AKB48: The Million Seller Obsession?

In case you somehow haven’t heard, AKB48’s latest single “Eien Pressure” managed to sell over a million copies in its first week on sale and perhaps rather obviously ranked #1 on Oricon’s weekly singles chart. This marks the groups tenth consecutive single to sell over a million copies in a single week, quite the feat considering how the sale of physical music is starting to drop off drastically, even in Japan.

 

I have a few things that I want to address in this article so please bear with me here as I try to put my thoughts into words the best I can. If you can’t stand hearing someone raise what in their opinion are very valid concerns and criticisms about the almighty AKB then don’t let the door hit your delusional ass on the way out. Now that I’ve played up to my “AKB hater” character and got the controversial bit out of the way, let’s get to the meat of the issue.

Like I said, any kind of physical music release selling over a million copies in any given week in this day and age is an impressive thing. With digital downloads and illegal file sharing being very prominent these days, you just don’t see those numbers anymore. It doesn’t even matter how good or bad you perceive the content to be, shifting that kind of volume is a sign of very good PR and marketing from the company responsible for it.

However, in this case I can’t help but find myself asking “But, how much is too much to maintain this million seller streak?” It’s a pretty complex answer really because while I have absolutely zero problem with a company trying to make money, it gets a bit muddier when you actually think about how much went into making sure that “Eien Pressure” cracked that magic number. Maybe you didn’t even realise how much went into it but I for one can’t think of any other AKB single that got so much help from what I’m going to refer to as “outside sources”.

Now to be fair, this was the janken single and they’re notorious for being on the lower end of the year’s single sales for AKB48. That’s purely down to the “random” (going to avoid jumping on that grenade) nature of who makes it into senbatsu and Aki-P seemingly being unwilling to take any real risk with the song that they end up singing. It’s not unreasonable that management thought that this single needed a bit of a boost to ensure sales didn’t dip too much. I’d have thought that choosing a less vanilla sounding song would have done a pretty good job of that in and of itself but hey, I’m not the one running a successful female idol group.

Okay so I’ve alluded to all of this “outside help” that “Eien Pressure” got so I suppose I better start explaining it. First of all, the single shipped with 4 different versions, 5 if you’re also counting the theater edition. It’s not an incredibly big deal because the janken single usually comes in 3 main versions plus the theater edition but it still made me raise an eyebrow. I mean, this is getting awfully close to Hello!Project levels of single types and can’t really be seen as anything other than an attempt to get people to part with more money. Let’s face it, there are people out there who will buy every version of an AKB single so adding another is only going to add to your sales total at the end of the week.

The main reason for all of these different versions of “Eien Pressure” (besides more sales)? Well, they gave SKE48, NMB48 and HKT48 a b-side each on three of the versions. It is unprecedented for an AKB release to feature b-sides from each of its sister groups and it has both its pros and cons. The pros are of course a sales bump of some amount because if you’re a hardcore SKE or NMB wota then chances are you’re buying the version that comes with their b-side, even if “Eien Pressure” is of no interest to you. Then you have HKT48 who just so happen to be releasing their first original song on this single. That’s going to be a significant factor for quite a few people when they’re deciding whether to buy the single or not.

On a more positive note, the sister groups also get a significant amount of exposure from this venture. Although perhaps not as much as we’d all like because the non-theater editions only make up around a third of the total sales but still, it’s at least a positive thing in that regard. Your opinion of how good the b-sides actually are non-withstanding.

The other reason for there being so many versions is that Type D features a special collaboration between AKB48 and Okamura Takashi. The unit is called “OKL48” and while the concept is a little weird, the song is actually pretty decent. For those who don’t know, Okamura is a comedian who is a pretty big deal in the entertainment industry so for him to collaborate on an AKB release is significant. However, you have to ask how this even came about in the place. It’s certainly interesting timing, that much is for sure and again you would have a very compelling argument for him only being there to boost sales. AKB are certainly getting more out of this collaboration than Okamura is at any rate. It’s not like he needs the promotion at this point although I’m sure he was compensated handsomely for his name and time.

This last point is pretty weak but I feel like it deserves to be mentioned at least. “Eien Pressure”, like every AKB single for the past eternity comes with a bonus in the form of random photocards. However, this time around they decided to put not one but two random photos in the “Eien Pressure” CD cases. Like I said, this is pretty whatever but there’s people out there that are hardcore into collecting photos so there’s probably some number that bought more because of this. It’s nice to get a little something extra with your purchase I suppose.

So there you have it, everything different that AKB did with “Eien Pressure” all laid out and explained in a way that’s hopefully easy to understand. However, the question still remains “Why did they go to such lengths?”

If it’s to maintain the million seller streak then I can’t see it holding up in the long run. You can’t just keep tapping up your sister group’s wota every time there is a non-election single. People are going to get burnt out and just not have any money to continue buying your product if their wallets keep getting slammed month in and month out. I’d like to also take this opportunity to point out that the next AKB single is shipping with 3 version plus a theater edition so good luck with that. It looks like 3 might have just become the magic number as far as different versions of singles go.

Everything that I’ve mentioned above is also potentially (Read: ABSOLUTELY 100% SURE, WOULD BET THE HOUSE ON IT) causing sales numbers to be artificially inflated and that’s perhaps the crux of the issue. Look, I get that management is probably still having a nervous breakdown over Maeda Atsuko leaving but you HAVE to let sales level off so you know where you stand in the market now. Not doing so can lead to some disastrous consequences in the not too distant future. Stop obsessing over keeping this million seller streak alive and going after more records. Instead start adapting to the fact that single sales will probably continue to fall no matter how much bonus stuff or guest b-sides you throw at the consumer. It’s just the times we live in now.

Alternatively, perhaps management just didn’t have enough confidence that Shimazaki Haruka could carry the entire single on her tiny shoulders. I can’t say that I blame them if that is the case. Although if the person that you’re pushing hard to be the new center of your group needs so many outside factors to help her sell singles then perhaps you’re barking up the wrong tree entirely.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on all of this. Perhaps we could get a discussion going in the comment section below. Feedback on the article’s content in general is also greatly appreciated and received with an open mind.

About NSK

New School Kaidan is a community-focused website for the Japanese idol industry international fan base. Between podcasts, broadcasts, events, and analytic articles, New School Kaidan aims to bring an understanding of idol culture to the masses.

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