The Korean Fair Trade Commission is investigating major K-pop agencies over deceptive album sales practices related to photocards.
Entertainment agencies in the K-pop sphere have increasingly begun selling photocards of band members with their albums, a practice that increases the amount of units fans must buy to increase their chances of getting the photocard they want. Korea’s antitrust agency is launching a probe into whether the practice violates laws or disrupts the market.
Often included in albums, photocards are photos of K-pop stars that have never been released in other media, leading many avid fans to collect them in a show of affection. But because the cards are randomly placed in each album, the most die-hard fans purchase several copies of the same album to increase their chances of getting the photocard they want — and many K-pop groups contain numerous members.
The Korean Fair Trade Commission has stepped up its efforts to investigate major entertainment agencies to determine whether the practice is exploitative of fans. On July 31, SM Entertainment was investigated under this suspicion, as were JYP Entertainment and YG Entertainment on August 1 and 2, respectively. The investigations follow increasing complaints about excessive spending on photocards, extras of which are often sold on secondary marketplaces such as eBay.
NCT, a larger idol group of 20 members, was cited as an example; in their 2020 album, 50 different photocards were launched. Because fans can’t preview which photocard is contained in the album before purchase, some purchased tens of hundreds of albums to secure photocards of their favorites.
As a result, the social media trend of album unboxing, or “album kkang,” emerged, where fans unbox multiple copies of an album to show off which photocards they got. That, unsurprisingly, leads to excessive purchasing from even more fans.
The FTC investigation is to determine whether the process of manufacture and sales are handled fairly, as many companies have been suspected of altering production numbers to make some photocards rarer among the same set, thus promoting additional sales.
Korean officials have rejected media requests for comment.