K-Pop Hits the Mall as Trans World Entertainment Adds Dedicated Retail Space, Sends Data to Korean Charts

ISSUE 5 2019 - DO NOT REUSE
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Superstars BTS accounted for most of K-pop’s U.S. streaming and sales activity in 2018.

Entertainment retailer Trans World Entertainment has signed a deal to report sales of its K-pop titles to Korean chart company Hanteo. And as part of that arrangement, the Albany, N.Y.-based chain is creating a K-pop section in each of its 210 U.S. stores and its websites, where it will sell music, clothing, accessories and collectibles.

"We continue to look for opportunities to provide our customers with collaborative merchandise in stores and online, and K-pop is one of those opportunities," said Trans World CEO Michael Feurer in a statement. "We are excited about giving K-pop fans in the United States the opportunity to help their favorite group rise on the Hanteo Chart."

In a South Korean market dominated by charts-based music TV shows, those domestic tallies take on added value for fans and artists. And while definitive K-pop data is unavailable, what’s of most interest to Trans World is that when K-pop albums are physically released, fans respond accordingly. And in the United States, such sales are growing.

Using Nielsen Music sales data of 17 K-pop acts who have appeared on the Billboard charts over the past decade, Billboard estimates that sales and streaming activity has jumped almost 100 percent or more over each of the past four years, from 190,000 consumption units in 2015 to 2.2 million units in 2018, the latter a 166 percent jump over 2017. While most of last year’s activity came from BTS, the other 16 acts still accounted for 570,000 album consumption units for 2018.

For example, BTS generated 1.6 million overall audio consumption units in 2018, of which 668,000 (or 41 percent) were physical sales. In 2018, as sales of both overall albums and physical CDs again slipped by double-digit percentages in the United States, that’s good news for Trans World.

One reason BTS sells so many physical copies is the extensive extras in its CD packages, says Trans World vp music and movies Bill Miller. He’s encouraging other labels to use the same strategy for U.S. K-pop releases, and also plans to seek in-store appearances from K-pop acts.

Overall, the 17 K-Pop acts tracked by Billboard have racked up nearly 4.86 million audio album consumption units, of which physical albums totaled 861,000 or 17.7 percent of that. But other than BTS, only four of the other 16 acts had decent availability in the physical formats:  BOA, with an overall 83,000 audio album consumption units, saw the 35,000 album sales component of that at 50 percent, or 18,000 copies, physical; and similarly EXO, with 426,000 audio album consumption units since its music was first made available in the U.S., generated almost 45 percent, or 43,000 copies, of the 95,0000 of the total album sales component from the physical format. The other two acts with a noticeable physical presence are NCT 127 and Wonder Girls, with the former tallying 16,000 of its 21,000 in sales from physical with most of that occurring in 2018; and the latter garnering 8,000 of its 20,000 in the physical format but most of that happened before 2015, according to Nielsen Music.

Executives hope that the deal will lead K-pop merchandise suppliers to help Trans World stock collectibles and accessories.

Trans World executives say they hope that news of the deal will spread to vendors of K-pop merchandise to help it complement its music selection with appropriate collectables and accessories. So far, the company has reported about $291 million in revenue through Nov. 3, the first nine months of its fiscal year, which ended on Feb. 2. The company is not expected to report its full-year results until the last week of March.

"We see steady growth in our K-pop business, with fans being very engaged with the packaging and collectible items that the labels continue to release," says Miller. "It’s allowing fans to feel a real connection between them and the artist." 

This article originally appeared in the March 2 issue of Billboard.