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Even in Asia, karaoke isn’t recession-proof

Tyler Metzger

The later I stay out on the town — pounding Vitamin Water and strolling through RadioShack — the more money I spend. I don’t know why I can’t just keep my wallet in my pocket; maybe it’s lack of sleep, and I imagine this rings true for about all of us.

According to a card issuer in South Korea, karaoke isn't recession-proof.

Not in South Korea, though.

According to the Korea Times, nightlife has taken a hit in South Korea, particularly in the wee hours. From January to March, credit cards issued by Shinhan Bank saw a 17.2 percent decrease in use at bars, karaoke lounges and similar venues.

But that doesn’t mean people aren’t going out at all; the same issuer saw a 4 percent increase in credit card use at restaurants over the same time period. Also, overall credit card use increased 17.5 percent in South Korea since last year, according to the Bank of Korea.

Yep. That’s right. Nothing is recession-proof. Not even karaoke clubs — IN ASIA.

Interesting too was a stat that indicated that the later folks stay out, the less they spend. According the newspaper, entertainment-related expenditures fell just 0.1 percent between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., compared to last year. But that same type of spending dropped 19.7 percent between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m., which many experts consider the prime time to sing off-key renditions of “We Built This City,” “Purple Rain” and anything — seriously anything — from Celine Dion. (No, I’m not going to link any of that. You should thank me.)

I’m not entirely sure how Shinhan bank got these numbers showing a drop in late-night entertainment. But this is how it works in the United States: Every time you swipe a card that uses the Visa and MasterCard card networks, the transaction is assigned a merchant category code (MCC). It’s a four-digit number that tells the issuer what type of business you used the card at and what service or merchandise it sells. An issuer can then look at the codes and compile information on how and when its users spend.

MCCs can be used by businesses to prevent employee abuse of company credit cards, or by issuers to decide to lower a customer’s credit limit or increase someone’s interest rate.They can also be used to charge businesses different levels of fees, depending on how many deadbeats shop in that particular industry.

I don’t know if South Korean card companies use MCCs; I couldn’t find it on the Googles. It sounds like they use something similar to apparently track how much people are using karaoke clubs, among other things. Maybe if you don’t sing karaoke enough, your credit limit goes down.

So what can we take from this? Perhaps people are trying to save some cash by hitting the town early for a bite and then calling it a night earlier than usual. Or maybe the recession has hit some so hard that they have lost the desire to act like they can sing while getting blasted on Soju, a popular Korean liquor.

Whatever the reason, I don’t think now is a good time to stop having fun, even if you can’t sing.

See related: Your credit card is a tattletale, Are you a bankruptcy risk? Enigmatic score may tell lenders

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