The Record Industry Association of Japan (RIAJ) released figures for physical audio and video shipments in Japan for the first quarter of 2011 and the data yielded rather surprising results.
Stemming somewhat the downward spiral of the past few years, total audio shipments were only down 6% in volume, to 46 million units, and 8% in value, to 50 billion yen (about $610 million) compared to the same quarter a year earlier. This compares quite favorably to the drop in first quarter production between 2009-2010 when the market lost 10% in volume and 16% in value.
Even more shocking, however, is that when video is calculated into the totals, overall shipments actually rose 4% in volume, to 75.6 million units, and 2% in value, to 99 billion yen ($1.2 billion).
Video itself was up 24% in volume, to 29.5 million units, and 16% in value, to 49 billion yen ($598 million). DVD, the lion's share of the video market, accounted for 41.7 billion yen ($509 million) of shipments, up 11% compared to the same quarter in 2010.
"Obviously video shipments pulled the market up," says RIAJ spokesman Masaki Suenaga. Even taking that into account shipments rebounded across the board and Suenaga surmises, "More than saying this was a great quarter, I think it shows that the past few years have been poor and this is more the norm." RIAJ had stressed to Billboard in interviews over the past few years that the recession in Japan was having an enormous impact on physical shipments and that they would rebound in a stronger economy.
In terms of the bounce back in audio shipments, Suenaga cited a renewed interest in Japanese pop idols, particularly the large girl band AKB48 and boy bands Arashi and Exile.
More hope was evidenced in the area of international repertoire, which had been in something of a freefall. Shipments of international repertoire, 8.84 million units, lost no ground when compared with the same quarter last year and their value dipped only 4% to 8.7 billion yen ($106 million). This is relatively good news if one notes that between the first quarters of 2009 and 2010 international repertoire plummeted a staggering 30% in value.
The reasons for the recovery of international shipments are varied and Suenaga pointed the boom in Korean pop, or K-pop, in Japan. These bands are variously classified as domestic or international repertoire by the releasing label, and enough have been placed in the international category to boost that arena.
Specifically, the popularity of the Korean quintet Kara (Universal Music Japan) has had a significant impact. Koji Mannami, a spokesman for Universal Music Japan, notes, "Kara's album "Girl Talk" was released at the end of November in Japan but sales really picked up in 2011. The main sales were in January and February of this year." Universal reports over 350,000 units have been moved to date.
Other industry sources here suggest that intense interest in Lady Gaga has buoyed international repertoire, as has the release of Michael Jackson's posthumous CD "Michael" on December 15 of last year.
The irony of this significant rebound in shipments for the first quarter of 2011 is that the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and tsunami hit the country on March 11, seriously reducing shipments after March 15. The effects of this tragedy will no doubt be felt in the shipments of the second quarter of 2011.