Top most popular items for 2003: phone cameras to historical fictionThe singer-cum-actor, hearthrob to millions, was spotted on a recent Sunday evening near Hongik University. First there were the squeals, followed by the rustling of leather and fabric as fans reached into purses and pockets for cell phones. But they were not calling others to report the sighting of the pop star Be; they were taking pictures of their idol. They were photographing their beloved star using the tiny cameras embedded in their wallet-sized phones.
Autograph seekers are a dying breed in Korea as the cell phone emerges as a stargazer’s preferred tool. Why take a chance that your friends might not believe the autograph is genuine when you can send photographic evidence in real time. Cell phones with digital cameras ― also known as dica ― are Korea’s top-selling consumer electronics product, according to the Samsung Economic Research Institute, which tracks the hottest products and interests.
Camera phones popped up on the consumer’s radar in 2002, when sales surpassed 300,000 units per month. In October 2003, their sales hit 1 million, accounting for for 72 percent of all cell phone sales that month. To keep abreast with of the demand, manufacturers are pumping out new types of phones, such as the eoljjang, which means hottest face. This gadget has a special lens that makes the subject more photogenic.
Decidedly low-tech but possessing enormous potential to change lives, Lotto, the weekly lottery draw, won a loyal following soon after its introduction early this year. Just pick six numbers correctly out of 45, and you take home the jackpot (or a portion of it). Enough people believe they can divine the lucky digits to generate sales of 3.6 billion won ($5.2 billion).
Third on the Samsung list of popular items are refrigerators and projection TVs with huge flat screens. Next, reflecting the growing interest in personal well-being, health and environmental-consciousness, are organic foods, aromatherapy soaps and even luxury spas.
Slipping into 5th place are period dramas, what the Samsung researcher, Lee Jung-ho, calls “fusion history dramas.” TV period dramas in 2003 tended to pick up one or two interesting historical facts, then dramatize them to suit modern viewing tastes. “Damo,” which jump-started the fad last summer, was inspired by a brief newspaper factoid about a woman detective during the Joseon Dynasty. Onscreen, however, the plot focuses on love stories and power struggles. Historical accuracy matters to neither the producers nor to viewers, as proven by the popularity of the Joseon-period drama “Daejanggeum,” which has a large following of fans even though the storyline is fiction.
Publishers of how-to guides did very well this year, introducing techniques for “amassing 1 billion won in a decade.” Among the 50 nonfiction bestsellers in 2003, 10 advised readers on ways to get rich. Such books delved into the details of moneymaking schemes, rather than dwelling on the economy in general.
For those who already had money to burn, foreign cars were another popular item. Koreans drove 17,529 imports out of dealership parking lots in 2003, compared with 14,662 the previous year. Toyota’s Lexus led all models, with 2,900 sold in Korea since its introduction in 2001.
Commuters can be credited for the rise of so-called “subway newspapers,” which earned the 8th slot on Samsung’s top-10 list. The three 32-page tabloids being distributed around subway stations, Metro, Focus and AM7, rely entirely on ad sales to generate profits. By positioning themselves as new media for subway riders, these papers found some success.
In 9th place after a popularity skid are so-called “knowledge searches” on the Internet. This is how they work: An Internet user posts a question, and other surfers pitch answers, which are collated into a database. Naver is the undisputed leader in this area. Naver’s knowledge- search database has surpassed Encyclopedia Britannica in listings, with 2.3 million versus 110,000.
Bringing up the rear on the Samsung top-ten list are immigration packages hawked on home-shopping channels. Hyundai Home Shopping launched sales of such packages to Manitoba, Canada, last September, posting 70 billion won in sales, making this product the top-seller in Korean home shopping history.
by Chun Su-jin