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Publishing Industry


The Trend and Prospects of the Self-help Book Market in Korea





The self-help book fever

The interests of the MZ generation

Various prohects of publishing houses



The popularity of self-help books rises and falls regularly. Self-help books are currently the cradle of bestsellers in the publishing industry. And, as they can work like a magnet pulling readers to the bookstore once they go popular, it is no exaggeration to say that the genre can determine a bookstore’s sales for the year.
The current self-help book craze began to heat up in the second half of last year in Korea, and it reached its peak this year. Unlike in the past, the trend these days was fueled by the recession that has made life more difficult. “As getting rich through financial investment has become impossible in this life, I’d rather raise my value through self-improvement” This phrase has become a buzzword among Gen MZ since last year. In fact, stocks, bonds, real estate, cryptocurrencies, and all other investments experienced an extraordinary bear market that seemed to have no bottom. As individual investors who jumped into investment, scraping every bit of money they had when the prices were at their peak, the books they seek have changed as well, as they are now faced with an ordeal. Books about financial investment vanished from the top 10 bestseller list in Korea, marking the end of the heyday of those books in only a year. Business books centered on finance enjoyed the best days in Korea in 2021, breaking all previous sales records.
Instead, self-help books replaced them. While business books lost 31% of sales year on year in August last year, self-help books saw a whopping sales increase of 14%. If you look at the yearly statistics for 2022, the changes seem more dramatic. Travel books topped the growth rate by fields with a surprising 49.8% increase in sales on year, and self-help books came in second with an 18.0% increase. Meanwhile, business books lost sales by 13.7% on year. Considering the relatively smaller size of the travel book market, self-help books took the throne last year.


Self-help books made a comeback in Korean bookstores,
as the heyday of business books ended with the recession.


This trend was thanks to the success of many self-help books. For example, Jachung’s Counter Your Life (Woongjin Jisik House), which kept its No.1 place for 4 weeks, drew massive popularity, selling over 160 thousand copies within three months of its release. The book was the only self-help book to make the top 10, ranking 2nd on the overall bestseller list in the year-end total. In this book, self-made wealthy author Jachung tells the story of how he went from being a hopeless “wooden spoon (a Korean term that refers to a person being born into a poor family)” to being a successful man after learning from life and understanding how to transform yourself. Its publishing house, excited by the book topping the bestseller list, attempted some unique, unconventional marketing. They even held a comical event where they published a limited “fake edition” of the book with the title Follow Your Life. Regarding this, Shin Dong-Hae, the headquarters director of the General Book Division at Woongjin Thinkbig, who published the book said, “Investment books such as real estate investing have definitely decreased in sales since the beginning of the year, and instead, unique self-help books are experiencing an upward curve in sales. It seems like people are trying to rediscover the meaning of everyday life and work, as can be hinted by the recent trend of ‘living a productive life’ and ‘no-spend challenge.’ Publishers are also planning to publish a variety of self-help books.”
The major readers of self-help books are the Gen MZ. For example, the year’s No.1 novel, The Uncanny Convenience Store (Namu Bench), had 37.5% of its readers in their 40s, followed by 25.3% in their 30s, while Counter Your Life had 39.1% in their 30s and 26.3% in their 40s. Also, following Counter Your Life, there was the success of I Start My Day at 4:30 AM (Tornado Media Group) by Kim You-Jin, which reminds me of the early bird syndrome.
The book Wealthinking (Dasan Books Co., Ltd.) was a hit in the first half of last year, ranking 6th on the overall bestseller list. It’s a self-help book written by Kelly Choi, who rose from poverty by selling lunch boxes in Europe after a failed business left her 1 billion won in debt. Telling the story of how she could succeed and become the president of KellyDeli, a dining company in Europe with 12 offices across the world, she advises readers, “If you want to be rich, think like a rich person.” So, the popularity of self-help books written by rags-to-riches, self-made millionaires, has become a new trend.


Counter Your Life

I Start My Day at 4:30 AM


Counter Your Life, I Start My Day at 4:30 AM, and Wealthinking



Self-help books, especially those written by wealthy people who share their business success or money-making secrets, are very popular this year. According to the sales statistics announced by Kyobo Book Centre, one of the big bookstores in Korea, the sales of self-help books increased by 27.3% on year during the first two months of the year. Among them, the best-selling book was Sayno Love (Day One), which was No.1 on the list for two months until the first week of May. The pen name “Say No” means “Say no to things that you’ve been believing in, and walk on your own path.” Sayno, who is known to be a man of wealth with a net worth of 100 billion won, has been sharing wisdom about wealth and success for the past 20 years in columns, but it was the first time his thoughts had been collected in a book. While it’s full of straight talk and spiteful remarks such as “Rage if life cheats you” and “Don’t be intimidated by geniuses,” such bluntness is actually what makes the book so popular.
Meanwhile, Kim Mikyung’s Life Lesson for Those in Their Forties (Awake Books), No.2 on the bestseller list for April released by Yes 24, one of the big online bookstores in Korea, is a self-help book written by a popular lecturer and 1.6 million YouTuber Kim Mi-Kyung. It teaches you how to live the “real, your life” after 40 in the age of centenarians. Also, the book Success Rules of Top 1%, ranked No.6 in April, discusses how to make money. In the book, Hitoshi Saito, the richest man in Japan who set the record of cumulated tax paid as of 2004, shares five laws of success. The book An Introduction to Business Management (Snow Fox Books), written by Kim Seung-Ho, president of the global dining company Snow Fox Group, drew popularity in the first half of this year and is a continuation of his previous book The Property of Money (Snow Fox Books). His business philosophy of a lifetime as a company president can be found in the book.


Sayno Love

Kim MiKyung’s Life Lesson for Those in Their Forties

An Introduction to Business Management

Sayno Love, Kim MiKyung’s Life Lesson for Those in Their Forties, and An Introduction to Business Management



The best-selling self-help books reflect generational changes.


Looking back, many of the legendary bestsellers have always reflected the zeitgeist. The most successful self-help book in history was The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, written by Stephen Covey, represented the 1990s. Self-help books around then were mainly about the “techniques” to succeed in the workplace or business. Also, Don’t Eat the Marshmallow Yet! The Secrets to Sweet Success in Work and Life and The Secret were super successful million-sellers in 2006 and 2008, respectively. Self-help books around this time claimed that your mind could influence the outer world, urging readers to become optimists. The stand out self-help books after the 2010s were The Power of Habit, Grit, and Tools of Titans. The idea that little changes in daily life and habit lead to success was a popular keyword among self-help books in the 2010s.
Then, COVID-19 came, and the landscape changed. In the Trend Korea (Mirae Books) series, Kim Nan-Do, professor of Consumer Science at Seoul National University, highlighted the emergence of “capitalist kids” as a rising trend. As such, the stock market boom caused by COVID-19 has sparked a financial frenzy among Gen MZ, in their 20s and 30s. The popularity of self-help books on “how to make money” continues to grow, while investment books are going down.
Some interesting bestsellers have emerged in the extension of such a social shift. The best example is the Story of Department Head Kim, Who Has a House in Seoul and Works at a Large Company (Seosamdok) series, which sold 300 thousand copies. Its identity is quite vague. It looks like a book about investing, or a self-help book, too, but it actually takes the format of a novel. This book, written every early morning by Song Hee-Gu, a 39-year-old worker at a large company, went viral online and was later published as a book. Talking about an ordinary department head who fails in financial investment, the book has been positively commented on as “hyper-realistic.” The book My Rich High School Friend (Seosamdok), published in April, also takes a similar format. Just like the title, two friends appear and deliver messages about money and life, as well as wealth and happiness, in the format of a novel.


Story of Department Head Kim, Who Has a House in Seoul and Works at a Large Company

My Rich High School Friend

Story of Department Head Kim, Who Has a House in Seoul and Works at a Large Company, and
My Rich High School Friend



Meanwhile, the book The Art of Self-Improvement: Ten Timeless Truths, written by Anna Katharina Schaffner, professor of Cultural History at the University of Kent, UK, is a history book that traces the roots of self-improvement through human history. Commenting straightforwardly about popular books such as The Secret, she explains that “self-help is no different from the desire to know how to develop our intellectual and spiritual abilities, as well as moral qualities, to their fullest potential.” Still, she is wary of relying too much on self-help books. She added, “Self-help books that blindly overestimate our willpower, capacity to act, and capacity to change, can become ‘harmful fairy tales’ in that they distort our perception of what is possible and what is not.” This is advice that we shouldn’t forget, as we live in the age of self-help books.



Written by Kim Seul-Gi (Journalist at the Department of Culture of Maeil Business Newspaper)



Kim Seul-Gi (Journalist at the Department of Culture of Maeil Business Newspaper)

#Self-help Book#Recession#Gen MZ#Money-making
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