Fans seem to embrace this idea that sales determine a group’s popularity. And it sounds right, doesn’t it? If you sell a lot, you should have a lot of fans, right? After reading this post at Plastic Candy, I’ve come to ask the question: What do sales mean?
To understand what sales mean, we have to understand how things sell. It actually comes down to basic economics: when you need something, you buy it, when you want something, you buy it. But when is too much too much? Nobody likes to spend more money when they don’t need to. Are you really going to pay $70 for a t-shirt when there’s an equivalent substitute for only $7? No, of course you aren’t! So when we talk about idol groups and music, what makes a CD sell?
The sometimes scandalous all-girl monster group AKB48 is constantly under fire for how popular they are in Japan. They’re even considered Japan’s number one idol group. Because the media constantly swirls around them, netizens(especially Westerners) are always whining about how their popularity is the only reason they sell so much, and that if they weren’t so popular, they wouldn’t accumulate any sales. And the ugly truth about it is: they’re right.
Sure, there are other factors that play into why people are fans, but we aren’t talking about that. We know that a lot of idol groups have hellbent, wacko fans; Japan is weird so they have weird people, right? We’ve all seen pictures of older men with shrines dedicated to members, all littered with official photos and CDs. We either adore those fans or think they’re weird(sometimes, both). But frankly, these fans will do everything and anything to see or touch their idol. So what do they do? They buy shit! Imagine having all those CDs and photobooks and photo cards all to yourself? Who can blame them?
But what happens when they aren’t popular? Remember back in 2006 or ’07 when it was difficult for AKB48 to sell 30,000 copies? Those millions of CD sales were an obsolete dream. Do we blame it on “because they aren’t popular” or do we blame it on another factor…
Promotion is something that fans believe is so easy. When you promote something, you show it off and talk about how great it is. When we think about promotion in terms of AKB48 or any other idol group, we think of constant performances and billboards on every block. So how does this promotion help sell something?
Once people understand how great your product is, they’ll consider buying it. If a song is playing on the radio and you like it, you might assume that artist’s album is as equally great, so you’ll go out and buy it. But what made you like that song in the first place? Sure, it comes down to your tastes, but it really has to do with where you heard the song from: the radio. Since the radio played that song, you liked it, and you went out and bought that album, that’s considered good promotion.
So what about bad promotion? Fans like to constantly pick on UFP and Hello! Project for their “lack of promotion,” and then they say that is the only reason why Hello! Project and Morning Musume aren’t as popular as they use to be. Countlessly, netizens compare Akimoto and UFP’s promotional strategies and blatantly state how UFP could learn from Akimoto’s tactics. AKB48 makes great use of fanservice by owning their own theater in which they perform constantly, appearing in everything from movies to TV shows to variety shows to ads that have nothing to do with music, and the biggest, holding ranking elections in which the fans choose who’s the best of the best. To an extent, these fans are right. This promotion all across the board is what draws new fans in and keeps the older fans in. Promotion = popularity = sales. But there’s something even more important than promoting…
If you don’t like something, you aren’t going to waste your time on it. If I don’t like Rihanna or Nicki Minaj do you really think I’m going to bother listening to their music? Hell no! So what if you don’t like AKB48 or Morning Musume? Then you aren’t going to listen to their music and you aren’t going to buy their CDs.
This is the factor that must be overcome constantly by any sort of idol group. Idols make music for the fans so they must make music that the fans like. Some might argue that this factor might not play for AKB48, so let’s talk about Morning Musume. Remember in the “Golden Era” when there was 13-15 members and they sold hundreds of thousands of copies? Do you think that would have been the case if the music was bad? But what about Morning Musume now? Their sale count has definitely diminished since then, right? So what factor is going wrong here? Is it their promoting tactics? Is it because they just aren’t popular? Or maybe they’re music is just bad and no one except the same 40,000 people like it each time? What about their 50th single? That sold over 100,000 copies, a number that hasn’t been touched by Morning Musume for nearly a decade. Did people like it, then?
Or maybe idol groups aren’t the best example of likability. Since idols are only there to make the product look good and relate to the fans on a certain level, maybe the quality of the music really doesn’t make a difference.
Many fans strongly believe that a single or album that sells poorly is just plain bad and a single or album that sells great is fantastic. CDs that sell well must be strong in all three factors, right? And they must be flawless since so many people bought it, right? Wrong.
Madeon is an 18 year-old French kid that started making music at 11 years-old. He decided to upload his music to the great YouTube, and look, his music is actually amazing. Madeon might have millions of views, but let’s pretend he doesn’t. Let’s say that he only has a couple hundred views each video. So does that mean his music sucks since he isn’t popular or widely promoted? Let’s say that every single comment he has is positive. If people think it’s amazing, then no, it’s not bad because of its view count. So why the hell do people think that just because you don’t sell well or get a lot of views, it’s automatically terrible?
Charts and rankings make us believe that a top-selling single is automatically the best, when that might not be the case. Not everyone likes the same type of music or sound, so not everyone will have the same opinion on it, immediately not making “the best” set in stone. Sales give us an idea about what may or may not suit our tastes, not what is the best and what’s the worst. If AKB48 sells 4 million singles a year, it doesn’t mean that they’re everyone’s top idol group. If Morning Musume sells 100 copies a year, it doesn’t mean that they’re the worst of the worst when in someone else’s eyes they may be the most amazing idols they’ve ever seen. It’s time for Westerners to stop taking sale count out of context and using it against or for a group’s image. Sale count does not mean that everyone and anyone must or must not like it. They are only good for the management company, since sales mean nothing but money.