CD Industry is Holding Strong in Japan

You might have thought that physical storage media of music are pretty much doomed since the dawn of digital copy and internet. If one can get a song easily (and often freely) with a click and can store it in all devices one has, why would one ever want to put extra effort and hassle with an old-fashioned medium? Who would do that? Hipsters? Possible. They will always be the minority though.

But in Japan, CD is still the king.

While CD sales are falling worldwide, including in Japan, they still account for about 85 percent of sales here, compared with as little as 20 percent in some countries, like Sweden, where online streaming is dominant.

— Sisario, Ben, CD-Loving Japan Resists Move to Online Music, nytimes.com, 16 Sept. 2014.

How does the Japanese CD industry defend their bastion so well for so long against the assault of online music? As an outsider who has been interested in this matter, I want to share my view on it.

Oricon Chart

oricon chart

Long story short, Oricon Chart is the list of most popular music in Japan that has been used as an indicator of how successful an artist is. Sounds normal? Here is the catch: the data for the chart is based on “physical media sales” and taken from “physical music retail outlets”. Compare it with Billboard Hot 100 which is based on radio play, online streaming, and sales (physical and digital), Oricon Chart puts heavy emphasis in CD (and other physical media) sales figure by outlets as a big factor in determining the names in the chart.

Capture 4
How the chart looks like on their site.

Did I mention that Oricon Chart matters? It matters A LOT for artists. And not only being number 1 in the chart, but the sales figure collected also holds great importance for them. Which means artists will have to encourage their fans to buy their CD-s at the CD stores to put their name on the chart, and fans will have to buy their favorite artists’ CD-s at the CD stores to support their favorite artists; buying or streaming the digital copy is just a waste of time and money in this matter.

CD Industry Players’ Domination

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Tower Records, a record company that also operates physical retail outlets

Creating a temporary cafe to support the artist, holding special event for artists and fans, and having live performance at the CD Store are some efforts executed by CD Industry players to boost not only music sales but also their bonds with the artists and fans (and to sell more CD-s, naturally). They also have outlets, which often also sell merchandises accompanying the CD-s, with distribution across Japan, gripping the whole country on their hands.

Arm Wrestling Championship among idol groups. Why? Because kawaii goddess demands it!

The CD Industry players are taking active steps in  promoting music and becoming more than just CD seller; they are becoming identical with the music industry itself. And these same players collectively resist “foreign invasion” of music streaming and downloads. No wonder the “invaders” are having hard time penetrating the market.

And did I mention that giant record companies also develop record label specialized in idols?

Idols of T-Palette Records, a  family member of Tower Records
Idols of T-Palette Records, a family member of Tower Records

Strategic Alliance with Idol Groups

Idol groups, a popular format of vocal groups in Japan, are undeniably having a big contribution in shooting CD sales through the roof. They use all their charm and wits to get the greatest accomplishment on the Oricon Chart by having their CD-s sold as much as possible. Their methods are creatively manifold, exempli gratia; placing autographed photo as a surprise bonus for buying the CD, putting special event ticket in the CD case, giving voting right for every CD bought, threatening to disband if a sales target is not achieved, simply asking you to buy with kawaiiness, and many others.

Sakura Gakuin members politely ask you to check out their DVD

Furthermore, idol group fans are a multiplier factor in boosting sales figure generated. Die-hard fans who will do almost anything to support their idols, which includes buying multitude copy of a same CD and holding fundraising campaign to buy more CD. They might be not the majority, but they still buy more than average people and that means more CD sold.

Contrary to what some media try to picture, idol fan does not always have to be unmarried adult male. A photo from natalie.mu above shows a fan, which is a little girl, supporting Negicco, an idol group.
Contrary to what some media try to picture, idol fan does not always have to be unmarried adult male. A photo from natalie.mu above shows a fan, which is a little girl, supporting Negicco, an idol group.

All of those factors ensure that CD (and other physical media) will stay dominant in Japan for quite a long time. But they are all based on my opinion. Do you have anything to add? Disagree with my view? Share it in the comment section below or the chat section on the right.

3 thoughts on “CD Industry is Holding Strong in Japan

  1. I live in Jakarta where JKT48, a franchise idol group of Japan’s AKB48, has its own theater show. The concept is the same. Fans buy CD to get a handshake ticket. Every three-four months a handshake festival event is held. On this event, fans can use the ticket to meet the idol in person. One ticket is for 10 seconds only. Imagine how many CD the fan had to buy to talk witj their favorite idol in 1 minute.

    However during the last two events, the CD is changed with music download card, though the concept remains the same.

    1. That’s why idol business is a growing business.

      Note that JKT48 is just a part of 48group; in Japan, 48 family has three groups in three cities.

      1. Hihi yes I know that🙂

        Currently JKT48 is declining in popularity though. On their latest single, Halloween Night (the same with AKB48), they also released the “dangdut” version to expand their segment reach. And in reality, the dangdut version now has more on air opportunities than the original one.

        Anyway you may check my blog for some activities of Indonesian’s girl band and idol group. I actively take photos of them all during live performance (though the blog is Indonesian language)🙂

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