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Everything you need to know about photocards, and why K-pop fans go crazy spending money over it

By Hannah Mallorca Published Oct 20, 2021 9:43 pm Updated Oct 21, 2021 8:54 pm

For K-pop fans, photocards (also known as “pulls,” “papels,” “pocas,” or “pcs”) are considered an investment and a source of happiness.

The excitement of doing “pulls” is one of the best parts of being a K-pop fan. It’s bizarre to understand the craze behind photocards (since it’s basically an idol’s face on a card), but these 55x85-millimeter photos are coveted items in the K-pop community. 

For starters, photocards are exclusive photos of K-pop stars included as a freebie in albums. The intention was simple: insert a random glossy photo of an idol in an album, and fans will bulk-buy albums to pull out their bias’ face. If luck is not on their side, they’re willing to spend at least P200 to more than P5000 to complete their collection. 

Photocards are usually included as freebies in K-pop albums

However, the idea of collecting photo cards is not new. For sports fans, NBA basketball trading cards are prized possessions while Pokemon cards are worth investing for anime fans. 

To answer why K-pop fans are willing to spend a ton of money for photocards, PhilSTAR L!fe reached out to fans of different age groups to break it down. 

What are K-pop photocards exactly? 

We can trace back the beginning of K-pop photocards to SM Entertainment, when the agency inserted photocards into TVXQ’s 2007 album Summer Dream and Girl’s Generation’s 2010 album Oh

Since then, photocards have expanded from an album freebie into an increasingly popular item among K-pop fans. It has also grown into a unique marketing tactic for companies to entice more buyers. For instance, Korean makeup brand Nature Republic included photocards of its former endorser EXO along with its products. 

These days, the variety of photocards have been extensive. Some of these include pre-order benefit cards, random trading cards, hologram cards, AR cards, and more. What started as a simple album “pull” has turned into an exciting and adrenaline-inducing hobby since they’re included in various K-pop merchandise.

Some of the author's K-pop photocards

However, collecting K-pop photocards are a matter of luck since pulling out your bias’ face doesn’t happen most of the time. The struggle is even more real for fans of groups with more than six members. For example, fans of girl group TWICE have one out of nine chances to pull out the photocards they want. 

At the same time, some photocards are considered as part of the “kilabot” line among K-pop fans. These are usually hard to get among fans, making them more expensive and prone to “overpricing” due to high demand. 

Some “kilabot” photocards include EXO D.O.’s infamous “noo” photo card, IZ*ONE Chaewon’s hoodie photo cards, TWICE Mina’s “kulot” photocard, Red Velvet Irene’s “latterene” photocard, Red Velvet Seulgi’s “glitter tears” photocard, and BTS Jungkook’s blue hair photo card, among others. 

Alani Ching's "kilabot" photocards

How can you start your K-pop photocard collection? 

Since K-pop photocards are also considered as a freebie of an album, it’s easy to complete your collection, right? Well, not exactly. While many fans are happy with their pulls, some choose to focus on their bias instead. 

As a result, many fans complete their collection by bulk-buying albums, going on a “bidding” or “mine” spree on social media, buying directly from official stores like KTown4U, shopping on e-commerce platforms, or interacting with various sellers on sites like Yangdo or Mercari

Leah Conde, a financial analyst and K-pop shop owner, admitted to PhilSTAR L!fe that she buys her photocards in official stores where she spends money to complete her collection. “Personally kasi, nakakasaya talaga siya. Nakakatuwa rin ‘yung ibang fans na talagang nag-iipon to be able to complete their collection.”

On the other hand, Dino Garcia, a 40-something professional who collects TWICE merchandise, shared that he interacts with various sellers on online platforms to complete his collection. 

To help in mapping out their K-pop photocard collection, fans create their own templates to decide what they want to include in their collection. It usually includes a cheat sheet of an idol’s photocards per album. 

For 20-something Literature graduate Naomi Perez, a template keeps her from splurging on photocards she doesn’t need. “Don't splurge. If you can buy a set right away from someone, that's alright. But, it’s quite difficult to just splurge on so many pcs from different sellers. You'll spend more in that case too,” she said, urging fans to be mindful of their budget.

Why are fans willing to spend money on photocards?

Despite the excitement of collecting photocards, DLSU student Alani Ching revealed that the hobby feels like “taking care of a baby.” “Despite this, the amount of time, effort, and money is priceless kasi kapag inuwian ka ng fave pc mo, the joy can’t be expressed by words alone.” 

Meanwhile, Garcia shared that he spent around “P20,000 to P25,000” for his collection. Even so, he believes that it’s “not a waste of money as long as you collect responsibly.” 

“What I enjoy the most about collecting is the positive energy it provides me as a part of that fandom. It’s a community. It’s like a big family. And it’s one of the few things that make people sane during a pandemic. It may seem crazy but it actually keeps you from going crazy,” he added.

Coleen Go's collection of NCT Mark photocards

K-pop photocard seller Cha* agreed with Garcia’s statement, where she also said that her fellow Filipino K-pop fans “motivate” her to complete her collection. “I don’t mind spending a lot as long I have money to spare. I believe that spending on merchandise is not necessary to be a K-pop fan. It won’t make you less of a fan if you’re not collecting,” she added. 

Thirty-four-year-old Yra Morcillos, who works as a team lead in an Australian-based company, revealed that collecting photocards gives her a sense of “pride and achievement.”

Some of Hannah's photocards

‘I collect out of love and that’s what matters’ 

Coleen Go, a DLSU student who “spent approximately P1,300 for a photocard of NCT’s Jungwoo,” admitted that her photocard collection is something that she “wants to treasure forever.” “I want to remember how these K-pop groups made me happy. I even told my mom that I would never get rid of them.” 

Morcillos, who flexed her “pocas” in a Messenger interview, revealed that collecting BTS photocards helped her “gain friends” in the K-pop community. “I honestly don't take (being 34) to heart. I mean, it's their own perception. I'm not going to take it away from them. I collect out of love and that's what matters.”

Yna Morcillos' BTS photocard collection

On the other hand, 34-year-old pharmacist Cheche Morales believes there’s no age limit when it comes to collecting photocards. She also gushed about her fellow ARMYs who made her feel welcome in the fandom. 

“A lot of people were saying that collecting photocards are a waste of money, but collecting is better than having illegal and bad habits… they can say whatever they want but I don’t care. Kasi pera ko naman ang ginagastos ko, and hindi sa kanila. “This is my way of keeping myself intact and happy during these trying times,” she concluded.

*Interviewees requested their names to be withheld.