.

Leny said that since many Super Junior fans are adults and are working, they may have more buying power despite the K-pop group’s having a smaller fan base than those of BTS, BlackPink, or Twice. She noted, for example, that since mid-October, she spent P40,000 on merchandise alone.

She also has all 10 versions of the album cover of the group’s most recent release, Time_Slip — each member got a solo cover plus there is a cover with the group shot — which costs $21 per album in Korea. She also bought some extra copies of the album with her favorite members on the cover. She bought them when she went to South Korea. (It is important to note that Super Junior is a very prolific group, having released more than 100 albums over the last 15 years via the main group and its sub-units.)

Aside from collecting photocards, she also spends money going to Super Junior concerts in South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan.

Another K-pop fan said that she spends P25,000 per concert or event including airfare and tickets but excluding hotel fees. She is currently a fan of Super Junior, Day6, CNBlue, and BTS.

“Last year, I travelled thrice to watch concerts/fan meetings abroad,” she said.

Still another K-pop fan, this time of the boy groups SF9, EXO, Shinhwa, and Big Bang (she has been a K-pop fan since 1999), told BusinessWorld via Instagram that she “probably spent more than [P68,000] last year for concerts.”

“And I’m a ‘conservative’ spender,” said Sarah (not her real name), adding that it’s the combined spending for her and her daughter who’s also a member of the fandoms.

She figured that people who are not “conservative” spenders spend “probably close to a million pesos or more.” And because she’s conservative, she only buys one album version per comeback of their group.

“My most expensive purchase was a photobook worth almost P3,000 (SF9’s L’Amitie photobook released in July 2020),” she said, before thinking it over and adding that she also bought two Armani Lipsticks ($38) because of GOT7 member Jackson Wang who is currently the face of Armani Beauty.

Do note that spending for their idols, especially for the most devoted K-pop fans, doesn’t stop at buying albums, merchandise, or going to concerts. It may also include paying for billboards to promote the group’s new project or, as in the case of Super Junior which celebrated its 15th anniversary on Nov. 6, a celebratory message delivered via satellite and displayed over the skies of Shanghai, China reading, “SJ 15th Anniv Walk Together,” the theme of the anniversary celebration. (View the satellite message here)