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Looking Back on
the 65th Seoul International Book Fair in 2022

From a Half Step to a Full Step

 

2022.08.01

 

In January 2020, the world slowly came to a stop. As people stopped moving around for fear of contaminating others with COVID-19, the speed and scale of people’s movement dwindled. Of course, that is what it seemed like from the surface. However, all living things never stop moving. Life is a vibrant movement. To stay alive, one has to rapidly absorb objects and energy from outside, consume them inside, and release them outside. One stops when not flowing. In other words, it might have seemed that the movement stopped from the outside, but the swirl of power coming from materials and energy grows stronger as the space they move in shrinks. Before that power breaks everything in the way, people must open up a path.
For the past two years, the Seoul International Book Fair has tried to open up a small path for people who have stopped moving. Physical meetings were limited. New ways of accessing others developed rapidly through technology. The new paths were meant to be built as the ways people met entangled. Under the theme, Entanglement (얽힘; ulkhim), the 2020 Seoul International Book Fair gathered books on new relations built through COVID-19 and held a venue to discuss. In a community space in Myeong-dong, called Masil (마실), where only a small group of people were officially allowed, people met each other while escaping the stifling lockdown. How to share energy with many others from a distance was discussed online. Though the participants were reading books away from each other, they dreamt of solidarity as they shared their stories.
Many believed the pandemic would be gone in a year because it was unprecedented, but the predictions were inaccurate. However, the pandemic did not entirely stop people from moving. The movement was subtle enough to be unnoticed, but it continued. The 2021 Seoul International Book Fair had more space for a physical meeting than in 2020. Under the theme of Continuity and Discontinuity (긋닛; gutnit), people looked back on the historical flow of books and book fairs. All the participating publishers rented a small space to greet their readers at S-Factory in Seongsu-dong. Though the pandemic was pressuring people to stay away from each other, people had “hopes” and “beliefs” that what the book fair has offered shall be continued without stopping, and readers responded to our calls.

 

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The official poster of the 2022 Seoul International Book Fair

 

 

People started 2022 with the hope that the COVID-19 pandemic would be over. Still, there are no signs of its end, even after half of the year has passed. Regardless, the Seoul International Book Fair went back to its large exhibition hall in Coex, prepared, and hosted the event like the time before the pandemic. The book fair organizers dreamt of a grand return but were nervous inside. Finally, the organizers acknowledged that the book fair’s step ahead might only be a “half step” from the inevitable stopping point. It was because the direction of the fair was unpredictable. There is a high possibility that the speed of the fair moving forward is very slow as the COVID-19 pandemic did not end yet.
Nevertheless, they did not give up. Chinese philosopher Xun Kuang (荀子) once said, “蹞步不休 跛鼈千里,” which means, “No matter how little one’s step can be, if they never stop going forward, it would be even possible for a slow turtle to walk 1,000 Li (Chinese mile).” Nature and the physical limitations of human are what bound people’s movement. For that matter, the movement during the pandemic can be tediously slow. However, when layers of time accumulate, it will bring a sea of changes. Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon was only a step, but it was the starting point of great human advancement. Thus, the half step people take now is as meaningful as a complete step. People predict their future similarly to the past, but the difference is that half steps replace the full steps now. Organizers waited for readers, believing the future would be different as it would be brought to people through half steps.

 

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The 2022 Seoul International Book Fair was held in Coex after two years of hiatus, attracting many visitors.

 

 

On the first day of this year’s book fair, organizers thanked readers and welcomed them as they waited in line to get first-come, first-serve goods. Organizers started without knowing whether the challenging “half step” would take them forward or backward and without knowing where they were headed while stumbling on the way. Seeing the readers gave organizers a huge comfort. They looked back on the steps they took with readers and found their thoughts and imaginations on the near or far future in books. The preparation against things beyond one’s imagination also starts with books. During the fair, readers filled the exhibition hall, authors reflected wisdom in their books, and writers gained inspiration from the knowledge in books. They all gathered in one place. Publishers who joined the event were busy responding to readers’ requests for books. Everyone played their roles during the days the book fair was held.
Readers enjoyed seeing the collection of different meanings and intentions during the book fair, which collected books not easily found in bookstores. Articles depicted the event saying, “The line for admission tickets is 500 meters long… Seoul International Book Fair Opens (by Chosun Ilbo)”, “Hunger for books… More than 20,000 visited on the first day of Seoul International Book Fair (by Donga Ilbo)”, “Seoul Book Fair, becoming a representative book fair in Asia (by Kukmin Ilbo).” Additionally, many left positive reviews of the display, highlighting the meaning of holding the book fair this year. Books and stories about people taking a half step forward while overcoming challenges written by authors draw people’s attention.

 

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On-site photos of the 2022 Seoul International Book Fair

 

 

After the 65th Seoul International Book Fair, the organizers took a half step forward. From the outside of the book fair, people have to try to reverse the unplanned development that led to infections like COVID-19 and climate change resulting from people’s reckless doings. One should never stop endeavoring to build a world filled with efforts to address inequality. People shall gather, embrace each other, and try together. People who cannot join due to their situations and those in remote places will join forces through digital tech. With the shared idea collected online, people will move forward together to build a better world. The organizers’ half steps can lead them to fall back and sway them from left to right, but they will hold hands with readers with their full strength to prepare for the 66th Seoul International Book Fair in 2023.
The half steps cannot satisfy all needs. Since the movement was more unrestrained this year, many readers in Korea were able to visit the exhibition hall. Readers in other countries had limitations in participating due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which the organizers must address in the future. From the main guest country Columbia, many writers participated in programs and shared their writings, traveling a long distance from Latin America. From the beginning until the end of the book fair, Columbian publishers, writers, and the government poured lots of effort into spreading its books and culture. For example, the Columbian side did their best even until the last night of the book fair with a graffiti artwork donation and performance held at the Ttukseom riverside play park’s stage. Korea re-discovered its brother nation Columbia, which stood on its side during the Korean War, and the event helped strengthen the bond between the two nations. It is time that people prepare to communicate with more countries.

 

The Seoul International Book Fair will move towards a better world with its first half step.

 

In the past, fair organizers gave overseas participants many financial benefits to encourage participation. The Seoul International Book Fair’s organizers are now trying to change the practice. They cannot pay people from other countries to visit for several reasons. The first reason is that the rental fee for the exhibition hall in Coex rose drastically. Every year, the rental cost of Coex has increased, and it saw steep growth, more so after the pandemic was over. It may be related to recovering from the loss made during the pandemic. The rise in cost is somewhat burdensome for an event like the Seoul International Book Fair, where small publishers meet their readers. Publishers overseas have to pay a lot to join an event in Korea and tend to ask for financial support. Nonetheless, the financial burden cannot be passed on only to Korean publishers. More than anything, for Seoul International Book Fair to meet its level, it should no longer be an event that has to give benefits to overseas participants, especially those from developed countries.
When a country lacks attractive points when engaging in international exchanges with other countries, it tends to give special treatment to those who visit. For one to drop by an attractive country without economic benefits, the visit should be compensating enough to cover the loss. The Seoul International Book Fair is now recognized as an attractive venue for publishers and readers in other countries. There are ample reasons for people overseas to be interested in Korean books, as they are interested in its cultural products, such as Korean music, movies, and dramas. Korea has not been a home country for influential thinkers, but the country creates interesting stories, organizes information well, and creates heartwarming artworks. In the science and tech sector, there are people at the front of broadening the horizon of intelligence. Korea is also a country that actively consumes cultural works from other countries. Therefore, there are enough reasons for publishers overseas to visit Korea, run their businesses, and meet readers in Korea.
The Seoul International Book Fair does not try to attract more readers through policies like a discount. Instead, it aspires to bolster its position as a platform for international intellectual rights trading, going beyond a successful cultural event. Until recently, the organizers added programs to the existing intellectual rights center so that more would visit. Now, they plan to strengthen international cooperation. If countries are suffering at the developmental stage as Korea did, the organizers will help those in need to find ways to activate copyright trade. They will communicate more with Southeast Asian countries on copyrights and content and find better ways to connect with the US and EU. Going beyond media, they will also find ways to trade and share content like music or movies. For instance, the organizers recently started a collaboration program with Busan International Film Festival. Their next goal is to expand internationally to Cannes and Venice Film Festival.

 

The Seoul International Book Fair’s next task is to strengthen its position
as an international copyright trading platform.

 

The Seoul International Book Fair is in a new phase now. Beyond an event selling and buying books and enjoying it as a cultural event, Seoul International Book Fair stands at the center of copyrights trade in Asia. The organizers are preparing to meet readers worldwide by putting our soft power into papers and digital media. They ask for everyone’s support and interest in the fair as it prepares for a new leap forward after undergoing the authoritarian era where freedom of publication was oppressed and the Korean War since its start in 1947. Counting the number of events held, Seoul International Book Fair will meet its 66th event in Coex from June 14th to 18th in 2023.

 

 


Written by Joo Iroo (Chief Executive Officer of the Seoul International Book Fair)

 

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Joo Iroo (Chief Executive Officer of the Seoul International Book Fair)

#Seoul International Book Fair#Half Step#COVID-19#Cultural event
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