K-pop’s local buy-and-sell (BNS) community has grown exponentially in the past two years. It isn’t just a marketplace for photocards (PCs), albums, and other merch anymore. The evolving fan community has carved its own space on Twitter and developed its own economy, vocabulary, and line of products. While bigger can mean better, it can also mean messier.
To dive into the BNS world, we had a chat with two local collectors in their 20s: A, the anonymous founder of Twitter page @bnsstruggles, and writer slash editor Fiel Estrella. Here’s how our conversation on funny Filo photocard nicknames, six-digit prices, and what terms like “ebbg” stands for went.
How is K-pop BNS Twitter different from other buy-and-sell communities?
A: Twitter has been one of the major hotspots for fan communities for a very long time now. K-pop BNS is unique as it can sort of be considered as a sub-community of K-pop stan Twitter. It really is a community in the sense that people within BNS Twitter can become friends beyond the buyer-seller transactions, which may not always occur in other online marketplaces. There’s a lot more interaction and a sense of anonymity, since you’re hiding behind a fan account rather than using a personal one.
Fiel: Combining typical stan Twitter activity and hobby enthusiasm, [fans] show off their collections, give each other tips to store, decorate, and protect items, and engage in *discourse* every now and then.
“I think this community never fails to be interesting because you’ve got rich people exhibiting typical out-of-touch frivolity.”
Do you consider yourself a completionist merch collector?
A: I used to be a “template collector” or someone who would try to collect every photocard of my bias. But in the past months, I learned to be a “sparks collector”—which just means that I only collect photocards that “spark joy” or make me feel kilig.
Fiel:I mainly collect photocards, but I’m pretty far from a completionist. For some reason my brain has decided that I prefer selca PCs, so I automatically write off too-stylized photo shoots and also PCs with superimposed text or those that mimic polaroids.
I’m pretty focused on just collecting one idol, which is BTS’ J-Hope, but occasionally when I find certain PCs absolutely adorable and I find them easy to obtain, why not? I like the idea of collecting based on arbitrary themes and categories more fun than absolutely having to have everything, like this “sakristan set” of the ’97 [liners friend group].
Does K-pop BNS have subcommunities?
Fiel:I think each K-pop [fandom] counts as its own subcommunity within BNS. I don’t run into (Seventeen’s) Carat BNS often, but the scope they have to work with every era is very daunting to me, so I’m in awe of how they keep up and work on their collections. (For example, last time I checked, the “Heng:garae” era alone had about 247 photocards to collect, from both the album and pre-order benefits, or 11 for each member!) My friends and I talk about this a lot, and we’ve observed a few things, like NCT BNS being prone to “unhinged” listings like offering photocard trades for laptops, literal real estate, and a car as a “freebie.”BTS BNS, we’re guessing, is very focused on the group so they don’t do the same thing of equating the merch to non-K-pop items, but overpricing is very rampant since it’s the community that grows fastest. (Enhypen’s) Engene BNS seems to be very active, so I see a lot of posts and they stir the pot a lot because there are a lot of scammers and the fanbase is pretty young so, I suppose, [there’s] little impulse control.
I think this community never fails to be interesting because you’ve got rich people exhibiting typical out-of-touch frivolity and those of us in different classes just bearing witness to how crazy it gets and how far people can go for what are essentially pictures of pretty people on laminated pre-cut cardstock.
BNS Twitter has its own vocabulary. Any unusual words or phrases we should be aware of?
A: One that I’ve heard of was “ebbg,” which stands for extreme buying ban game. It’s a game wherein you’re required to stop spending your money impulsively and, usually, there would be penalties if you end up spending. The BNS community kind of jokes about how it actually stands for “extreme bili bill game” since it seems like you’ll feel more inclined to spend while participating in an ebbg.
Fiel: One of my favorites is “pi,” which is a typo of “po” that I think came from a post about someone reporting a bad transaction that had them so worked up that they accidentally typed PI, and it took on a life of its own. There are acronyms used to tag listings properly, but I find it cool how just saying “pabili po ng [card name/description]” or “bilhin [n’yo] na pls” works just as well. It’s a pretty chill, accessible community that way.
For those who aren’t K-pop merch collectors, can you explain how there are photocards that get sold at six-digit prices?
Fiel: The most notorious ones are definitely the NCT 2020 and 2021 Special Yearbook (500 pieces made per member) and Special Universe (210 pieces per member) cards [from the first press editions], whose inherent rarity make the ones for popular members worth up to six digits in peso. My friend and I joke about buying albums as “lottery tickets.” BTS has also done raffles where less than 1,000 of certain cards get made, so their valuation can also break the bank.
I got into PC collecting at just the right time, I think. I’ve never spent more than P2,500 for a PC. And even then, only [for] ones I really want and know are rare so I might as well buy them while I can still technically afford them. But as time passes, I’m always so shocked that the cards I have in my collection have doubled, tripled, quadrupled, even quintupled in price in just a year or two. It’s like, even I can’t afford my own collection anymore!
A: In the case of the reasonableness of photocard prices, that would be more subjective. Everyone has their own personal budget when it comes to collecting merch and different fandoms have their own market price.
“In recent years, the popularity of K-pop increased heavily and BNS rose to prominence as it served as a coping mechanism during the pandemic.”
What do you think is the reason behind the recent influx of scammers in the community? Is it true that most of the allegations have been made against young fangirls?
A: I think the influx of scammers can be related to the lucrative nature of K-pop BNS. Years ago, nobody would’ve thought that you could make a huge profit out of selling photos of celebrities on paper. But in recent years, the popularity of K-pop increased heavily and BNS rose to prominence as it served as a coping mechanism during the pandemic. The fact that transactions are primarily done online probably appealed to scammers looking for an easy way to dupe buyers without leaving much of a trace.
As for the allegations made against young women, I think this statistic could have something to do with the demographic of K-pop fans being a good amount of young, female audiences. I can’t always be sure, though, since identities could be falsified. I have seen my own fair share of scammers being male.
Fiel: There’s a lot of trust and blind faith needed for these transactions. On the buyers’ side, their need to bring their “prios” (priority PCs) home sometimes makes them desperate enough to overlook red flags. Scammers take advantage of this, along with the [increased] accessibility they’re afforded by the virtual nature of the transaction. Also, a lot of these buyers and sellers are still students. Perpetrators [may] be [less] concerned about real-world consequences and victims are a bit more gullible or unaware of how things are supposed to go.
Sometimes the scams are especially insidious and awful, like last year when an account put dozens of photocards up for sale with what many considered adequate proof, and the way they went about things took a lot of time and effort, only to disappear after the buyers had paid.
I’ve also seen more buyers criticizing sellers because their expectations for item packaging weren’t met. What are your thoughts on this?
A: With the rise of unboxing videos online, some people may expect that their packages will be *aesthetic* or come with a lot of freebies. In these cases, I think some people tend to forget that there are real people behind these BNS accounts.
Fiel:I’m of the opinion that as long as the item you bought got to you as it was advertised, then there’s absolutely no reason to complain, whether it’s a lack of freebies or not enough bubble wrap. The planet is dying! Recycling, waste/clutter reduction, and conservation are good things!
But drama aside, BNS can be a fun place. Do you have a memorable experience or secondhand story you’d like to share?
Fiel:I love that the legendary forehead PC of EXO’s Kyungsoo was the first organic overpriced photocard, even if it’s just an album PC, because of how silly it is that everyone instantly wanted it. I also find it so funny how creative people can be with how they specify PC names besides the albums and versions they’re from, like “Taeyong bading.” Finally, I’m super jealous of this buyer who got pranked because they received a badly drawn version of the PC they bought concealing the actual item. I want a badly drawn PC too.
A: I started @bnsstruggles in April 2021 after my group of friends on BNS Twitter experienced a lot of “struggles” while trying to buy photocards. Since the act of claiming photocards is usually very high stakes and heavily reliant on either luck or speed, it could be a source of stress for some people. We used to compile screenshots of these “struggle” tweets on Google Docs, until I decided to create a Twitter account to memorialize it. It’s supposed to be a safe space full of good vibes, regardless of whatever group you stan.
Let’s talk collect books. Any local recommendations?
Fiel: I think it’s amazing how they became so popular and an avenue for fan creativity. Aside from the official brands that make them, fan artists have been designing their own collect books and getting them produced. Not to be like “back in my day,” but when I was in high school, the thing to have were these one-inch wristbands for pop-punk bands. A friend and I launched our own shop and had them produced. It’s so cool that even young people with limited resources can make things like that happen with a graphic design program and by exchanging emails with suppliers who are sometimes even overseas.
Some local shops I can recommend are cometscrush and Sundae Club. CratePop is also really cool because they make mini, A5, and A4 binders using handmade methods and the print/binding quality is really great for such an affordable price.
A: I personally prefer binders that are themed after my favorite groups. I discovered @FllH0pe on Twitter and I’m a fan of her custom TXT and Enhypen binders. I hope she makes more designs in the future.
K-pop merch collecting can be difficult, especially if you’re living in the Philippines. What keeps you going?
A: What keeps me going is the genuine love and happiness I feel for my favorite idols. After all, it’s why I started in the first place.
Fiel: A few months ago it’s like a switch suddenly flipped and I’m not as interested in collecting as I used to be since I’m in a bit of a different place in my life currently. But I’m still very in love with the collection I’ve amassed and organizing them in cute, extra-safe ways.
And my interest never truly wanes because independent creators and shops from here and abroad are always making super cool stuff and approaching fan-made merch from different angles that I can’t help but want to support, especially zines! I keep going because it makes me happy and they do enrich my life in their own little or big ways, and I’ve never been one to take that for granted.