The Korean Fair Trade Commission has launched an investigation of a few entertainment companies over the last three days, and the matter involves sales of photocards. Specifically SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment, and JYP Entertainment were mentioned in the reports.
The impetus for this was increasing complaints about excessive spending on photocards, as exponentially increasing numbers of versions and cards have emerged to power album sales, thus leading to even more bulk buying. In addition to all the waste it causes as people just dump the albums, it’s also argued that it relies on illegal tie-in sales by making fans rely on luck to get the cards they want (considered anticompetitive).
The investigations will reportedly center around making sure the manufacture and sales of the photocards are handled fairly, as there’s suspicions that production numbers of certain photocards are altered to create rarer cards and thus promote more sales.
NCT is specifically mentioned in the report as having around 50 different photocards for an album (obviously others are just as ridiculous). Also mentioned were album unboxing videos, where fans show off their photocard pulls.
Quite frankly, I never thought twice about unboxing videos before. They weren’t interesting to me, but I thought they were just about showing fans what’s in the album or whatever. But it makes sense to put them under the spotlight as well, because if they’re doing it with photocards, then it’s essentially like doing pack openings for collecting cards, which are also basically gacha mechanics.
For a while now I’ve referred to the photocards as gacha for K-pop, and I get the collecting side of things because I do that with albums and I unfortunately play gacha games myself. That said, I absolutely understand the complaints here because things have definitely picked up steam of late, and I would bet it powers a great deal of their physical sales now.
I stick by this tweet.
Glad I was never a photocard collector. What a racket/scam, lol.— Asian Junkie (@asianjunkiecom) February 14, 2021
From a fan perspective, I don’t have a problem with people doing what they want. However, from a company perspective, the ethical question is basically that gacha itself is essentially gambling, and the demographic is mostly young and already come with encouraged parasocial attachment to make money, so effectively you’re hooking these kids with gambling mechanics early and encouraging addictive behavior.
Photocards started out somewhat reasonable at first and were more of a bonus for buying the album, but of course with the digital market skyrocketing, companies quickly figured you could min-max the monetization for physical albums by adding evermore incentives, and now it’s hard to see it as anything but predatory.
HYBE has now been included in the festivities.