Today, reading paper books has become just one of the many ways of enjoying books. Even though you don’t necessarily “bite or taste” the books like that famous advertisement phrase, you are able to enjoy books through various channels. In particular, the transformation of diverse media based on books began to lead the new generation where you “watch, listen to, and experience” books. Some people say that “texts will be replaced with videos in the new era,” but such transformation led by the development of platforms is live evidence that books are still more of an interesting or competitive medium than you might think. This is because a generation of videos without texts or books is like a castle built on sand.
Book-related TV Programs are Fading Away
“Book programs” on TV had influence on the industry and the public. For example, <The Page-Turners> that aired on tvN from September 2019 to April 2020 with 30 episodes was a book-related show that broke the common stereotype about book programs that they are boring and made books introduced on the show become bestsellers. One online bookstore picked “The Page-Turners” as the first keyword in its sales analysis for the first half of this year. Classic titles such as <Records of the Three Kingdoms>, <Gulliver’s Travels>, and <Demian> were “rediscovered,” and the so-called “brick books” such as <Cosmos> and <Guns, Germs, and Steel” drew quite a lot of attention from readers. Books that are relatively “new” compared to the titles mentioned above such as <Prisoners of Geography> have also benefitted through the TV program. This online bookstore commented that “the witty sense of Seol Min-Seok” was behind the show’s popularity. His appearance on several other TV shows has encouraged readers who had drawn a line between themselves and books get familiar with him and become interested in reading books.
<The Children Who Lived in Gweonguiburi Town>, <Who Ate Up All the Shinga?>, <One Spoon on This Earth>
Meanwhile, one of the TV programs about books that is still talked about today is MBC’s < Exclamation Mark! Let’s Read Books>, which was also selected as the “top 10 hit item in 2002.” Literary works such as <The Children Who Lived in Gweonguiburi Town (Changbi)>, <My Sister Bongsoon (Hainaim)>, and <Who Ate Up All the Shinga? (Segyesa)> became bestsellers as soon as they were introduced on the show. Also, even though the program was primarily an entertainment show, the late President Roh Moo-Hyun once showed up and joined in reading books along with the public. Some people undervalued the show for its nature as an entertainment program, but the show was one of the rare cases where books could be spotlighted by the public.
TV shows about books before then mostly had the role of being liberal arts programs. They eventually couldn’t prevent losing viewership, and this fall pushed them to the end of the TV schedule. The lifespan of such shows was around 1 year, after which they were shut down or newly launched in a vicious cycle. In terms of radio, programs about books have maintained their place until relatively recent years. However, as <Love Bookstore> of KBS 3 Radio and <Reading Night> of Gugak FM Inc. ended in 2019, you can hardly find a radio program that mainly talks about books. Well, there are <Radio Book Club> of MBC, and <Let’s Play with Books> of SBS aired on the weekends to think of some, but that’s it.
Book Podcasts, a change in experiencing books
<Lee Dong-Jin’s Red Book Room >, <Yojo X Jang Gang-Myung’s They Are Books!>, <Check It Out>
If TV and radio had been the absolute media for getting information about books about ten years ago, the recent diversification of platforms has brought about a significant change in how we meet books. Book podcasts are the best examples. The original book podcast is <Youngha Kim’s Book Reading Hour> presented by novelist Kim Young-Ha in 2010. Kim Young-Ha said he had prepared all the equipment needed for recording and launched the podcast after he experienced a podcast show during his visit to another country. This show is still much loved by people today. In particular, his actor-like voice when he reads the characters’ lines is picked as the best part of the podcast. There is also another legendary, or humorous comment that its main listeners are those who have just had LASIK eye surgery.
The next hottest book podcast after Kim Young-Ha’s show is <Lee Dong-Jin’s Red Book Room>. Being a film critic and an author, Lee Dong-Jin makes delicate but sharp criticism about books but does not hide his affection towards them, which has helped his show gain popularity. Also, <Yojo X Jang Gang-Myung’s They Are Books!>, a so-called “book-chat show” presented by singer Yojo and novelist Jang Gang-Myung, is another popular radio show featuring books. Popular as a book podcast that best shows the chemistry of the two who are known to be extensive readers, famous figures in the publishing industry such as Rhyu Si-Min, Jung Jae-Seung, and Kang Won-Gook have participated as guests.
<Check It Out>, which was launched in October 2017, is a book podcast produced by online bookstore Yes24. It is gaining more subscribers episode after episode. “Play Wide with Kim Hana” by copywriter Kim Hana and “Oh Eun’s Huddle Together” by poet Oh Eun are corners of the podcast air every other Thursday and Friday and they are said to be a playground for various authors where they can introduce their unique world view to the public. The show does not hesitate to take new attempts such as making collaborations with other industries, local governments, or online broadcasts in the times of the coronavirus pandemic along with a live broadcast, and is expected to grow further with the support from the big online bookstore.
Golden Age of “Book-Tubes” in Korea
It is indeed the golden age of “book-tubes.” Book programs on TV are losing steam, and book podcasts are long and sometimes boring. And as even toddlers have a smartphone in their hands today, you cannot leave out videos when talking about any kind of trend. The same goes for the book broadcasts in a broader sense. Book-tubes that point out the essence of books for around 10 minutes are emerging as the most important way of enjoying books. Subscribers to book-tubes say that it is good to be “watching and listening to books” rather than reading long and stuffy paper books. It can be called the best way for busy modern people to read books, and in this sense, book-tubes can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with book shows on TV and book podcasts.
First page of <Winter Bookstore>
<Winter Bookstore> is a notable book-tube channel. Opened in January 2017, Kim Gyeo-Wool, the owner of the channel, now has more than 160K subscribers. The channel introduces several ways to enjoy books with her values embedded within through corners such as “the bookshelf of the bookkeeper,” “book chats and vlog,” and “analysis and 1-sentence comment.” Her book reviews are the main dish, but her book readings and item reviews also stimulate subscribers’ taste. Kim Gyeo-Wool talked about how her book-tube channel could be loved by many fans in an interview as follows:
“It is because my channel does not merely spoon-feed books to people. I don’t want to make contents in which I can pretend to have read a book while I have not and get a sense of accomplishment after watching a 15-minute video feeling as if my intellectual desire has been met. Making people want to read books is what my channel pursues. I hope people know the fun of reading books. And I think this helps the publishing market as well. My nickname is the queen of sales you know.”
<MK TV> “Book Drama”
Yet, there is a real “sales king” in the world of book-tubes. It is <MK TV>. With 1.19 million subscribers, the channel has several corners, such as “Kim Mi-Kyung’s Only You,” “MK Salon,” and “Sister’s Spiky Remarks,” but it is “Book Drama 2020” that catches the eyes and ears of the subscribers. As people have become interested in this corner, publishers have also turned their eyes to its style. However, MK TV is still having a breezy sail in the book-tube ocean as it is run by a person who knows exactly how to draw the public’s attention. Books introduced in this channel usually make a reverse curve like salmons and become bestsellers. The name “Youtube-seller” after “media-seller” and “drama-seller” has begun to be the talk of the town. One news outlet even picked MK TV as “one of the big hands behind the publishing market.”
Uploaded videos of <Draw the Book>
Meanwhile, <Draw the Book> (with 420K subscribers) is built on a unique concept among several other book-tube channels. As it organizes and explains the major story of a book for more or less than 5 minutes with photos and pictures, the channel reminds you of the book-trailers that once trended in the past. Some people say that they feel like watching a movie trailer. This approach sets up and keeps the concept clear-as its’ first page says, “delivering the essence of each book.” Publishers are also paying attention to channels like <MK TV> and <Draw the Book> as readers are highly enthusiastic about their contents.
Books, the best invention of our generation
The transition from texts to videos is an irresistible trend. Nobody knows how long the popularity of YouTube may last, but even though the platform might lose heat in the future, the next big platform will also be based on videos. Then, publishers and the publishing industry that is based on texts, in contrast, should contrive to find values that can help books to be consumed by the public. That book programs on TV, book podcasts, and book-tube receiving great love from the public doesn’t mean that the entire publishing industry will bloom like spring. The public recognizes these media as a substitute for books. While reading books is perceived as doing hard labor, just imagine how easy and convenient it is to watch book shows, book podcasts, and book-tubes that enable you to understand a book by just sitting with your device.
First page of <Minumsa TV>
Publishers have been fiercely jumping into opening YouTube channels for the past several years. While <Minumsa TV> is clearly seeing a rise in subscribers, medium and large-sized publishers are opening channels of their own. It could be because of the limited capital that publishers’ YouTube channels are at a standstill. They have not made any big steps forward compared to other categories such as mukbang (food-eating shows), beauty, and fashion. TV book shows, book podcasts, and book-tubes are clearly strong in their exclusive way. The environment surrounding books has incalculably changed, and the way we read books has certainly shifted to experiencing and listening from reading.
After all, the publishing industry needs to seek ways, those new or totally different from what it has been taking, amidst the changes in media and platforms. One clear thing is that we must believe in the truth that there are still readers that read books. If we cannot lead the changes, we must be able to go along with, and adapt to them. This is my personal remark about the current situation. Yet, it is without doubt that books are the most important invention of our generation.
Written by Jang Dong-Seok (Publication Critic and Devision Director of Bookcity Culture Foundation)