Won’t get fooled again? Fans and their money are soon parted

June 13th, 2014 by Philip Brasor & Masako Tsubuku

Mayu Watanabe, center, a member of Japan’s all-girl pop idol group AKB48 members, shows off the winner's gown after taking the No. 1 spot of the AKB48's General Election 2014 in Tokyo, Saturday, June 7, 2014.

Hail the new queen: Mayu Watanabe, a member of Japan’s all-girl pop idol group AKB48 members, shows off the winner’s cape after taking the No. 1 spot of the AKB48′s General Election 2014 in Tokyo, on, June 7.

Several weeks ago we wrote an article about the female idol collective AKB48 and later received a message from a friend who told us he was in Tokyo’s Akihabara district, which the group calls home. He was in a shop that sells various used goods and reported that there were hundreds of “used” copies of AKB’s latest single on sale for only ¥100 each, even though the single had just been released.

The reason for the surplus was AKB’s famous premium system: if you buy a CD you get the chance to meet the young women in the group or, in this case, a chance to vote in one of AKB’s popularity contests, which are called “general elections.” The most recent of these, No. 6, was held June 7, where Mayu Watanabe received the most votes. “Tickets” that allowed fans to cast votes in that election were included in the group’s newest single, “Labrador Retriever.” The more singles you buy, the more opportunities you have to vote, which explains all the used CDs. The fans only need one copy of the song, but they bought multiple copies so that they could stuff the ballot box with votes for their favorite members.

Each voting ticket is printed with a special URL and a unique serial number. The holder of the ticket goes online, logs on to the election website, and casts one ballot by registering the serial number. After voting, that serial number cannot be used again.

An enterprising blogger on the site Gadget Tsushin decided to use the available data to figure out how much money the AKB organization made from this election. First, he checked the top vote-getters, starting at the top with Watanabe (159,854 votes), proceeding to second place with a girl named Sashihara (141,954) and one down to 80th place in the poll. He added up all the votes received by these 80 members and the sum was 2,277,635, which, by the way, was more votes than those cast the same day in the Nakano Ward mayor’s election.

That means at least that number of copies of “Labrodor Retriever” or related products were bought. The voting period was from May 20 to June 6, when polls closed at 3 p.m. The blogger notes that voting is quite time-consuming, so people who bought lots of CDs have to be very dedicated and patient.

The cheapest price for the single, including tax, was ¥1,646 on Amazon, so the blogger used that figure, and when he multiplied it by the number of votes cast, the result was ¥3,758,987,210. Pretty good for one single, and that’s the minimum gross revenue, since some of the tickets came in DVDs, which cost more.

It’s obviously a nifty means of taking advantage of fan devotion, but it’s also an easy system to abuse. According to another post on Gadget Tsushin, after the election period started, sellers put up for sale three lots of tickets for the June 7 general election on Yahoo’s auction site: 1,000 tickets on May 22, and 500 tickets each on May 23 and May 27. The tickets had been purchased with the CDs, but the CDs weren’t included. Bidding was closed less than half a day after each lot went on sale. The set of 1,000 went for ¥950,000, the first set of 500 sold for ¥450,000 and the second set for ¥430,000. If the seller of all three lots was the same person, he made ¥1.8 million on the deal, or about ¥915 per ticket.

Then on May 29, in the review section of the auction site, the individuals who bought the tickets complained that the tickets had already “been used,” meaning that the serial numbers had already been registered so the purchasers couldn’t use them to vote. They wanted their money back, but the seller pointed out that he never said the tickets had already been used to vote. All he said was that the tickets had been removed from the CD packaging. At least one of the buyers said he would contact the police, though there seems to be little the authorities can do.

In a related incident, a 25-year-old man was arrested by police in Hyogo Prefecture for illegally dumping 89 cartons comprising 1,000 bags of Calbee Poterich potato chips in two locations. The retail value of the potato chips was about ¥300,000. Apparently, the man had bought all those bags of snacks because each one contained a label that allowed the buyer to enter a contest to meet the idol singer/voice actress Nana Mizuki after a concert. According to the premium rules, three labels earns the holder one chance to enter the lottery.

As with the AKB election, the contest requires a lot of work. The entrant has to cut the labels off the bags and glue them on to a postcard and then send the postcard to a special address. Obviously, by removing the label from the bag, the potato chips become unresellable and the buyer doesn’t seem to be that much into potato chips, so he just dumped the whole lot in a field or forest somewhere.

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3 Responses

  1. The name of the girl who came in second at the election is not Ushihara, it’s Sashihara, the last year’s winner.

    I think the calculation quite strange, simply multiplying the votes with the price for the Labrador Retriever CD.

    First of all, you can be eligible to vote also without buying the CD, for example every fanclub member has one vote. When using there smartphone app, you also gain a vote.

    Secondly, the guy just added up for the ranks 80 to 1. However, also members that didn’t rank got votes. And actually, it is easy to get the amount of votes, cause it is published every year. There were 2,689,427 which is about 412,000 more than the calculated one of 2,277,635.

    Additionally, also the selling numbers for the single “Labrador Retriever” is published on Oricon and by now was sold 1,764,489 times.

    Everyone knows that AKB48 makes a huge amount of money, but keep your facts straight.

  2. Thank you for the information, but the point of the post is not how much money AKB makes but rather how the use of the premium system can be abused by some people.

  3. 1,764,489 copies – i wonder how many of those will see at least one spin in a CD player.

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