Idol group’s newest song is its 36th million-seller in a row, but a recent change may mean it’s leaving a ton of money on the table.

Last week, AKB48 announced that it’s cancelling its “General Election” for 2019, meaning that for the first time in a decade, fans won’t be offered the chance to vote for their favorite singer from AKB48 or its associated acts. Many see the cancellation as part of an effort by the group’s producers to lay low following criticism for an attempt to cover up an incident in which an idol from sister group NGT48 was attacked at her home, but when you’re the most successful idol unit in history, it’s hard to keep a low profile for very long.

On March 13, AKB48 released its newest single, “Jiwaru Days,” and even though it was a Wednesday release, it had no trouble claiming the top spot on the Oricon sales chart for the seven-day period between March 11 and 17.

▼ “Jiwaru Days”

Jiwaru is a Japanese word meaning to gradually come to like or enjoy something, but AKB48’s fans wasted no time in showing their love for the group’s newest single, buying 1,263,000 copies in its first five days of release. In showering “Jiwaru Days” with support, fans also helped AKB48 set or extend a number of records.

First off, this is the 48th AKB48 single in a row to debut at number one on the Oricon chart, a streak stretching all the way back to “River,” which came out in October of 2009. Those are new records for both total and consecutive single debuts. It’s also the group’s 36th single in a row to sell a million copies, and its 37th overall, once again both records.

▼ Banners on the streets of Tokyo’s Shibuya neighborhood promoting “Jiwaru Days”

The 1,263,000 copies of “Jiwaru Days” also bring AKB48’s total CD sales (for singles or albums) just past 60 million, at 60.04 million. That moves the idol unit from third to second for Japanese artists, as they’ve now climbed past any other female musician or band and only trail J-rock duo B’z.

▼ B’z and AKB48 are about as different as can be in sound, but they’ve both carved out places in Japanese pop music history.

But while most musicians can only dream of their songs getting the sort of reaction that “Jiwaru Days” has, 1.26 million opening-week sales s pretty average for an AKB48 single, and in a way could be considered sort of disappointing. “Jiwaru Days” doubtlessly owes a number of its sales to the fact that it’s the last single on which AKB48 member Rino Sashihara, a four-time winner of the General Election, will perform before graduating/retiring from the group next month. If it wasn’t for the sentimental appeal of supporting Sashihara’s last hurrah it would have sold even fewer copies, and perhaps even put the group’s million-seller streak in jeopardy.

By comparison, when AKB48 released the single “Teacher Teacher” last year, it was able to sell over 2.5 million copies in pre-orders alone, roughly double what “Jiwaru Days” was able to do even with the added benefit of five days in retail stores. Why? Because “Teacher Teacher” had a special connection to the General Election. The annual election was held in the summer, and fans got ballots by buying AKB48’s flagship single of the preceding spring. For 2018, that single was “Teacher Teacher,” and fans were allowed to cast multiple votes as long as they bought multiple copies.

Taking away the secondary benefit of voting rights (or, really, the primary benefit for any purchase of duplicate copies by the same fan) is definitely going to dampen idol fans’ willingness to open their wallets as widely as they usually do for AKB48’s releases. With single CDs in Japan generally selling for around 1,000 yen, “Jiwaru Days’s” 1.2 million fewer discs sold, compared to “Teacher Teacher,” represents 1.2-billion yen (US$10.8-million) dip in revenue, and so if the General Election doesn’t return in 2020, AKB48 may have to start looking for other ways to pump up its sales figures if it wants them to reach the dizzying highs they have in the past.

Source: Yahoo! Japan News/Confidence via Otakomu
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