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Korea’s Publishing Trend
- The World Literature Complete Collection

 

2022.05.02

 

At the end of a recently finished drama, “Our Beloved Summer,” a book titled I Like Early Summer written by Lee Na-Eun, was shown. The book does not exist in reality since it was a prop. The name Lee Na-Eun was the name of the drama's screenwriter. The book continuously shows itself as one of the key items connecting the main characters. It revealed itself in the last episode as a gift to viewers.
Many viewers would have noticed that the book is similar to Minumsa Publishing Company's World Literature Series. The upper half is filled with a drawing, and the lower half is covered with a white background and a single-colored title. The cover's structure is a symbol of Minumsa's collection. The fact that people recognized the book by its cover shows how much Koreans are familiar with the collection.

 

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In the drama, “Our Beloved Summer,” a book that imitated the cover of Minumsa's World Literature Series was shown as a prop.
ⓒ Captured scene from “Our Beloved Summer.”

 

 

Minumsa's World Literature Series is the first collection to exceed 400 volumes

 

Minumsa's World Literature Series was a special edition released as it met its 30th year since its establishment in 1995. The edition's motto was "New Edition, New Translation, and New Redactions." Minumsa's chairman Park Maeng-Ho had a firm belief that "for the future generation to have world-class competitiveness, they have to read world literature" and that "Classics translated into Korean are not merely translations, but part of Korean literature and unique literary experiences." In other words, translation to Korean that sticks to the original context was its emphasis, and the company invented a new plate to improve the readability of the classics. After three years, Metamorphoses (translated by Lee Yoon-Gi) by Ovidius was the first book published in the collection in 1998. Since then, Minumsa's World Literature Series contributed to letting Korean readers learn about diverse world literature for the next 25 years.
Last February, the series was the 1st to exceed 400 volumes for a Korean world literature collection. Many publishers released the world literature series before Minumsa did, but it was the first time for a series to go over 400 volumes. The 400th volume was on Korea's famous poet Kim Su-Young's (1921-1968) poem Spit, Poetry!

 

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Minumsa's World Literature Series surpassed 400 volumes

 

 

If the published books are stacked vertically, it reaches around 400km, 45 times higher than Mount Everest. If all the series are put horizontally to make a road, its length will be approximately 4,400km. Until now, Minumsa's world literature series introduced 318 pieces written by 175 authors from 35 countries. Among the writings, 74 are ones written by 30 Nobel Prize in Literature awardees. The works range from classics written by Shakespeare or Dante to modern literature's virtuosos Herman Hesse, Milan Kundera, Alber Camus, and J.D. Salinger. In addition, English, European, and third world literature, Korean classics, including The Cloud Dream of the Nine, Chunhyangjeon, The Tale of Hong Gildong, and Asian classics, are all included in the series. Cumulatively, the series recorded around 11,000 prints and 20 million copies.

 

Eulyoo Publishing Company, which introduced the first Korean world literature collection

 

Likewise, the representative world literature series is that of Minumsa nowadays, but it was Eulyoo's before Minumsa. Eulyoo was one of the first publishers to release a world literature collection along with Jeongumsa (a publishing house) in 1959. Eulyoo World Literature Complete Collection, which consists of 100 books, was a necessity for elites.

 

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Eulyoo World Literature Complete Collection published in 1959 ⓒ Seoul Historiography Institute

 

 

To understand how Eulyoo World Literature Complete Collection was born, one needs to understand modern Korean history first. Up until 1945, Joseon was colonized by Japanese imperialism. Then, it was liberated and went through the Korean War. After the war, while Korea was rebuilding itself, Korea's publishing industry was able to stand on its feet in the late 1950s. Before that time, the industry was reliant on imperial Japan and financial aid from the US. Along with the complete collection, periodicals, like dictionaries or annals, which require large-scale capital, writing, and editors, were published. World literature with luxurious covers was considered part of Western civilization.
With the history in mind, Eulyoo World Literature Complete Collection was published in 1959 and was finished in 1975. The series led the complete collection trend until the 1970s. Other than the series, Shingu Publishing Company published Post-war World Popular Literature Selection and Modern World Literature Collection in the 1960s. Samjungdang Books, Dongsuh Publishers, and Samsung Publishing released world literature series in the 1970s. World literature collections enjoyed their peak in the 1960~70s in the publishing industry's history. Many other books, like children's literature, encyclopedias, and collections of books, were released as complete collections, following the trend. During this time, salespeople visited houses to sell books. They played a pivotal role in supplying world literature collections to households and companies.

 

Followers' (Munhakdongne, Open Books) Success

 

However, as horizontal writing became a trend in the 1980s, complete collections with vertical writing lost their popularity. Also, as door-to-door sales dwindled in the 1990s, the publishing industry's trend naturally moved to independent volumes from the complete collection.
The world literature collection market, which was declining, was reactivated in 1998 as Minumsa published its World Literature Series. Promoting that world literature series can help students prepare for college entrance essay tests, Minumsa targeted parents with middle and high school students as their children. In addition to bookstore sales, the company expanded its sales channel to home shopping and opened up new markets for world literature collections.
Looking at the success of Minumsa, other publishers also jumped into the collection market. In 2001, Moonji Publishing released Daesan World Literature Collection, and Penguin Books released Penguin Classics in 2008. As The Open Books Company and Munhakdonge Publishing Corporation joined forces in 2009, the world literature series market started to form a triangular fight. Open Books, which started as a publisher of Russian literature, published Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky in 2009 as part of its complete collection. In the same year, Munhakdonge introduced a world literature series composed of 10 books, including Anna Karenina and The Great Gatsby, after 5 years of preparation.

 

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Eulyoo World Literature Complete Collection that launched anew in 2009

 

 

Open Books and Munhakdonge each sold more than 200 complete series in 2012 and 2021. The early trendsetter of world literature collections, Eulyoo re-initiated its world literature series project, starting with the re-translated Mountain Magic by Thomas Mann in 2009. Eulyoo sold more than 100 copies in 2020, meeting its 10th year after the initial release.

 

A new trend in world literature series: Females and genre literature

 

Though the popularity of the series is not as much as it was at the peak, many publishers are still planning to launch new world literature collections. The followers strengthened their competitiveness by differentiating their book lists. They increased the share of female writers' works and embraced genre literature, like detective horror novels —even Southeast Asian literature, unpopular in Korea, is included.
EunHaengNaMu Publishing Company launched a monthly world literature series named ESSE. As seen from its name ESSE, meaning existence in Latin, the publisher focused on female and genre literature, often excluded from world literature.
Starting with Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse in January, EunHaengNaMu plans to release 12 books every month. The series is only composed of pieces written by female authors. Except for To the Lighthouse, the other 11 books in the series, including Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho, a novel from the Gothic canon, Joyce Carol Oates' thriller Night, Neon, and Edith Wharton's Twilight Sleep, are the ones to be translated and released for the first time in Korea. It is also the first time for a publisher to release a complete collection exclusively written by female writers.
Humanist Books' World Literature Series, officially launched in early February, also consists of only female authors. On a seasonal 4-month basis, the publisher plans to release five books every season, releasing 15 books per year. Season 1's theme is Female and Fear. Except for Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, it is the first time for the four books in Season 1 to be translated and published in Korea: Edith Wharton's Pomegranate Seed, Vernon Lee's A Wicked Voice, Dorothy Macardle's The Uninvited, and Elizabeth Gaskell's The Grey Woman.

 

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EunHaengNaMu World Literature Series, Humanist World Literature Series

 

 

The common characteristic of the two publishers is that they both hired female translators. Except for To the Lighthouse from EunHaengNaMu, the rest from EunHaengNaMu and Humanist are translated by female translators. Furthermore, both publishers went out of their way to form their complete collections away from the canonical stereotypical literature: the Western male authors' pure literature. In other words, the publishers showed their intention through their world literature series.
Southeast Asian literature, which used to be on the margin of world literature, is rising. In January, Hansae Yes24 Foundation simultaneously released three series under the Southeast Asian Literature Collection, which is the first Southeast Asian complete collection to be published in Korea. The collection only includes Southeast Asian modern and contemporary literature. Vietnamese novel Chúa Đất (2015), Indonesian novel Tenggelamnya Kapal Van Der Wijck (1939), and Thai novel Lakorn Haeng Chiwit (1929) were the first to be introduced. The series will continue to present 10 Southeast Asian countries' literary pieces.

 

The reason the same literary works are translated into different versions of the complete collection

 

Since many publishers release world literature collections competitively, repeated works are included in different series. As classics do not have copyrights, it is easy to publish those. Thus, it is inevitable to see duplications, which sometimes cause readers to feel tired. That is why publishers try to differentiate in their translations. For example, Eulyoo published Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights (폭풍의 언덕) under a different name (reads the same in English), Wuthering Heights (워더링 하이츠), because the former focuses only on Heathcliff's love story and fails to fully portray the tragic biography of the two houses surrounding the hill. To prevent The Sorrows of Young Werther (젊은 베르테르의 슬픔) from only being interpreted with a romantic feeling, Eulyoo made a bold attempt to release the same novel under a different title, The Pains of Young Werther (젊은 베르터의 고통).
Even if publishers do not differentiate in their translations, publishers' identity is often reflected in the series. For example, as Open Books started as a Russian literature publisher, its strong suit is in Russian writers. The publisher released the Dostoevsky Complete Collection three times in different bindings and versions. It also includes genre literature in its collection, such as Sci-Fi or detective novel, namely The Bishop Murder Case or one of the Sherlock Holmes series, The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Since Munhakdonge was established relatively later than other publishers, it mainly owned writers' copyrights after the 1990s. Moonji's Daesan World Literature Collection has a higher share of poems than other collections and focuses on introducing newly translated pieces than well-known ones. As the Penguin Classics series do not necessarily identify itself as literature in the title, the collection includes diverse types of literary arts. That is why the 1st book of the series contains poetics, The Prince, Great Learning, Doctrine of the Mean, and Utopia.

 

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Open Books' World Literature Collection, Munhakdongne's World Literature Collection

 

 

Thus, it is natural for publishers to have different favorites loved by their readers. The best-selling book from Minumsa is J.D Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, released in 2001. Almost 570,000 copies of the book have been sold over the past 20 years. Additionally, Herman Hesse's Demian, George Orwell's Animal Farm, have recorded more than 100 prints. The publisher has around 40 books that sold more than 100,000 copies. Munhakdonge's best and second-best sellers are Anne Karenina and Scott Fitzgerald's The Gret Gatsby in Series 1. The two were coincidentally both introduced and translated by a renowned Korean novelist, Kim, Young-Ha. The third bestseller is a representative piece of Nobel Literature Prize winner Patrick Modiano's Missing Person. Zorba the Greek, Crime and Punishment, and The Name of the Rose respectively ranked from the 1st to 3rd from Open Books.

 

Various trials to let people know about world literature through YouTube or Audiobooks

 

The ways publishers advertise world literature collections became diverse. From 2020, Minumsa has made its world literature series into audiobooks and now provides around 100 world literature books in audiobooks. The publisher also runs World Literature Bookclub Research Center, supports a reading group that reads world literature, and introduces world literature series on YouTube. Munhakdonge uploads videos of experts giving lectures on famous titles in its world literature series, serving as a guide to readers. To meet the needs of young readers who are familiar with the subscription economy, publishers even differentiate launch dates. EunghaengNaMu and Humanist say that they will launch monthly and seasonal world literature series.

 

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Minumsa's World Literature Series Audiobook, Minumsa introducing World Literature Series on YouTube

 

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Munhakdongne World Literature Collection Online Lecture

 

 

 

 


Written by Han So-Beom (Journalist at Hankookilbo)

 

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Han So-Beom (Journalist at Hankookilbo)

#World Literature Complete Collection#Minumsa#Eulyoo Publishing#Open Books#Munhakdongne
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