The theater photos of the AKB48 are series of collectible photograph sets that are most likely to take over the B.L.T. regular series. They were launched in 2009 by the AKS and were originally considered as an alternative source of photographs to B.L.T. Now it might be the most popular with the B.L.T. agreement not being renewed.
The AKB48 Monthly Theater Pictures
If you happen to be in the area of Akihabara, drop by the Don Quixote building or the home theater of AKB48. On the 5th floor, you will find the AKB48 shop where the theater photos are sold and new ones are released every 26th of each month. However, the photos are not available everyday because they tend to get sold out quickly. Thus, you will have to make sure to check on what days of the week, usually 5 days, the store is open. Also, the closer the date after the 26th, there is almost certainly going to be long queues.
The theater shots are studio shots so they have a similar resemblance to the kinds of photos released by the B.L.T. They also have a bar in the same area of the photograph which is at the bottom of the picture with the details such as name, team, and date the photo was printed. With the B.L.T. shots, the color of the bar was constant. With the AKB48 theater shots, the bar color changes monthly. The bar colors are coordinated to match the costume so it looks like it is part of the photograph instead of simply being an identification bar. In addition to the different bar color, the theater shots come in sets of 4 per girl as compared to the B.L.T.’s sets of 3. And instead of colored backgrounds, the theater shots are always with a white background and the girls are in different theater costumes in each monthly set.
Comparing B.L.T. and Theater Photos In Greater Detail
The theater photos were always considered a poor sister of the B.L.T. shots because fans thought of them to be of lower quality. For instance, until 2010, the quality of photo paper used was very inferior and they looked like they were printed on a home printer instead of being professionally done. After 2010, the prints started to improve and in 2011 the theater photos looked very professionally done although still compared slightly unfavorably to that of the B.L.T.
Of course, the theater pictures are sold at a lower price than the B.L.T. which gave fans an alternative. In fact, when compared side by side on release dates, the theater pictures are almost always about 50% cheaper. It’s not clear whether the price difference is because of the printing, low demand, higher cost, or that they printed more sets so it ended up as a volume discount of sorts.
The Price of Theater Photos
Each set of theater photos are sold for 1,000 yen. In buying the theater photos, every buyer is limited to 5 packets only although they can come back and get more on another day. The sets are called packets and they are organized according to each team. The 5 pictures inside each packet are random photos of the team members but with a fair mix of popular and unpopular girls. In short, it would be impossible to buy a packet with all popular girls only.
If you compute the total number of exposures per member up to 2010, each girl gets 46 sets containing 4 pictures. However, in 2011, the theater photos were increased to 1,000 packets released per team or 78 sets for every member in a year.
The Future of Theater Photos
Since the cease of B.L.T. photos, the theater shots have taken the main spotlight as the sets to collect. Thus, the 2012 prints increased once more to a maximum of 1,900 or a minimum of 650 per team. With 5 sale days, the latest figures of sets for each team are as follows:
Team A – 800 packets, 4,000 a week or 238 sets per member
Team K – 600 packets, 3,000 a week or 187 sets per member
Team B – 1,100 packets, 5,500 a week or 312 sets per member
Kenkyuusei – 500 packets, 2,500 a week or 156 sets per member
These figures are based on the assumptions that all packs are released equally. To date, the prices of each pack remain the same even with the circumstances surrounding B.L.T. and AKB48. The trend has also started for resale or trade of complete sets of theater photos with lower demand for individual shots.
The Gacha Photos
A Gacha photo is the term used to describe the original format of the theater photos. Gacha is actually a game found in the theater which costs 300 yen to play and winners get AKB48 merchandise as a price. Some of the prices in the early days were much better with special passes to any theater show or even to the backstage. Gacha are pictures of the girls taken in the theater supposedly as a random shot, 2 of which were included in every packet sold at 1,000 yen. They were sold as 2 shot special tickets that allowed the ticket holder to get a photo with an AKB48 member while at the theater.
These photos were very rare and sold for as much as $500 back then. Today, they might fetch up to $3,000 since they were stopped in 2009 and are no longer available on a commercial level. Being random shots, Gacha pictures are hard to find. They were also printed on the spot on low grade photo paper and they have no marking or ID bar. Gacha photos were sold at 3 per set and would come out unexpectedly and in no particular order.
The Singapore Theater Pictures
There are international AKB 48 shops and one is found in Singapore. Others are in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Each of the shops has their own set of theater photos although Singapore has stopped distribution as of January 2013. The last sets they sold were taken for the November 2012 batch.
AKS takes care of the overseas theater photos and you can tell the difference from the bar color. International sets have a black bar and are labeled as international sets. In Taiwan, the sets are known as “Let’s Exchange! AKB48 Photo Collection Overseas Version.”
Singapore sold their packets of 5 pictures for SGD$ 22, Taiwan sold theirs for TW$480, and Hong Kong sold theirs for HK$130. International packets are only rarer because there are fewer prints made. In 2011, Singapore released 100 packets with 3 complete sets for every member. Within the same year, they increased it to 5 sets per member and then again to 120 packets for every team except for Team 4 which was not as popular or in demand. Hong Kong however sold an equal number of packets for all teams with 1,000 packets a month total.
The next post will be about the sister groups’ theater photos. Stay tuned!
In the meantime you might want to search for your favorite members photos using the From Japan search engine.