Sales of South Korean K-pop merchandise hit $ 132 million last year

South Korea’s market for K-pop merchandise is booming, reaching KRW 150 billion ($ 132 million) last year.

Led by the recent global fame of BTS, the popularity of K-pop has spread widely and a growing number of fans are enthusiastically spending their time and money collecting even the smallest memorabilia that reminds them of their favorite pop stars.

Mugs, notebooks, pens, bags, T-shirts, tumblers and slippers with photos of BTS, EXO, Blackpink, Twice and more all spark the desire of K-pop fans to get closer to the artists that they like the most.

“I spent over a million won ($ 881) to buy BTS products last year,” a BTS fan told Yonhap, on condition of anonymity. “Sometimes even I think it’s a little over the top, but it’s one of my big hobbies.”

According to the latest data from the Korea Creative Content Agency (KCCA), total sales of the South Korean music industry reached 2.870 billion won in the first half of last year, up 9.2% from to the previous year.

Sales of K-pop merchandise of 150 billion won last year alone include personally-created items and pirated goods.

“Fans who are very loyal to their singers buy albums and products together. Many of them also create unofficial products, ”said Sung Mi-kyoung, senior researcher at KCCA. “Idol culture started to explode in the second half of 2017 thanks to the growing global popularity of BTS. Estimates of 150 billion won in sales are not without merit.

She said the three major music labels – SM Entertainment, JYP Entertainment Corp. and YG Entertainment Inc. – had already recognized the potential of the property market and started to accumulate revenue there.

According to their regulatory documents, the combined sales of albums and digital music content of the three listed companies reached 76.69 billion won in the first half of 2018.

And they posted a total of 105.44 trillion won in sales of K-pop products, royalties and other fees during the cited period.

YG alone earned 76.91 billion won in royalties and brand-related sales, as the company operates fashion and cosmetics subsidiaries using artist brands like Big Bang, iKon, and Blackpink.

SM, which runs Exo, Shinee, and Super Junior, operates its official SUM Market and SMTown Gift Shop merchandise stores in South Seoul, selling collaborative products combined with its artists’ brands.

“It’s a minor culture among young K-pop fans,” Sung said. “But from now on, its huge potential will drive the entire entertainment industry to focus on this market.”

She said that 50% of South Korean teens have purchased a K-pop item at least once.

“These young adolescents who are very willing and used to spending money on goods related to their idols will grow up and have more purchasing power when they are 30 or 40 years old.”

In this context, the K-pop market is expanding into a comprehensive content industry related to performance, fashion, food, tourism and even manufacturing.

Dozens of goods and lucrative events can be derived from a photo of a K-pop singer, she noted.

“People not only consume music to listen to it, but also enjoy this entertainment in other forms. The music industry now comes with concerts, merchandise and intellectual property, ”the expert from KCCA said. “I hope the public sector will fine-tune the legal issues around intellectual rights to level the playing field and further favor the content industry.”

  • Original reporting by Yonhap, via South Korea.
  • Image: by the Korean Information and Culture Service. This file photo shows people shopping for BTS-related products at a Line Friends store in Hongdae, west Seoul.