The monthly AKS released photographs01 May, 2013 by Chad
AKB48 theater photos are are series of photographs produced directly by AKS themselves. They’re the second main type of AKB48 collectible photos and with the ceasing of B.L.T. photographs can now be considered the most popular kind to be collected. AKB48 theater photos, in their current form emerged in 2009 as a more common alternative to B.L.T. photographs.
AKB48 Theater Photos
Release: Monthly (Since July 2009)
AKB48 Theater Photographs are referred to as such since they are sold at the AKB48 shop below the theater on the 5th floor of Akihabara’s Don Quixote building. The photographs are sold on the 26th of each month. Though in recent years, the number of days where photos are sold have expanded to 2, and now 5 days. During days where the theater photos are sold, you’ll be able to see a long queue spanning outside of the Don Quixote building in the morning.
Theater photos mimic regular B.L.T. photographs somewhat in that they are a number of studio shots of the AKB48 members. It also has a bar across the bottom of the photo. The theater bar details the name of the member, her team, and month of print of the photo. Unlike B.L.T. photographs, the theater bar changes in color each month (usually to match the costume worn in the photo). Theater photos also differ from B.L.T.s in that there are 4 to a set. The photos are always taken against a plain white background and feature the members in a different theater outfit each month.
When B.L.T. photos were still available, theater photos were considered of inferior quality and less sought after. All theater photos from prior to end 2010 were printed on low quality stock paper as if they were printed from a home inkjet printer (and quite possibly so). The quality of prints improved a little in 2010, before finally adopting proper photo prints in 2011. Even then, the actual technicalities of the taken photos continue to leave much to be desired.
AKB48 theater photos are cheaper than their B.L.T. counterparts. At a time when they ran simultaneously, theater photos consistently fetched almost exactly half the price of B.L.T. photos. This was due either to the poorer quality leading to a lower demand, or (much more likely) because of the higher supply and cheaper cost.
Theater photos are released in packets that cost 1,000 yen each. Each person in queue is limited to purchasing five packets at a time. The packets are sorted by team and each packet contains 5 somewhat random photographs of members from the respective team. It is not totally random, in that each packet contains a fair spread of popular and less popular members. In 2010, approximately 600 packets of theater photos were released each month per team. Assuming that all members were given an equal print run, this means that approximately 46 sets of 4 photographs exists for each member. The figures were later increased to about 1,000 packets per team in 2011 (~78 sets per member).
Now that AKB48 B.L.T. photographs have halted, AKB48 theaters have become the generic AKB48 photos to collect. Recognizing the increased demand, AKS has increased the print of theater sets to anywhere between 650 to 1,900 sets per team, multiplied by 5 days. Here’s the statistics for their most recent set: Team A: 800 packs, Team K: 600 packs, Team B: 1,100 packs, Kenkyuusei: 500 packs per day, for 5 days.
This puts the total at 4000, 3000, 5,500 and 2,500 packs respectively, or (assuming all are released equally) about 238, 187, 312 and 156 sets of photos in existence per member for teams A, K, B and the Kenkyuusei respectively.
The number of theater photo sets in print have multiplied many fold, but more interesting is the fact that even AKS has given up any subtlety to the fact that not all of their members sell as well. Because of the probable increased demand for theater photos now that B.L.T.s have ceased production, prices of theater sets have remain relatively unfazed by the increased print run.
As theater sets are sold physically at the AKB48 theater building, this creates the opportunity for trade. I’ll go into this in greater detail in another guide, but the gist of it is that people tend to trade into complete sets, either of this favorite members or simply since complete sets will be more likely to sell on the second hand market. But whatever the reason, the result is that you’ll find a lot more consolidated theater sets than other types of AKB48 pictures. As full sets have become the norm, the demand for lose pictures seem to be low. On a per photo basis, prices for individual theater pictures tend to be lower than their completed sets.
AKB48 theater photos were originally derived from “gacha” photos (which will be explained below). One of the incentives for purchasing theater photos (that were carried over from its gacha days) are in inclusion of random “2-shot” tickets randomly included in the 1,000 yen theater photo packets. These special tickets allow one to take a 2-shot, a photograph together with any performing member at the theater. Needless to say the 2-shot tickets are extremely rare and extremely valuable. In the past, the 2-shot coupons would go for approximately $300-500 dollars, but later with the popularity of AKB48, tickets could go for as much as 2 to 3 thousand dollars.
Gacha were the original form of AKB48 theater photos that ran all the way until 2009 and even simultaneously with modern theater photos for a while as the system was being phased out. Like theater photos, these gacha were printed on low quality paper. Gacha’s featured the members in costumes mirroring those of B.L.T. photographs of the time. However gacha photos lack any bar or markings to identify the photo’s member or month, only a “©AKS” copyright notice.
Unlike their newer derivative, gacha were 3 to a set, rather than 4, at least when they could be considered a set. There were also months where the gacha pictures followed no apparent guidelines, breaking into a different number of photos, collections of “live” photos taken from their concerts, group photo shoots or even completely different costumes in each photo. The later sets would more resemble the format of theater photo sets as fans now know them.
Gacha are known as such because they were obtained from a gacha (capsule toy) machine at the AKB48 theater. Each go at the machine used to cost 300 yen and would give you a chance at winning you a random AKB48 related goody. Some of the other things that could be obtained from the gacha machine included member autographs, 2 and 3-shot tickets, the legendary 100-chu tickets which granted you automatic admission to any theater show of your choice and even some of their personal belongings. Many of these prizes have since been retired or adapted into other AKB48 traditions. Of course most people ended up getting the consolation prizes of AKB48 button pins, stickers or the gacha photos.
The low quality and general “looseness” of gacha make them unpopular with collectors, and they are generally considered less desirable than regular theaters to all except the most hardcore fans. Complete sets of popular members gacha might be worth quite a bit, but are so rare that we almost never see them being traded.
Localized AKB48 Theater Photos
The overseas AKB48 shops have taken to distributing their own versions of AKB48 Theater Photos. Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore each have their own versions of the photo sets, though distribution of the Singapore ones have ceased since January 2013 (for the November 2012 sets).
Like the Japanese equivalent, the localized AKB48 theater sets are produced by AKS. The photos are delivered once a month to the overseas shops for distribution. Initial sets of the photos were almost identical to the Japanese theater counterparts, the difference is that overseas theater sets always use a black color bar and are labelled with the overseas country’s 48 presence.
The newer Hong Kong and Taiwan sets now share unique poses for their pictures, but still follow the same costume for any given month. These Taiwan shop refers to them as “Let’s Exchange! AKB48 Photo Collection Oversea Version”. The photos feature the AKB48 members in the same costumes as the Japanese set for the month but in a separate 3 pose set exclusive to Hong Kong and Taiwan. The solid color bar is also noticeably absent from the new photos but the logo and names and team of the members are still printed at the bottom of the photo.
Overseas theater sets are also sold in packets of 5 random photos separated by team. Photos for Team A, K, B and 4 have been sold, at least while it existed. The research student photo sets were not sold overseas. Photo packs cost SGD$22 in Singapore, NTD$480 in Taiwan and HKD$130 in Hong Kong, approximately $20 all round.
Due to a smaller print count, overseas theater sets tend to be rarer than their Japanese counterparts, but are balanced out by their decreased demand. While I cannot give an exact number for the Taiwan based sets, we have a picture of the Hong Kong and Singapore sets.
The initial April 2011 run of the Singapore sets released less than 100 packets for exactly 3 complete photo sets per member. This stayed the same for a couple months before it was increased to 5 sets. Print numbers for teams A, K and B in the later sets were further inflated to approximately 120 packs per team each month (or about 10 complete sets per member). Due to the perceived lower demand, Team 4 photos sets were sold at about half the quantity. These were sold over the course of 3 to 4 weekends.
The AKB48 Official Shop Hong Kong is surprisingly fair, offering an equal amount of sets for all 3 teams. Currently, a total of 1,000 sets are sold each month (334 for Team A, 333 for B and 333 for K) or about 20 complete sets per member.
In the next guide, we identify the different sister group equivalents of theater photos.