This article aims to debunk the myth that have been circling around the Morning Musume fandom (especially the English fandom, check out the reactions noted in IntlWota.com), that due Morning Musume's weak sales in their latest single "Mikan" is a sign that their time is done, and that their popularity is fading. Many fans assume that their fandom is rapid shrinking, due to older members have graduated, and wotas less interest in the current Momusu members (their attention has diverted to the C-ute and Berryz Koubou).
As noted in the previous post Mikan sold around 28k copies and has been performing weaker than the others. If you are a hardcore Morning Musume fan, you may want say that the Japanese music industry is declining overall. But the fact is the industry is NOT on a decline. It's because.... times have changed.
Beginning with Oricon figures, as we all know Oricon sales figures should not be taken as a true measurement for the sales performance. They only count sales based on reports from selective stores, therefore we use the 1.75 modifier to calculate a closer estimate. Still, it is not 100% accurate. I have touched on a subject that Oricon may be playing favorites and everyone still mentions it every now and then.
To restore hope to all desperate fans let's look at a bigger picture, outside of Oricon sales figures.
The Rise of Digital Age
The market for digital-sales have
Four days after Apple launched its iTunes Music Store in Japan, they recorded over one million song downloads. An outstanding feat, seeing that it took iTunes USA a full week to achieve the same numbers. The main factor - price. Why spend 1545 yen ($US 13.99) on the CD jacket, when you can download it for 463 yen ($US 4.19).
As noted by Gaki in the comments of a previous post, the RIAJ (Recording Industry Association of Japan) reports that digital-music sales are rising due to the increasing popularity of ringback tunes, mobile-based full-song downloads, PC-downloads and other forms of paid downloads. We are talking about 121.6 million units of digital-sales in the 3rd quarter of 2007 that are not taken into account by Oricon.
Cumulative digital-download results for the first three quarters of 2007 show mobile-based music downloads rising 28% to 325.2 million units, for a value of 50 billion yen ($458.1 million), up 44%, while PC-based downloads in the January-September period rose 27% to 22.3 million units, for a value of 4.3 billion yen ($38.7 million), up 15%.
Total digital downloads, including miscellaneous categories, for the first three quarters totaled 347.5 million units, a rise of 28%, for a value of 55.3 billion yen ($506.8 million), up 44%.
In summary, while in the first three quarters CD sales dropped 30% but digital downloads have risen 28%. CD Sales as of Oct 2007 was 51.421 million and download sales were 347.5 million. Meaning that, comparing with the industry CD & digital-sales, for every 1 CD single sold, it is sold by digital download 6.8 times (rounded from 6.75). Therefore to calculate a more closer estimate of the true sales, is to take the Oricon figures and multiply by 6.8.
So the true sales for Morning Musume's single "Mikan" is 28,082 * 6.8, giving us a 190,957 of estimated true sales, with a discrepancy of +/- 1000 units. Now the numbers don't look so bad, huh? ^_^
It is this lucrative potential in download sales that prompted Avex to announce that Ayumi Hamasaki's next single, "Together When...," will be a digital release only. The full song officially goes on sale on December 5, with shortened ringtone versions available starting last Wednesday. Avex acknowledged the decline in CD sales and increase in digital sales and as a result it became the main factor behind the decision. They recall the RIAJ report of the rise of 142% in sales increase in 1st half of 2007, and due to its low-cost production (compared to the cost producing CD jackets) and may consider making it the core of their future music business if the single is successful.
Morning Musume's Other Income Source
Other than CD sales and digital-downloads come from concert tickets, concert merchandise, photos, Hello! Project stores, photobooks, radio shows, variety shows, political campaigns. So there are no worries that the group cannot find ways to sustain. Children who attend H!P concerts bring their parents along, meaning that they generate revenue even from the wallets of parents of H!P fans. So don't think the wotas are the only source of income for Momusu.
The Lure of Morning Musume
Morning Musume is recognizable to every Japanese, no matter if you are a Jpop fan or not. I remember seeing a variety show in which Yaguchi Mari was on. The on-site reporter carried placards of Morning Musume members to remote villages around Japan. They pick a random senior citizen and ask if they know who the person in the card is. Not surprisingly, all of them do know! (even though some of them got the names wrong, but they recognize the girls at least)
We owe this recognizability to TV exposures and other mass-comm media, which Morning Musume have in abundance. See the viewership figures here -->
Utaban exposed to 13.5 million viewers
Music Fair exposed to 11.3 million viewers
Music Japan exposed to 13.3 million viewers
Music Station N/A about the same as the others
Haromoni as of Nov 11 draws 2.4 million viewers
Speaking of Haromoni, which given a daytime slot aired on Sunday mornings, it is a variety show designed for children. Despite their many past scandals, Momusu has always and will remain a strong demographic draw of pre-teen girls, who like Momusu fashion style and make up. Kusumi Koharu testified in an interview with Oricon that during her junior school's radio taisou (morning assembly exercises) session, they used "Love Machine" as a tune to dance to (Much to the shock of Nakazawa Yuuko, who is feeling the generation gap there ^_^). Additionally, many teens name Takahashi Ai and Tanaka Reina as their role-model.
Overseas, Momusu are 3rd most searched group in Korea. They are in the top 5 in sales in Taiwan . Their visit to Taiwan caused a near riot at the airport for fans to see not only Junjun and Linlin, but MM as a whole .
Business Is On a Roll - Expansion.
Earlier this year, the holding company UFG (Up Fron Group) the mother company for UFW (Up Front Works) and UFA (Up Front Agency) where Hello! Project resides under, are on a move to get listed on stock exchange.
This can only mean one thing, business is booming. And it is not without the help of image recognition created by their entertainment side of the business. Namely, the artistes with UFW and Hello! Project. They would not have spent 100 million yen to promote their company image in 3 national papers if it was not important.
Therefore it makes no business sense to kill a brand that they have spent 10 years to build, especially one that they have invested with so much resources.
I hope this article helped to answer many questions that you may have, and to urge you to have more faith in Morning Musume. I'm not saying that the Oricon sales figures is not important, because it is. A good sales track record looks great on any portfolio. But if you can look beyond the numbers and the bigger picture, you will find that there are still many untapped potentials for Morning Musume. They're time is not done. In fact, they've only just begun...
29 November 2007 - Facts & figures provided by Gaki, edited by jinryuichi
RIAJ Reports Rise In Q3 Download Sales
Online music sales surging in Japan
iTunes Japan hits 1,000,000
Ayumi Hamasaki next single will be digital download only
Output of Audio and Video Items in 10/2007