Everything you need to know about AKB48 photos24 April, 2013 by Chad
There comes a times in every AKB48 fan’s life where they they come across the expansive selection of AKB48 merchandise. While some are content with supporting their idols through the occasional CD purchases, others dive head on into the world of collectible nama shashin. If you’ve reading this, then you’re probably at least considered purchasing some some.
Here’s our long overdue guide to everything about AKB48 photos. From pre-order store bonuses that come free with every single release to theater photos that are purchased directly each month, there are a wide range of different types of AKB48 photos. With a bit of experience each of these can be neatly categorized into one of the following types. Due to length, we’d be splitting this guide into a number of still sizable chunks. Over the next few posts, we’ll first take a look at the different categories of photographs and then offer some insights into the state of the second hand photo markets.
AKB48 B.L.T. Photos
Commonly referred to as just “BLTs”, B.L.T photos are one of the most popular and commonly collected photo types (apart from theater photos). BLTs are directly obtained from purchasing 48-branded copies of the Beautiful Lady & Television TV guide. As of December 2011, exactly 5 years after it first started, AKB48 B.L.T. photos have ceased production, though the other sister groups (and Nogizaka46) continue to have their equivalent issues. 1 random photograph is obtained with the purchase of each magazine which costs 500 yen each.
BLTs can be easily identified by their colored bars below each picture which contains the series name, product id and name of the member in the photo. There is one BLT collection for each month, in which the girls would be seen in one of their recent single outfits, or a random theater costume. At first there started with only 1, then 2 photographs per member. For the most part though these consisted of a set of 3 photographs for each of the group’s members, for a total 144 or so designs. Each set consists of the member in a medium, close up and extreme close up pose. Later, they shifted to a set of 9 photographs per member, with 3 sets of 3 photos in similar poses, except with different background colors.
AKB48 BLT photos initially came about from an exclusively photo deal with the magazine publisher which allowed B.L.T. magazine to monetize photographs of its members. It would seem that that deal has no longer been renewed. BLT photos were considered one of the highest quality and most sought out collectibles by fans since all B.L.T. published photographs (with the exception of the PHOTORE ones) tend to use an exclusive grade of high quality photo prints. Quality-wise they’re quite a bit better than the other non-B.L.T. AKB48 photographs.
Initially, copies of AKB48 version of the magazine were sold physically once a month on Akihabara, with the girls being physically present to offer handshakes to those purchasing, creating long queues to purchase the magazine. Perhaps due to complaints of littering (where fans would simply toss the magazine after taking out the photos) this was later changed to an online order system only.
Needless to say, the physical magazines were only an excuse to sell the photographs. There are only a few pages to each booklet, making them more of brochures than actual magazines. There was a limit of 5 copies of the magazine per person, which still applies to other B.L.T. publications now but fans have found ways around this limitation, causing a small number of mass buyers to had dominated the secondary market.
During 2010 to 2011, each B.L.T. photograph sold on the second hand market for about 300, 500-800 and 1,000-2,000 yen for theater, under and senbatsu girls respectively. We’ll go into more specifics about the prices of photographs in a later post. Due to the high cost of the magazine and increasing number of members, not many were willing to take the risk on purchasing the magazines. Getting anything less than a high undergirl would result in an automatic “loss”. Further worsening the second hand situation.
To encourage sales, special versions of each photograph, autographed by hand by the members were sent out at random. There are up to 3 autographed photos per design. These “signed” photographs would fetch hundreds of dollars each. Later they also added “digital” autograph messages that were printed on the photographs themselves. These were more common and less sought after.
Considering that between 300-500 people queued up during each release when they were sold in Akihabara and there was a limit to how many you could buy, the number of photos in print for the original 2007 sets were estimated to be as low as 10 copies per picture for the earlier sets.
We can estimate the later 2010 and 2011 sets to be more plentiful but still far lower in count than theater pictures. Judging from the prices, we can estimate the total quantity in print during this time to be about 1/2 of theater photos, i.e., about 30-50 of each picture in existence. Because the photos are shipped directly to people in Japan, many of the photos are spread out, with many sets going uncompleted. It can be extremely difficult to get hold of complete sets of BLT photographs, even on the secondary market.
SKE48/NMB48/HKT48/Nogizaka46 B.L.T. Photos
SKE48 B.L.T.s seem to have been halted too, but the rest of the other groups still continue to release B.L.T. issues and its photographs each month. And for the most part, the of the other groups’ B.L.T.s follow an almost identical format to AKB48’s (one photograph per 500 yen magazine).
The exception to this is that the newer SKE48’s B.L.T.s were sold in two alternate cover magazines each month, each which its own set of bonus B.L.T. photographs, for a total of 2 x 3 photographs per member, as opposed to just 3 for the other groups. The SKE48 sets from both versions each month contained pictures of identical costumes, but with different colored backgrounds.
Due to the more niched markets, direct sales for the other group photos are somewhat smaller in number. While unpopular member photographs may be adequate or even plentiful, the more popular members have their B.L.T. photographs driven up to even higher than AKB48 standards.
Stay tuned until our next post where we discuss the other B.L.T. published photographs.Click here to search CDJapan for official AKB48 goods.