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(News Focus) Repackaged albums: Better value or shameless money grab?

All Headlines 09:00 September 10, 2017

By Chang Dong-woo

SEOUL, Sept. 10 (Yonhap) -- Being a hardcore K-pop idol fan isn't a cheap hobby -- there are albums with lavish pictorial booklets, an endless supply of merchandise and the concerts. After that? Almost always, reprinted albums with bonus content arrive from big-name idol groups.

Productions of repacked albums became a common industry practice in K-pop as early as the mid-2000s. One of the first successful reprints of a previous record was Loveholics' debut album released in 2003. The repackaged record "Re_all Florist" came out in October, six months after the initial album "Florist" came out six months earlier.

On the outside, a typical reprint album for idol groups normally consists of brand new packaging and artwork. It is also normally supplemented with new photos and memorabilia, such as collectors' cards for the team's singers. S.M. Entertainment totally renewed the artwork for EXO's repackaged record "The War: The Power of Music," adopting a comic book superhero-esque concept and aesthetic.

This image provided by S.M. Entertainment shows boy band EXO posing in a publicity image for its new album "The War: The Power of Music." (Yonhap)

Contentwise, normally three or four new songs are added to the original collection of works. Repackaged albums effectively provide opportunities for bands to reboot publicity and media promotions. GFriend will renew its media publicity with a new lead track "Summer Rain," one of the new songs included in "Rainbow," a repackaged edition of its fifth EP album put out last month.

In terms of release window, repackaged albums are put out normally within a period of two to three months following the initial release. These tend to coincide with back-to-back promotions for songs for respective groups. In a way, many teams are effectively rereleasing albums to promote new songs only available on the repackaged editions.

Reprinting albums with bonus content is undoubtedly a profit-oriented decision, as opposed to an artistic one. Industry practices of releasing supplemental content on top of already released products isn't necessarily limited to music nor K-pop. Major video game studios also release additional downloadable content after putting out initial works. An important distinction though is that video game players don't have to buy the entire game again to enjoy the added materials.

Experts say that K-pop's album repackaging trend has expanded as the main method of music consumption has moved to streaming, which led to an overall decline in the sales of physical music copies. Squeezed by diminishing returns from physical sales, labels are in essence rereleasing previous works to maximize profit from die-hard fans prepared to dole out cash for anything and everything related to their idols, according to observers.

A teaser image for K-pop girl group GFriend's upcoming repackaged album "Rainbow" provided by Source Music. (Yonhap)

"As more people move to streaming to listen to music, physical CDs are being increasingly recognized as collectors' items or memorabilia, at least in the idol music market," said music critic Im Jin-mo. "It is basically a marketing trick aimed at maximizing sales on the back of powerful fandoms," Im added.

Multiple releases are also used to embellish performances by bands in a market highly sensitive to sales figures. EXO's past four albums have all become "million sellers," according to S.M. Entertainment. But only when reading carefully between the lines can one learn that record companies tend to combine sales figures for the original and reprinted albums to maximize their PR effects.

Proponents of repackaged releases, idol fans and record label insiders alike, argue that rereleases are intended to invigorate the physical music market, which has already slumped significantly. They also say that reprints also offer a better value proposition to people who did not pick up a CD upon release.

"I haven't had the opportunity to listen to GFriend's new album last month. If a reprint comes out with more songs and improved packaging, I can't see why I won't be intrigued to buy one," Kim Cheol-hoon, an office worker in Seoul said.


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