Diverse Ways to Love Books
Dubbed the ‘oldest form of media’, books have been handed ‘death sentences’ with every new appearance of technology. As the use of Internet spread and ‘new media’ shook up the media world along with social networking sites, many forecast a gloomy end to books, saying they would no longer be able to function as a medium to communicate and deliver knowledge. With the appearance of e-books, these doomsayers only found more ground to base their projections upon. One new technology after another seemed to bring the death of books closer.
However, these concerns have proved to be unfounded worries based on a number of reasons. One would be a research study that shows content read from physical books is remembered longer than information read online, and readers who have already viscerally realized this are seeking out physical books.
Internet broadcast channels like YouTube and podcasts were also seen as threats to books. But this, too, merely proved itself to be an overly pessimistic view. Internet broadcasts or multi-channel networks have actually worked to promote physical books and cast a spotlight on new or undiscovered authors. Social media influencers(users who have more than 100,000 followers) have also been publishing their online content in the form of books and prompted a new impact on the publishing world. This is in part the reason why the committee in charge of the Year of Books in South Korea has been focusing on social media due to the impact some influencers have. The committee has launched a campaign called ‘I’m a BookTuber(Book+YouTuber)’ and ‘With Book’. One project the executive committee’s leader is actively pushing is the former. Jeong Eun-sook, the executive committee leader, said: “The speed at which things spread on the Internet is very fast.” “We focused on the impact social media, especially YouTube, has on book marketing and spreading book reading culture on a whole,” she said. The South Korean ministry of culture and sports saw the country’s reading rates fall to a record low last year and designated 2018 as the year of books, subsequently launching various projects to promote reading. In 2017, four out of 10 adults in South Korea said they did not read one book all year while the national reading rate slowed to 59.9 percent, the worst ever since records were first kept in 1994. In 1994, the adult reading rate was 86.8 percent.
These days, social media influencers who promote their individual content in a number of areas like beauty, fashion and games are gaining in popularity and among them, ‘book creators’ have also gained substantial followers. One-person media creators who first gained attention by broadcasting games, showing off their makeup chops and eating food are now involving books in their content. This has created a group called ‘BookTubers’ like the ‘Book Talking Cast’, ‘Winter Bookstore’, ‘Joanne Booktuber’ and ‘Choco Boongeobbang’. In addition to these BookTubers who introduce new books online and read excerpts from them, ‘Book Creators’ have also been actively gaining attention by writing reviews or even managing their own book cafes or unique neighborhood bookstores.
Education company ST Unitas’ Internet book retail arm called Libro boosted book sales by launching a ‘secret new book’ project in which new publications would be introduced by these Book Creators for 10 to 15 minutes without their disclosing the book’s cover, plot or author. More readers began to buy books based solely on the recommendations made by the ‘Book Talking Cast’, Libro has said, leading to the increase in sales of literature. The ‘Book Talking Cast’ is known for delivering information about books easily and quickly in three minutes and they can also be found on Facebook. Libro gained many readers through interviews with authors, the secret new book project and social lives to draw in teens and those in their 20s. Libro has also launched various projects involving neighborhood bookstores and small bookstores with Book Creators to profit from their influence. Another Internet book retail brand by ST Unitas called Connects Book began a book recommendation service early this year by involving BookTuber ‘The Man Who Reads Books’. Connects Book focuses on book curation where books are selected personally by professionals in various industries. ‘The Man Who Reads Books’ is a BookTuber who gained fame by introducing excerpts from certain books and has more than 1.2 million followers on social media. His books I am Thankful to Myself (Hummingbird) and Words to Myself 100 (Hummingbird) have both found themselves on bestseller lists and the influencer has his own knowledge curation services on Facebook and YouTube called ‘Talking Knowledge’.
‘Winter Bookstore’ is also a well-known Book Creator. Having majored in philosophy and psychology, ‘Winter Bookstore’ has shown a great deal of expertise when it comes to books and her voice has helped her gain fame. In addition to introducing and reading books online, she has videos on interesting topics like ‘How to talk about books you haven’t read’, helping her followers approach books more easily.
‘Diana’s Bookshelf’ also creates content on YouTube. Known as a content creator who keeps her face hidden, videos from ‘Diana’s Bookshelf’ only feature her voice and still images. Rather than recommend many books at a time, her videos focus on one book each. In addition to books, the content creator also uploads vlogs of her daily life, letting followers in on her private life.
‘Chaek Geurim’ is also a YouTuber who introduces books on self-development, psychology and human relationships through whiteboard animation videos. The YouTuber describes books by drawing pictures on a whiteboard and the summaries of books on the videos are succinct and easy to understand while the drawings are not complicated.
There are some critics who point out these YouTubers keep readers from reading books, while others say they present good tools for those who are too busy in their everyday lives to read books. One industry executive has said, “All tools can be double-edged and Internet book channels are the same”. “Because readers have all the information they need on books from these YouTube channels, they might not feel the need to purchase these books themselves. In an extreme case, we might have Book Creators become the only people who read books,” the executive said. However, these Internet channels are today’s trend the industry should keep in line with and others say these channels have helped sales of physical books. “Even if the videos by these Book Creators are well made, readers will always want to read the original book. That is their intellectual instinct,” another industry executive said. “In the case of those who follow these YouTubers, they subscribe because they see these channels as a source of information rather than simple entertainment. I think they will encourage readers to buy books,” he added.
The digital age has also seen the birth of new authors. Books made with content from the Internet have seen themselves rise to the top of bestseller lists. Every Moment Was You (Ha Tae-wan, Wisdom House), I Like Myself Just The Way I Am (Cho Yu-mi, Hummingbird), There Was Not A Day When I Did Not Love You (Kim Jae-sik, Sam&Parkers), Because of Special You (Kim Ji-hoon, RH Korea) and I’ll Embrace Your Heart (Kim Ji-hoon, RH Korea) were all written by social media influencers and bookstagrammers (social media users who upload pictures of books on their Instagram accounts). These books all became bestsellers as soon as they were published.
In the past, if those who wrote long-form on the Internet were considered simple bloggers, now these people are finding a new audience via ‘writing applications’ like Publy and Brunch. They are considered official authors and this is no longer a strange concept, according to those in the industry. “Through digital writing platforms, one can easily call themselves authors now once they gain understanding and support from readers,” said one. “From a publisher’s point of view, these online works have already proven their potential to be popular and this can guarantee book sales.” One publishing executive added, “In addition to books on humanities, young readers who have spent their years mostly watching television and communicating on the Internet might find literature difficult to digest.” “I think writing that’s been done by those who understand where these readers are coming from will draw more attention,” he said.
Thanks to this, the publishing industry is currently in a race for the hottest Internet authors. Kim Dong-sik, who used to be a factory worker in Seongsu-dong in Seoul, found Internet fame once his entries on popular web community ‘Today’s Humor’ gained popularity. Web novel Why Would Secretary Kim Do That (Jeong Kyung-yoon, Gaha) was also adapted into a webtoon and later, the novel was turned into a television drama and is now often named as a good example of how one literary work can be used in different media. “Essay collections based on social media content have now been published many times and now we’re seeing different Internet authors now like Kim Dong-sik who have uploaded their own writing series on places like Brunchbook or Naver Portfolio,” said one bookstore industry executive. “You don’t need to officially join the authors’ league to have that title anymore because books can be published in so many different ways based on where the content is derived from.”
Due to this trend, publishers are seeking out well-known Internet authors more than ever. Small Korean publishers especially aim to publish works by authors already popular online in order to minimize risk and secure as many readers as possible. This has recently been the same for bigger publishers as well. Two major examples would be Ha Tae-wan and Kim Jae-sik, who were published by Wisdom House and Sam&Parkers. “In the past when Internet novelist Guiyeoni published her web novel He Was Cool (Bandi Publishing) there were voices of disdain toward her work but now I feel we’re living in quite a different age,” said a publishing industry executive. “These days, unless you’re a bestselling author it’s difficult to see books go on to the second edition. Publishing works by these Internet authors shows the changing of trends and it’s a business strategy, too, to reduce risk.”
There are those who say Internet authors will always find themselves limited somehow, however. “It might be hard to find recognition as a real author after your work on Brunch was published offline,” said another publishing industry executive. “This is because it will be difficult to set your foot in the door with other real authors who never wrote online. These new authors might find themselves exempt from literary awards and there will be limits.” This executive went on to say, “If this group of new authors grows enough to pressure the existing group of authors then we might see some tension and competition but realistically, I doubt the group will grow to that extent.”
In the offline world, there are now vending machines that sell books. South Korea’s first used-book vending machine called ‘The Excitement Machine’ lets customers choose a genre of their choice from romance, mystery, travel, knowledge and self-development. Once the right buttons are pressed, out comes a random book nicely packaged. The name comes from the randomness of not knowing what kind of book you’ll be presented with. The vending machine was created by Yonsei University students in a team called ‘Chaek(book) It Out,’ who are also part of international non-profit organization Enactus. This group of students first came up with the idea three years ago when they were seeking ideas to keep bookstores in Cheonggyecheon, Seoul alive. Why do people want to buy random books through a vending machine when personal taste is so important in choosing books? Seoul National University professor Kwak Geum-joo says, “Youth in their 20s and 30s are suffering unprecedented unemployment and have to give up so much in life.” “This shows their attitude towards life to accept whatever is given them, rather than choose what they want after many experiences that have shown them nothing goes the way they would like,” Kwak said.
Written by Yeon Seung (Reporter at Seoul Economic Daily)