Taking another crack at the Japanese market

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Someone asked how Jackpot did in Japan, and then a bunch of other someones have gone poking around all the Block-B-in-Japan posts on this blog, so I’m guessing people are wanting to know how the Japanese release of Jackpot went. (Also I realized today that I forgot to link Jackpot to iTunes Japan on BlockB.com! Whoops! Sorry!)

The short answer is going to be: Everything looks fine. As always, though, the Japanese market is a little confounding to me because of the way they report (and don’t report!) music sales. So I’ll talk about what we know, what I wish we knew, and why I think things look fine anyway.

So, here’s what we can see: Like Very Good, Block B’s first release in Japan, Jackpot was number 5 on the weekly Oricon chart and number 7 on Billboard‘s Japanese chart. The overall sales numbers look lower, but that’s misleading: Jackpot came out in the last week of the month, so its first-week sales numbers = its monthly sales numbers, which wasn’t the case with either Very Good or H.E.R. (And this is Thing #1 we can’t see–presumably Jackpot will not sell well enough to chart on Oricon in March, so any sales after that first week will be invisible to us.)

What else can we see? Well, Block B recently finished a five-date tour in venues that sat about 3,000 people. And not two months later, they’ve scheduled another two concerts in a venue that seats 5,000 people. So, you know, they’re spending an awful lot of time in Japan if that market’s not working for them, and their venues keep getting bigger (last summer’s tour was in theaters that sat around 2,000 people).

What do I find somewhat confounding? The sales trend with the Japanese releases isn’t going upward, and the sales numbers aren’t that big. Block B is still not charting digitally in any meaningful way. And yet, they sure seem to be acting like the Japanese market is doing well.

Which brings us over to more of what we can’t see. Here’s a snapshot, taken today, of Block B’s Japanese iTunes page, which shows the group’s top 20 albums:

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 7.46.53 PM

Notice something? The top six albums are Korean!

Yeah, just because you can’t buy stuff off iTunes Japan without jumping through a bunch of hoops doesn’t mean that Japanese buyers can’t easily buy non-Japanese titles there. And lo and behold, Japanese buyers are buying the Korean Block B albums, which have a lot more songs than the two found on each Japanese album. Of course, it’s hard to tell exactly how the Japanese albums are selling, because the different editions of the different albums are being treated as separate titles (and you’re never going to chart if you do that, Jesus).

Let’s look at Block B’s top 25 singles:

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 7.47.36 PM

A bit more of a mix, but the Korean versions of songs seem to chart higher–I say seem to, because once again we’ve got that confounding situation where you can buy a single song from a bunch of different albums, which screws up the rankings something awful.

I’m just going to note that I often do take a peek at the iTunes Japan rankings after Block B has done a new release, and this is typically what I see–the new release may be the group’s top seller for a little while, but the mix pretty quickly reasserts itself.

Anyway, what I’m taking from this is that while releasing a two-song Japanese CD may not result in huge sales of that particular CD, it may well result in an increase in the sales of the rest of Block B’s catalogue.

We cannot know how substantial an increase. Import CDs are a completely invisible market in Japan (ETA: turns out that’s not quite true), and the way Block B is operating on iTunes Japan makes it so they are extremely unlikely to chart digitally. (Like, ever.)

But I think that’s where the action is–that and concert tickets (and musicals, especially if you’re U-Kwon). Block B is certainly not acting as if they’ll live or die by those CD sales–they could sell more by doing more fan events, and they don’t. Nonetheless, they keep booking stuff in Japan and they keep releasing CDs there, so I’m guessing things are going pretty well.

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12 responses »

  1. I’m hoping Jaehyo will get more musicals now that his leg is better.

    Anyway, back to the point here: seems to me they were popular in Japan even when they were back in Stockton. Maybe it wasn’t to the extent now because of lack of marketing, but it does seem like they had a lot of fans even when they were back in Stardom. Maybe it wasn’t to the extent now because of lack of marketing, but it does seem like they had a lot of fans over there even pre-official Japanese debut.

    I’ve been wondering why they haven’t expanded more into China but I suppose there’s only so much they can do being a small independent agency. Plus if they already know they have a growing fanbase in Japan, then it only makes sense that you would focus on that market.

    • Yeah, they’re not HUGE there like BigBang is, but I think that, since Japan is a larger market, it may be kind of like the U.S.–you can do well enough without being a household name. If memory serves, in Match Up Japan Block B was playing 1,000-seat venues, so they are definitely building.

      China seems like South America–there’s an audience, but the issue is the infrastructure and figuring out who to hook up with. With Japan, they signed on with King Records, and everything’s taken care of. (Before it was another agency, but it was a similar deal.) With China, they tried to do a concert with My Music Taste in (I think) December, but there was some kind of problem with the venue, so it just became a fan meeting. I think the players in China are just harder for an outsider to figure it out–especially when you can focus your attention on Japan and easily make money.

      • The players aren’t hard to figure out in China. There are agencies the same as anywhere else. They may not be able to get into a big one like Kris Wu’s but it’s definitely possible.

        What they are doing, and this makes sense, is focusing where they’ve already got a foothold and building on that. There are kpop groups who only ever work in Japan, like Bigstar and Supernova. UKISS focuses most of their efforts there as well. Block B does better than any of those in South Korea, so they need to keep up their efforts in the home country, but it would be hard to throw in China as well, unless they start doing that when they go on another 2 year hiatus from the comeback cycle.

        • Yeah, it would be a significant undertaking. I think signing on with a big, reputable agency suggests a willingness to commit a large hunk of time to that market (as they do with Japan), and there’s just not enough time to really commit to three markets. So they’re trying to do China like they do Europe or the U.S., and that’s when you run into the dodgier stuff.

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