Photocards are a staple in kpop culture. There’s a certain excitement you experience when you’re ripping through the plastic wrap of a new album, wondering whose photocard you’re going to get. But when BTS’s new album was released in UK stores on February 21st, many fans were disheartened to find photocards of all seven BTS members instead of the randomised ones they’re used to receiving in kpop albums. That excitement dissolved and was replaced instead by confusion when British kpop fans realised they were the only ones to be given group photocards and many took to Twitter to broadcast their beliefs that official chart rules in the UK have been revised to specifically penalise kpop.
The official chart rules as of January 2020 state that there are permitted free gifts which can be put in an album which include one poster, cards, stickers and booklets. However, it also rules that: “Where there is more than one Permitted Free Gift associated with an album and a consumer does not know what Permitted Free Gift(s) is/are included with the album until after purchasing the album, the album will only be eligible for the Chart if the full set of Permitted Free Gifts is available to buy separately to the album or together with one album.”
It’s not the photocards themselves that are the problem, but the undisclosed randomisation of the cards.
Many kpop fans have become album collectors and the devoted nature of the fandom means that often they will buy multiple albums to complete their collection. This is also the case with photocards and record labels know that so they, unfortunately, try and exploit this dedication by designing albums that will maximise their profits.
This causes difficulties in the UK where the CD market is dominated by basic jewel cases that have no collector incentives so it seems the rules have been imposed to even out the playing field. The albums that are sold with group photocards are still eligible for the charts, but, as a consequence, they are less collectible.
It’s not just entertainment companies that abuse the value of the random photocard, though, as some fans charge extortionate prices for the free gift they received in the album. The standard going rate for photocards on eBay and Facebook marketplace tends to be around £7-£8 which is bad enough, but for complete collections and rare photocards it can cost fans hundreds (and that’s without P&P).
The reality that now surrounds photocards in the kpop community makes you wonder whether they should still exist. Is it fair that the UK official chart rules now exclude albums with undisclosed gifts? Is it fair that entertainment company’s use the fandom’s love to generate as much revenue as possible? Is it fair that fans buy albums just to resell them and their photocards for a profit?
For the time being, it appears random photocards are here to stay (just not in the UK) as many consumers are turning to online sellers that count towards Korean charts and still include randomised photocards. But, will this change mean the end of the Korean album trade in the UK? We’ve only just started seeing kpop albums sold in high street shops and the end might already be nigh.