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Publishing Industry


How are Regional Publishers in Korea Thriving?

Cooperation of local publishers seen through the Somewhere, Someone series










I’m living in a village by the ocean in Goseong County, Gangwon-do Province. The first thing I do in the morning is take a walk on the shore in front of the village with my dog. Once I reach the shore, I take off the leash for him to move around freely, and check orders from bookstores on a number of applications. Sometimes, I sit in a corner, enter the logistics website, and start my morning work. Spending 3-4 minutes typing in the number of books and the name of the warehouse for the day is the most important task. Then, I put my dog back on the leash again, and head home.
This was a dream 10 years back. Back then, the facsimile in one corner of the publishing company would start to run, making noises and printing out order sheets from publishers at 9 am. Co-workers on the sales team were busy gathering the sheets, typing the orders into the headquarters’ system, and releasing the products for delivery.
If Korea’s regional publishing is being facilitated, the changes I described above would explain the reason for such facilitation to an extent. On top of this, as most of the publishing-related infrastructure was focused in Seoul and the metropolitan area, moving to another region to publish was a hard decision to make. However, as people can now cover major work anytime, anywhere, more publishers have chosen to leave Seoul. And I was one of them.


Being free from the publishing-related infrastructure also means liberation from thoughts.


Publishers set free from spacial constraints such as the ordering system, printing houses, and binderies, does not only mean that they are free from the limitations of traveling and residence. This also means the liberation of thoughts. In the past, for one book to be published, you had to write the plans, go through team discussions, and pass planning meetings. Then, once the proposal passes the meetings somehow, you still have to find an author that will write as you planned. It took a lot in terms of both time and money. However, this process had been regarded as a must-follow manual that kept the Korean publishing industry running.
Some people felt inhibited by the manual above from a long time ago, and they ended up opening a publishing company by themselves or with one or two others. The “freedom” often frustrated them, as book production costs a lot. The royalties for the writer, design fees for the cover and text, and printing and binding expenses become quite burdensome when put together. There, you have no way but to sort out “profitable books,” and this naturally brings out strict reviews and planning meetings.
However, small- and medium-sized publishers with 1 or 2-3 people who persisted and survived set a good example for the next generation. People have begun to take a different route in production – small-batch mass production, rather than focusing on publishing books that will be a mega-hit. The changes occurred across the overall process – some decided to write the book themselves, some interviewed their family members, and some studied design and saved costs for the cover and text design. Some produced very small quantities (within 100 copies) with the classical technique of art binding, and some created a new marketing strategy based on their experience in the sales team.
In the realm of various independent publishing, “regional publishing” is notable not just from the perspective of making books outside Seoul and the metropolitan region, but from the aspect of discovering unique topics from their region. The Korea Regional Publishing Coalition (KRPC) has a total of 60 members, all publishing companies. It has been promoting its name by opening a regional book fair every year. Hosting a local book fair is great in addition to Seoul International Book Fair, the representative book fair in Korea. It is also commendable that the fair carries a unique theme throughout the event, and that they are giving out awards to books every year written about specific regions.
Member publishers of KRPC have been steadily publishing books about their region independently. But the thing was, topics limited to certain regions lack profitability. They didn’t sell well, so to speak. I also published three books about my region since I published the first book in 2018, and they all didn’t end well.



* Some of the sentences below were reconstructed based on the following text: There’s a Publisher Somewhere, and There are Readers Somwhere, Park Dae-Woo, ChulpanN Vol. 36, September, 2022


Two years ago, around this time, I got a phone call from the head of Namhaebomnal (Namhaebomnal is a publishing house in Tongyeong, Gyeongsangnam-do Province). I had a similar talk with her back then. As she moved to the region she’s living in right now earlier than me, publishing books about regional topics, she had a lot of know-how for regional publishing. Also, she knew that books about those topics did not sell well in the market. The reason was this. Once the books are out, major daily newspapers should cover them in their “new book section,” so that they can go viral and mouth to mouth and increase orders from bookstores. But, it is rare for daily newspapers to introduce those books in the culture section. Journalists often choose books that are mainly about people in Seoul or the metropolitan area. So, the limited advertisement also limits sales. Bookstores in other regions are less interested in the books as they are not about their region. Overcrowding in metropolitan areas creates such a vicious cycle.
As our conversation was mostly about “We gotta find another profitable source for our business than regional publishing,” it seemed that it was difficult to push forward something new. But then, she (the head of Namhaebomnal) suggested, “How about making a series together with some of the regional publishers?” I said that I’d think it over for a couple of days, but I gave her a “Yes!” in just a few hours. Above all else, I thought that it’d be revitalizing to work with people wearing the same shoes.
The publishers that agreed to join our series project were 5 – Yeolmaehana in Suncheon, Jeollanam-do Province, Podobat in Okcheon, Chungcheongbuk-do Province, Iubooks in Daejeon, Onda Press - us - in Gosung, Gangwon-do Province, and Namhaebomnal. As COVID-19 was at its peak around that time, and as it was quite tough to set a date for all five of us to meet offline, the meetings were always held online through Zoom. So, since then, we have had meetings on Zoom about 40 times, once or twice a month, for 2 years.



Heads of publishers that participated in the series Somewhere, Someone



Deciding the name of the series as “Somewhere, Someone,” we talked about the design, as it should be able to represent the overall content of the series. In the end, we agreed to ask Ahn Sam-Yeol, one of the top typographers in Korea. We thought that he best suited our intention as he has been showcasing his own unique typography, going across multiple boundaries. He would be the perfect designer for bringing together the distinct characteristics of each publisher scattered across the country. His quality outcome proved that our decision was never wrong.
After the book was out, the next important task was “how to promote the book.” The head of Namhaebomnal emphasized that once our series was released, we should first tell the news to local bookstores across the country, not the major online bookstores in Korea. She said that it should be the local residents that first see the book in offline bookstores in the region. And, we agreed to give a letter-pressed (a handcrafted printing technique using a manual printing press) postcard to 200 readers that buy the book at local bookstores, as a special benefit for them.
As a result, our marketing strategy centered on local bookstores worked. Local bookstores across the country showed interest in our series, and rolled up their sleeves to advertise it on their Social Media as if it was by someone very close to them. Thanks to them, we could introduce our book to the representative bookstores in each region, and local bookstores could give exclusive hand-outs to the readers. So from now on, too, we will be sticking to the 1st principle of “Neighborhood Bookstores Come First!”



The Somewhere, Someone series



After the series was published, major daily newspapers and small-sized newspaper companies in each region introduced the book in their paper, which naturally helped with the online promotion. For example, one company showed empathy with our publishing philosophy and put up the book on the main page of its website for a month. Putting advertisements in online bookstores by collecting bits of money from each other was new. While it was extremely hard to cover the advertisement expense alone, it became quite affordable for a group of five. It was a very thankful experience.
Also, at the end of 2022, the series jointly won the 63rd Korean Publishing Culture Award (Planning/Editing). The screening committee commented that “the series achieved universal consensus that transcends regional boundaries while the topics are based on each region.” This was something that we all wanted to hear. It was the virtue that we all agreed to keep in mind – everyone should be able to sympathize with the subject while publishing unique books. Now, five of us are preparing for the second new series, listening to the voices of local residents. From diversifying design tools to online meetings, technological development has brought us greater freedom. Making use of those changes as much as possible, we will keep studying and thinking over which stories can deliver the power of human nature, love and peace, and conflict and reconciliation.



Written by Park Dae-Woo (Head of Onda Press)




#Regional Publisher#Independent Publishing#Somewhere, Someone#Korean Publishing Culture Award
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