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Current State of Korean Publishing

Overview of Korean Publishing Market

 

2017.6.30

 

To translate and publish Korean books, it is important to understand the current status of the local publishing market. This section provides macro-data and statistics on the Korean publishing industry from the perspective of publishing experts.

 

 

The unusually high ratio of education books in the market

 

According to “Survey of Publishing Industry in 2016” conducted by the Publication Industry Promotion Agency of Korea, the size of the Korean publishing market is 4,278 billion KRW (excluding 1 trillion KRW of the magazine market). Approximately 59% of it consists of education books for children and adolescents. Countries with such a high proportion of education books are quite rare. This phenomenon in the publishing industry reflects the Korean social culture of high population density and college enrollment rate and the fierce competition for places at prestigious universities. In particular, this environment has resulted in education cartoons, which has become a special category in the Korean publishing industry as well as raises awareness in Asia and overseas markets.
The number of new publications in Korea was about 60,000 in 2016. Around 20% are translated books and mainly come from the following countries: the US, Japan, three European countries (UK, France, and Germany), and China. In particular, almost half of the top-ranked bestsellers in children’s books and novels are translated books, and it has been found that Korean readers prefer foreign authors. Sometimes, the competitions of contract fee of advance royalty for popular authors are reported on news.

 

 

Promotion of online bookstores and unique style of transactions

 

Currently, there are about 5,000 active publishing companies (more than 50,000 publishing companies are registered to administrative authorities) and 2,116 bookstores (offline stores). Similar to other areas, the proportion of publishing activities and markets is high in Seoul and the metropolitan area (about half of the total population resides in the Seoul metropolitan area). In addition, online bookstores account for more than 30% of the total publishing market, which is considerably higher than the OECD average. In cities, people can usually receive orders from online bookstores the following day.
In terms of distribution structure, corporate bookstores (online and offline) buy books directly from publishers, whereas small and medium-sized bookstores trade via wholesalers. Additionally, workbooks for study, which have a large share in the market, are transacted directly between publishers and readers, and textbooks are dealt through regional specialty stores between publishers to deliver to bookstores. The majority of books are sold as “consignment sales that allow returns” from bookstores to publishers. This is an advantage that reduces the pressure of purchasing books to secure opportunities for sales, but a disadvantage is that returned stock could be a burden for publishers.
Korea is one of the most advanced countries in terms of IT technology, and most people are smartphone users, but the market share of digital publishing is not high. Most of Korea's digital publishing content is actually Webtoons (Korean internet comics) and web novels (internet novels). The share of web portal sites and professional platform companies in this field is overwhelmingly high, and publishers have few market participants. Excluding these categories, the share of e-books is less than 5% of the entire market.

 

 

Stakeholders in the publishing industry, including government and associations

 

Government intervention is higher in the Korean publishing industry compared with other countries. In terms of law, there are not only copyright and library laws, but also the Publishing Culture Industry Promotion Act, Reading Culture Promotion Act, and specialized public organizations, such as the Publication Industry Promotion Agency of Korea and Literature Translation Institute of Korea. They support publishing activities, reading culture, and international exchange.
In terms of taxation, paper books and e-books are exempted from VAT (the normal tax rate is 10%, and the publication tax rate is 0%). On the other hand, a fixed book price system is applied for paper books and e-books, allowing a 10% discount from the regular price and 5% reward points. Furthermore, Paju Book City, which was established near Seoul with the government's support based on industry demand, has been acknowledged as the world's only industrial complex of publishing, production, and distribution facilities.
Various associations exist in the publishing industry, such as the Korean Publishers Association, Korean Publisher Society, and Korea Federation of Bookstore Association. Associations for detailed categories, including children’s books, academic, Christianity, Buddhism, and college publishing departments, are active as well. The Korean Publishers Association organizes the Seoul International Book Fair every June. It is the only international book fair in Korea and an event for reading promotion as well as international copyright exchange.

 

 


Written by Won-Keun Baek (President, Books & Society Research Institute)

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Won-Keun Baek (President, Books & Society Research Institute)

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