Visualising the Growth in Girl Group Physical Sales Over the Years (Or: Yes, They Really Are Selling More These Days)

  • Over the past few years, it has been said that physical sales have risen significantly due to the growing popularity of K-pop throughout the world. This totally makes sense, but I wanted to visualise the growth myself, which, of course, meant creating a chart.


    Thus, using figures compiled by halfdavid, I gathered Korean release sales data for the top 30 best selling Second Generation and later girl groups, and graphed each series of sales on a common chart.


    The result is shown below. Note that I used different line/marker styles for each generation: 2nd = solid lines/circular markers, 3rd = dotted lines/triangular markers, 4th = dashed lines/square markers.


    GGPhysicalSales.png


    Observations:

    • As we can see, the top selling girl groups of today (Twice, Blackpink, Iz*One) clearly outsell, on average, the top group of the Second Generation, which of course is SNSD.


    • In fact, even Red Velvet, Itzy, and (G)I-dle are selling at around Girls' Generation levels (or higher) currently.


    • However, there are still plenty of releases selling in the 50K to 100K range today, which has been the case over the entire duration of this chart. The difference is that these days, a mid-level group such as fromis_9 or WJSN can achieve those numbers, whereas previously, only higher tier groups such as Wonder Girls, Kara, or T-ara could.


    • It is interesting to note that physical sales overall declined heading into the mid-2010s. I believe this is because Second Generation groups were losing popularity over that time period. Conversely, I see a rise in sales starting around 2015, which coincides with the advent of Third Generation girl groups.


    • In addition, I have to point out that sales have increased even more dramatically starting from roughly 2019. What do we think is the cause of this? My guess is that it's largely due to increased buying levels from Chinese fans.


    • Finally, keep in mind that the sales figures utilized here are total lifetime sales. If I had used, let's say, first three months data instead, the overall physical sales growth witnessed would be even greater given that lifetime sales favour earlier releases (as they've simply had more time to accumulate sales).

  • Sales dipped in 2010 not because of loss in popularity (in fact, it was the peak time digitally of a lot of second gen groups like SNSD, Suju, and SHINee), but because of a dip in the physical market in general.


    Physical sales only started picking up once EXO debuted and only really started taking off once Growl/Overdose came out.

  • Sales dipped in 2010 not because of loss in popularity (in fact, it was the peak time digitally of a lot of second gen groups like SNSD, Suju, and SHINee), but because of a dip in the physical market in general.


    Physical sales only started picking up once EXO debuted and only really started taking off once Growl/Overdose came out.

    I think that's right for boy groups, but the story is slightly different for the ladies. EXO's debut likely helped revitalize the physical market, though that wasn't reflected in girl group sales until a couple years later. This makes sense, since although EXO kicked off the Third Generation for boy groups in 2012, the Third Generation for girl groups didn't start until 2014 with the first appearances of Red Velvet and Mamamoo.

  • Sales suffered in the 2000's due to illegal downloads dominating. When that started getting tackled, sales did start rising but then cheap downloads became a big thing in South Korea. Which is why the 2nd gen have such skewed download numbers as they barely cost anything. The government made them raise their prices in 2013 which is why downloads started to drop from then and for newer groups albums probably became a more attractive proposition.


    You're right though that in the mid-2010's there was essentially a transition period happening

  • The government made them raise their prices in 2013 which is why downloads started to drop from then and for newer groups albums probably became a more attractive proposition.

    I'm glad you brought that up, since I forgot about the price increase for downloads. I imagine the rise of streaming also plays into this.

  • To try to make things clearer, I've now created a chart that simply graphs the release date and sales figures for each album, not segregated into individual artists. A 10-period moving average line is also included below:

    GGPhysicalSalesOverall.png


    Again, we see a decrease in sales heading into the mid-2010s, but a drastic increase beginning around 2015. Furthermore, this increase in sales has accelerated noticeably since 2019.

  • Still though the way SNSD was thrashing everyone including bgs was incredible.

    Yes that's a good point that you bring up. So over the past decade or so, why has boy group physical sale growth been so much larger than the analogous growth for girl groups?

  • As an additional piece to this analysis, I've calculated and graphed total sales and average (mean) sales for each year in the data set, as shown below:


    GGPhysicalSalesAnnual.png


    As we can see, the Second Generation appears to have peaked around 2010 before declining heading into the mid-2010s. However, the arrival of Third Generation girl groups marked an inflection point in the data, and sales have been increasing since the 2014-2015 time period.

  • Yes that's a good point that you bring up. So over the past decade or so, why has boy group physical sale growth been so much larger than the analogous growth for girl groups?

    Because the growth has come internationally where it's more unlikely/taboo for girl groups to have big fandoms/support.


    The most popular songs internationally are rarely boy group songs yet they still can sell a million from that same international support.

  • Yes that's a good point that you bring up. So over the past decade or so, why has boy group physical sale growth been so much larger than the analogous growth for girl groups?

    It's pretty obvious isn't it? BG have much more dedicated fans than ggs. Always have. Ggs rely more on public while bgs rely on fans which often means they can bring in more money and have greater staying power. Same situation regardless of how strong or weak the album market is


    Looking now multiple bgs can sell half a mil to over a million. Meanwhile only a handful of ggs can get to half (Twice, BP and I think formerly iz one?) and only 1 can pass million. Quite a disparity no?


    In SNSD era same story. Multiple bgs could get 100k and some of the biggest even higher. Meanwhile most ggs could barely achieve 50k and 100k was the dream with only a handful like 2ne1, FX and Kara could get. SNSD was the only gg that could go beyond and somehow even beat bgs which was massive feat. Them getting 1m in Japan at the time was simply insane and the icing on the top.

  • It's pretty obvious isn't it? BG have much more dedicated fans than ggs. Always have. Ggs rely more on public while bgs rely on fans which often means they can bring in more money and have greater staying power. Same situation regardless of how strong or weak the album market is


    Looking now multiple bgs can sell half a mil to over a million. Meanwhile only a handful of ggs can get to half (Twice, BP and I think formerly iz one?) and only 1 can pass million. Quite a disparity no?


    In SNSD era same story. Multiple bgs could get 100k and some of the biggest even higher. Meanwhile most ggs could barely achieve 50k and 100k was the dream with only a handful like 2ne1, FX and Kara could get. SNSD was the only gg that could go beyond and somehow even beat bgs which was massive feat. Them getting 1m in Japan at the time was simply insane and the icing on the top.

    Oh yeah, boy groups having much more dedicated fans than girl groups is a well established fact. No question there.


    I was just curious as to why the *growth* in boy group sales over the past decade has been so much greater. For example, a top BG in the Second Generation was selling only around 100K-150K more than a top GG. However, these days, the gap between a top BG and top GG can be 1 million or more.


    Thus, it seems like the bulk of the physical sales growth witnessed over the past decade (which has been driven by "international" fans) has gone to boy groups, i.e. the ratio of top BG sales to top GG sales is noticeably higher now.


    stan12345 mentioned the "taboo" factor above. This implies that it's not as acceptable for "Western" males to be K-pop fans (who would naturally favour girl groups), which does offer some explanation for what we're seeing.

  • To add, a lot of gg fans are male or at least have a significant male fan base percentage. Males simply don't buy albums for ggs as female fans do for bgs. That's how it is. It can be for many reasons: males think it might be gay to support a gg to that extent, it might be embarrassing (older male fans are often called creeps), they only like them for looks rather than music, they rather spend money on other stuff like games or tech and so on.


    Female fans meanwhile are more than willing to shell out a ton for bg album sales. And like you said with a wider international audience its easier for international females to buy albums. International mle fans I guess are just the same as Koreans so they'll buy less.


    If you look at the big selling ggs they have a significant female demographic. SNSD at their peak had like 50-50 ratio of male to female fans so they could sell a lot. FX and 2ne1 also had a strong female fanbase.


    Currently Bp has by far the biggest female demographic among ggs so their sales reflect that.

  • males think it might be gay to support a gg to that extent, it might be embarrassing (older male fans are often called creeps), they only like them for looks rather than music, they rather spend money on other stuff like games or tech and so on.

    As a heterosexual male who's been interested in Korean music since the First Generation, I've heard this all before, sadly. I can vividly remember hearing K-pop being describing as "gay" before.

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