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By Lee Minji
SEOUL, June 4 (Yonhap) -- In a sign of the growing importance of K-pop fans, major agencies and labels here are launching venues dedicated to them at their corporate sites.
While companies have temporarily operated pop-up stores and exhibitions for K-pop fans, the recent openings of these permanent venues mark a shift in how they view fans for business growth.
Hybe, the company behind BTS, Seventeen and Tomorrow X Together, in May opened Hybe Insight at its new company headquarters in central Seoul.
The 4,700-square meter space spread across two basement floors at Hybe Yongsan is a "music museum" for its artists and fans, according to the company.
The venue decorated in a futuristic concept allows fans to get a peek of behind-the-scenes moments and get to know their favorite artists better through videos and miscellaneous souvenirs from concert tours and activities.
In addition to running on-site guided tours for visitors, the venue also operates pre-recorded audio tours featuring some of Hybe's musicians.
"Hybe Insight is a museum where (visitors) can get to know about Hybe's musical footprint that Hybe, artists and fans made together," the company said upon opening the venue. "It will be a special space for artists and fans to interact through music and expand their musical experiences."
Earlier this week, YG Entertainment -- the K-pop powerhouse that manages BLACKPINK, AKMU and Treasure as well as top-tier actors and actresses, like Kim Hee-ae, Choi Ji-woo and Gang Dong-won -- also opened a fan space near its new company building in western Seoul.
Named the "SameE," the building located across from YG's new headquarters, has events and exhibition venues, a cafe and a souvenir shop for visitors.
YG said the name comes from the notion that artists and fans can simultaneously stay at the same space, adding that the whole project was based on the concept that fans are alter egos of celebrities.
Recalling how fans had waited outside the company's headquarters to see their favorite stars, YG said, "Fans no longer have to bear the heat and cold (outdoors) and (can) enjoy various facilities indoors."
The company said it will use the venue to carry out projects that will help highlight the philosophy that "artists exist thanks to fans, who are alter egos of artists."
These fan spaces are the latest in companies' efforts to engage with more K-pop fans around the world as they have become an important force in driving and nurturing the multibillion dollar industry.
K-pop powerhouses have already built massive virtual communities for fans wanting to interact with artists and other fans.
Hybe runs the online fan community platform Weverse, where it offers exclusive content for its artists as well as some Korean and non-Korean acts managed by other agencies, like CL, Sunmi and Gracie Abrams.
The company has also launched a series of Korean language learning books through its affiliate, targeting fans wanting to learn the mother tongue of their favorite artists.
SM Entertainment runs the mobile fan community Lysn, while JYP Entertainment has also released a separate app based on Lysn called "bubble for JYPnation," which allows subscribers to send and receive individual chats with acts like Stray Kids.
The race to get an upper hand in platforms for the K-pop industry is likely to continue for the time being, with sales coming from indirect artist activities, such as merchandising and licensing, increasingly growing.
Industry data showed that sales from such activities accounted for 47.8 percent of Big Hit's total revenue in the first half of 2020, compared with 31.2 percent in 2018.
Estimates show there are more than 100 million "hallyu," or Korean wave, fans worldwide. The number of members of hallyu fan clubs in 109 countries worldwide, excluding South Korea, rose to 104,770,000 as of September last year, marking an on-year rise of 5.5 percent, or 5.4 million, from 99,320,000, according to the Korea Foundation, a public diplomacy organization based in Seoul.