As the notice for the BE Essential edition dropped on the 25th of January at 12am kst, slowly, ARMYs around the world started to get ready for this new session of pre-orders, a long awaited one since many had been waiting for a “standard” version. In the meantime, European Armys knew once again that they would have to deal with Sony Music, and their scandalous prices. Like it’s been the case for several releases now.
Around late 2018, early 2019, European Armys were made aware that Sony Music, which is part of the big three along with UMG and Warner, was now exclusively in charge of the distribution of the BTS albums for the continent. In France, Germany, Italy or Portugal, armys all started to face the same problem: prices being doubled if not tripled by retailers due to the margin taken by the distributor. We will focus on the case of France for which we have many data, but also Germany — two of the 10 biggest markets in the world, where BTS has been constantly charting for a while now, in spite of the difficulties and absence of promotion.
Early 2019, when the pre-orders for Map of the Soul: Persona, the album was at €19.99 on the FNAC website — the main retailer — which was a fair price ($14 on weverse). However, one week after the pre-orders had started and without a reason, the price suddenly jumped to €27.99, leaving French armys perplexed and angry. They quickly find out that the price rise is solely due to the fact that Sony Music is now distributing the BTS albums. However, there is a huge gap between the price of the South-Korean band’s albums, and the other artists under Sony, the price is usually around €15. Thanks to the retailer’s negations and their good relationship with ARMY France, Sony accepted to bring the price down to €24.
This sudden rise was, as mentioned earlier, not only present in France but also in other European countries where BTS albums are often sold around €30, if not more. This situation dramatically complicates things for armys in Europe, as they already do everything on their own, and BTS appearances on the charts are primarily due to the fandom power. That situation already created tensions, and a first hashtag was started then on Twitter — #SonyLowerBTSalbumprice. It did not have much effect though, as European armys faced the same problem again with Map of the Soul: 7, and BE — both Deluxe and Essential version.
In France, for 7, the album which costs $17 on weverse, was at first at €36, then brought down to €29 after negotiations, BE (Deluxe) was at first sold for €70 then brought down to €57 (at $38 on weverse), BE (Essential) — $19 on weverse — was first sold for €34 and is currently at €30. However, it remains too expensive for an album which contains 7 songs, and for which nothing justifies such margins.
And if French armys are lucky to have the main retailer backing their efforts, it’s not the case in other European countries. In Germany, Map of the Soul: 7 is at €35 and the BE Essential version is at €50, in Portugal, the essential version of BE is at €47, in Italy the deluxe version of BE is at €72. As you can imagine, as much as armys love BTS, the prices are ridiculously high, and prevent many from buying physical copies, which are both meaningful and important when it comes to charting.
This last move from Sony, to apply such high prices on BE (Essential version) was the last straw for French armys, which started to trend #BoycottSonyMusic on Twitter, and quickly, many European armys followed. The biggest French fanbase is also planning on emailing the distributor, massively.
Indeed, there is no way to understand why Sony Music apply such high prices, and it makes everything way much harder for fans. It seems like they only consider armys are brainless consumers, however, the situation in France with constant negotiations should tell them that it’s not the case. Physical copies are not bought for the sake of it, but because there is an emotional attachment to it, and it allows BTS to have an even greater impact on the music industry. Though, it seems like the distributor does not really look for anything besides money.
On the other hand, as the physical sales keep on decreasing each year due to the importance of streaming (in France between 2018 and 2019, physical sales went down by 12.8%), BTS and armys can be seen as an anomaly — globally — since both streaming and physical sales are humongous. By applying such high prices, Sony simply shoot themselves in the foot by losing on many sales. And in the meantime, BTS is also disadvantaged as the band could reach many more milestones. Not only fans have to navigate through intricate chart regulations (notably in the UK with a huge lack of clarity), but they also have to battle with a money hungry distributor.
What can justify such margins taken by Sony? Yes, there are shipping costs and few added fees, however, it is not possible to think that it justify a rise of 40%, if not more, of the album price. So, what is the reason behind the rip-off from Sony Music?
European armys are not expecting to see a price similar to the ones in South Korea, of course there has to be a difference, though the current situation is revolting since it literally forbids many from buying an album. Nothing obliges — technically — European fans from buying albums from Sony and local retailers, but it is a must if we want to see BTS on the charts. So, what do we do now? Besides trending tags, emailing, reaching out to Sony and pressuring them, so consumers can get fair prices and win over their avidity, there is not much that can be done. But best believe, armys will continue to support BTS to the best of their abilities, and fighting for fair prices is included in that.