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Publishing Industry Full of Consolation and
Sympathy in the Post-COVID-19 Era




“Since my mother was not loved, I believed she would love more. Since my mother did not have anything, I thought she would fill someone’s heart more than others. I sincerely hope the story of this insignificant individual can give a sense of comfort to someone with a lonely and hungry heart. I was able to find a sense of consolation before others and by a lot. In addition to what I gained, I released my mother’s obituary collection. (Preface written by author Lee Soon-Ja’s daughter)”
The above is the preface written to the essay At 60, as I Became a Sage Again (Humanist Publishing Group), released on May 9, 2022. The book is a collection of prose released after the death of the author Lee Soon-Ja, who won non-fiction award in the 7th Maeil Newspaper Senior Literary Awards last year. It may be that this word of consolation by a little known writer swayed readers’ hearts. The book was introduced on the book introduction pages of various media outlets and ranked high among best-sellers, gaining much response from readers.



At 60, as I Became a Sage Again



Writer Lee Soon-Ja was the eldest daughter-in-law of a head family where four generations lived together. In the book, the author shares her experience from the beginning of her married life to being on the frontline of job seekers at 62 after her divorce. The writer had difficulty communicating due to hearing disabilities but wanted to connect with others through her writings. Unfortunately, as she passed away shortly after winning the award, she was never able to work as a fully-fledged writer. The book is a collection of poems, prose, and novels left on the writer’s laptop. After the COVID-19 pandemic, readers who wanted warm words of consolation gave an eager response to the book. “I got hopes after reading her stories,” and “I want to live as I love others” were the comments left by readers.
Recently, in the era of Post-COVID-19, the publishing industry has been releasing more books on ‘us’ than ‘me.’ If the books can be labeled under hashtags, it would be #friendship, #kindness, #solidarity, and #sympathy. So, let us find out which books are leading the industry and why they are popular among readers.


In the Post-COVID-19 Era, People Want Warm Words of Consolation


“We are so much different as individuals, so we must try harder to embrace each other. Love is an act of embracing differences.” The writer and musician Kwon Tree wrote this phrase in the essay Tell Me I’m Kind (Dal Publishers), released on May 10. The book sings about a life where people live harmoniously. As seen from its title with the word kindness, the book delivers the spirit of solidarity to its readers. What kindness covers is higher than the sky and wider than the sea. Thus, a kind word given to another without much consideration can make the person feel kindhearted, a concept the writer talks about in his book.
Essays and poems are representative writings that include kindness and consolation in this era after the COVID-19 pandemic. Like A Small Consolation (Happybook), some emphasize its title, and like Plant Clinic Next Door (Bright)’s subtitle “Words of consolation plants give you,” shows, some put the keywords in their subtitle. Some books take kindness as their keywords, as seen from Review on Kindness (Anonbooks) and I Decided to Be Kind to Myself (Cassiopeia). There are many new books on overcoming a sense of isolation and disconnectedness in the essay sector because of how people feel about the time they live. Unlike social science or humanities books, essays are thinner and lighter. It is a relatively easy way of expressing the author’s experiences and thoughts. Writers and publishers rapidly capture readers’ sentiment through essays.
The collection of poems also shows the sentiment of the time. One representative piece is Sister Lee Hae-In’s Like a Petal (Samtoh), released this March. The book is a collection of poems and journals written by Sister Lee Hae-In as she stayed in Hae-in Geul Bang for the past two years during the COVID-19 pandemic. The book became the third best selling poem book in Kyobo Books right after its publication. When asked why readers are invested in her writings, she answered, “I think readers sought my poems out of frustration and distress. As it was hard to meet anyone and get consolation during this time, I had no choice but to rely on prayers and poems. What common good is for society, not an individual, and how precious it is to feel connected were reflections in my writings. So, maybe my thoughts were delivered to readers through the book.”





Tell Me I’m Kind, Like a Petal, and Welcome to Bookstore Hyunamdong



Famous novels in recent days also deliver messages of solidarity and friendship. One book that shows the trend well is Welcome to Bookstore Hyunamdong (Clayhouse), released in January 2022. The book is a full-length novel about people consoling each other in a town with a small bookstore. The book delivers the daily lives of Yeong-Ju, the owner of the bookstore, and the neighborhood. The novel might be boring to some, but to others, the novel touches on something important in life but often forgotten. The novel shows how one should treat one’s job, build relations with others, and live life. It also talks about ordinary people overcoming scars and moving forward. One can understand why readers said, “I feel like getting consoled throughout the whole novel,” and “This novel gives energy to the weary,” as comments on the novel. Fantasy novels like Dollagoot Dream Department Store (Sam & Parkers) also warm readers’ hearts. The popularity of fantasy novels shows people’s desire not to lose hope.


Titles Change as Science Books from Other Countries Are Translated


Publishers’ strategy to take hold of readers in the post-pandemic era is getting more competitive. For example, in translating and publishing books from other countries, publishers tend to change the book title and subtitle to meet Korean readers’ tastes.
Friends, a book launched this January, put its subtitle as “The most important value science can tell you about friendship.” The book’s original title was Friends: Understanding the Power of our Most Important Relationships. If one is to translate its subtitle into Korean, it would be an understanding of the power of the most important relationship. However, the one published in Korea has a different subtitle highlighting friendship. The book’s paper band even says, “Thinking once again about friendship in the era of disconnectedness and isolation,” to target readers in the post-pandemic era. Maybe the idea was persuasive enough for people because the book has kept its position as the top best-seller in online and offline bookstores since its publication.
A science book launched this January named Science in Kindness is also one of the books that changed its title to catch readers’ attention. The book’s original title was The Rabbit Effect: Live Longer, Happier, and Healthier with the Groundbreaking Science of Kindness. Science of Kindness in the subtitle was translated as Science in Kindness and replaced the main title. There are reasons the publisher changed the book title. One main reason is that the new title is in line with the book’s theme. The book insists that humans are free from threats like hunger, famine, or diseases but are threatened by other health issues, such as obesity, depression, and suicide. The book says that what we need the most to live a healthier life in modern society is kindness.
A social science book released as a restored edition early this year, Survival of the Friendliest, says survival of the fittest is wrong. According to the book, the winner of evolution is not the fittest but the friendliest. The book’s writers resist the common knowledge that the physically fittest species survive and say that the survivors are the friendliest ones. The restored edition is seeing a steady increase in sales as if to show that Korean readers agree with the book.


The publishing industry must focus on how to capture readers’ tastes in the post-pandemic era.


The Publishing Industry Needs to Prepare against Economic Slowdown to Overcome the Challenge


Best-selling essays in Korea around 2015 and 2016 were about taking care of oneself. The top sellers in the mid-2010s were mainly about how to live proactively without being affected by others’ views. The book Self-esteem Lesson (Simple Life Books), which sold more than 1 million copies, highlights the three major pillars of self-esteem. In addition, the book The Courage to Be Hated (Original book title: 嫌われる勇氣) suggests that readers should give up on the urge to get compliments from others. Books under similar themes emphasize that those who are pushed along by the fierce speed of competition need to take more care of themselves.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, personal investment boomed among people, leading to the popularity of books on business and money. According to Kyobo Book’s Comprehensive List of Annual Best-Sellers in 2021, books on business and money sales share was 8.5%, taking the largest share in 2021. It was unprecedented for books on business and money to take the number one place among book categories since Kyobo Books was established in 1980. After the pandemic broke out, books on business and money recorded the highest sales in 2020. The total sales of the book category showed 22% additional growth in 2022. Similar trends were shown in online bookstores. According to Yes24’s 2021 Book Sales Trend, out of total book sales, books on business and money took 6.3%, becoming the second-largest books to be sold next to children’s books. Taking second place is something unprecedented as well. The 77 Most Important Questions for Novice Stock Investors (One & One Contents Group Publishing Co.) was sold the most among books on business and money, taking second place in Kyobo Books and third in Yes24. Books on business and money became popular due to the economic slowdown.
Starting from the end of last year, as people had higher expectations of the COVID-19 situation improving, books on solidarity gained the spotlight. For example, the ‘Best Book of the Year in 2021 by Dong-a Ilbo was selected by 35 people, including publishers, scholars, and medical researchers. It was on the cover page of Dong-a Ilbo in the January 2022 issue. The list included many foreign books on community or solidarity. It seems that people’s collective consciousness to stick together beyond hatred to overcome the pandemic unconsciously affected the book selection. Experts say, “In the Post-COVID-19 era, people are attracted more to emotion and sociability than logic and reasoning. The book caught my heart, not my brain,” and “Even in the worst times, people think of hope. This book makes me not give up on having a kind heart towards every living thing.”




Self-esteem Lesson, and The 77 Most Important Questions for Novice Stock Investors



The publishing industry faced unexpected situations due to COVID-19. Offline bookstores suffered from an economic downturn enough to close many, but online book sales rose as people’s needs for content increased. There is even a statistic that total book sales rose by 23% after the outbreak of COVID-19.
As the post-pandemic era unfolds, face-to-face meetings among writers, publishers, and readers are on the rise. Minsumsa’s book bazaar, Family Day, was held offline in May in Paju, Gyeonggi-do. The event used to be held only online. Korean Publishers Association hosted Seoul International Book Fair at Coex from June 1 to June 5. Due to concerns over COVID-19 infection, it was the first time in 3 years for the exhibition to be held on such a large scale. The exhibition invited writers, such as Lee Suzy and Eun Hee-Kyung, as lecturers and had a high concentration of readers from the ticket early-order stage. Many expect face-to-face meetings to be helpful for marketing in the post-COVID-19 era.
Nevertheless, publishers have concerns about how to respond to the current era. One CEO from a publisher said, “Considering the competitiveness of OTT, such as Netflix, weaken, the possibility of book sales decreasing should also be counted.” In the post-pandemic era, publishers need to focus on how to capture readers’ tastes. The publishers might have to strategically consider releasing foreign books translated to meet readers’ tastes and include keywords such as consolation and sympathy. In other words, Publishers would have to build their unique tactics in response to the era to overcome the long-sustained economic slowdown in the industry.



Written by Lee Ho-Jae (Reporter at Dong-a Ilbo)



Lee Ho-Jae (Reporter at Dong-a Ilbo)

#Post-COVID-19 Era#Essay#Consolation#Sympathy
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