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Publishing Industry


Trends in the Publishing Market in the First Half of 2022




People are still reeling from the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has swept the world over the past three years. Korea has been rapidly taking actions to return people’s daily lives to how they were before the pandemic. Such efforts can be seen through major terms commonly used in news outlets, such as “endemic” and “post-COVID.” Also, in early June, the Seoul International Book Fair was held at COEX on a large scale after a three-year absence, attracting approximately 100 thousand visitors. What’s more, lectures and autograph signing events of writers that had halted due to the social distancing policy have begun to take place again. It also seems that publications, book sales, and book-related programs are beginning to revitalize.
Books related to “endemic” include From Pandemic to Endemic (Dongasia Books), written by researchers at the Institute for Basic Science (IBS) in Korea, and Endemic and Big Changes 7 (Gimm-Young Publishers, Inc.), where futurist Choi Yoon-Sik describes how the world will change after the pandemic. In addition, approximately 250 post-COVID titles in human sciences, society, business, education, and children have been published in the past two years, including The Post-COVID Society (Geulhangari).
Then, what has happened to the Korean publishing market in the first half of the year, which has yet to be set free from the influences of the virus? A good index would be the statistics report for the first half of the year announced by Kyobo Book Center, which is one of the representative hybrid (operated both online and offline) bookstores in Korea.





From Pandemic to Endemic, Endemic and Big Changes, and The Post-COVID Society



The publishing market began to shift to the “post-COVID” mode with eased social distancing


The field of politics and society has experienced the most dramatic change in the last 6 months, with sales up 47% year after year. Such a result is reportedly driven by books related to famous politicians or the former/current president, which become a hot topic every 5 years along with the presidential election (the latest one took place on March 9, 2022). They are not regular sellers. However – they set record sales like a storm and disappear shortly after. Best examples are Longing Doesn’t Happen to Anyone (Hoverlab) by former president Park Geun-Hye, Goodbye, Lee Jae-Myung (Jiwoo Publishing), and Yoon Seok-Youl X File (Yeollin Gonggam TV) which criticize then-prominent presidential candidates, Unfinished Tasks of South Korea as an Advanced Country (Medici Media) written by former Minister of Justice Cho Kuk, and Moon Jae-In’s Consolation (Deohyumeon), which is about the former president of Korea. The sudden increase in sales of books related to politicians driven by the heavy purchase of passionate supporters or non-supporters had brought about a strong, but momentary change in the publishing market, the impact incomparable with past records.
Self-help books that help readers improve self-management and human relationships have also increased 17.9% year-over-year. Moreover, Korean fiction outperformed imported fiction, recording a 13.2% increase in sales, while children’s comics also saw a 13% increase. In addition, while taking only a small percentage, travel book sales showed a recovering trend with a 35.3% increase, as people have higher expectations for traveling abroad given the atmosphere of the pandemic going endemic. Furthermore, sales of books on hobbies and sports also increased by 36.4%, reflecting the current trend in the publishing market that is changing as outdoor activities increase.
Meanwhile, financial books about stock investment and real estate fell by 7.9%, putting an end to their rosy sales record, as the stock and real estate markets have taken a downturn these days. While 24 business books were ranked among the top 100 sellers in the first half of last year, the number went down to 17 this year. In addition, as people began to take an interest in non-fiction, essays on author experiences, poetry, and non-fiction genres saw their sales drop over the past three years. Plus, study materials for foreign languages, job recruitments, and exams mainly purchased by students or those looking for jobs also showed a downward trend in sales amidst the continued contraction in the employment market. And as conditions for working from home and online courses improved with social distancing, sales of books related to “home activities,” such as healthcare and cooking, fell.





Summer, Wave, and Moon Pops



For children’s books, Summer (BIR Publishing Co., Ltd.) topped the best sellers’ list as the writer, Suzy Lee, won the Hans Christian Andersen Award for the first time as a Korean writer. Her previous title, Wave (BIR Publishing Co., Ltd), was also highlighted. Meanwhile, picture book writer Baek Heena has been enjoying a wave of popularity, as her Moon Pops (Bear Books Inc.) won the honorary award at the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award in the US this June, following the winning of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award with Cloud Bread (Hansol Soobook) in 2020. Writer Suzy Lee also won the Boston Globe-Horn Award in 2013.


* K-Book Trends Vol. 26 – Go to the interview with writer Bae Heena


* K-Book Trends Vol. 37 – Go to the interview with writer Suzy Lee


Korean fiction sets a record in sales


The readership barometer is typically measured by books with best-in-class sales. Compared to last year, the biggest change found on the list of top 10 best sellers for the first half of this year announced by Kyobo Book Center was the decreased presence of business books, which fell from 4 titles to 1, while fiction increased from 2 to 5. Excluding Dollergut Dream Department Store (Sam & Parkers), a steadily-sold novel by Lee Mi-Ye which has been hot for the past two years selling a million copies already, others were replaced with new titles; Korean fiction Uncanny Convenience Store (Namu Bench), Dollergut Dream Department Store, and Welcome to Bookstore Hyudamdong (Clay House), and foreign fiction Pachinko and Midnight Library put their names on the list. A total of 23 fiction titles were listed as top 100 best sellers, which was up 6 from last year; Korean fiction accounted for a greater proportion than that of foreign fiction with 14 titles. This is a notable phenomenon considering how large a segment foreign fiction accounts for in the publishing market. The proportion of Korean novels in the overall fiction sales rose to 44.4%, drawing a continuous upward curve compared to 28.4% in 2019. The number of copies sold was also up 37.6% year-over-year, reaching an all-time high.
Among the Korean novels that have become a hot topic, the traditional way of debuting or writers who do not belong to the existing literary circle stood out. For example, Dollergut Dream Department Store was a title that drew popularity after debuting on an e-book platform and as an independent publication, and Welcome to Bookstore Hyunamdong was also an already popular work on Brunch, a platform for writings, which became a hot issue as soon as it was published as a physical book.





Dollergut Dream Department Store, Uncanny Convenience Store, and Welcome to Bookstore Hyunamdong



The book Uncanny Convenience Store by Kim Ho-Yeon, which ranked 1st among best sellers from different fields, is a heartwarming omnibus novel that has received much support from its readers. It did not attract attention that much when it was first released in the market – it was only after people’s interest grew, moving from its audiobook and e-book edition to the paperbook edition, and going viral among the public, that it hit cumulative sales of 500 thousand copies. Meanwhile, fiction and non-fiction that soothe the minds of people exhausted from the pandemic, economic difficulties, and human relationships have been steadily read by readers. For example, amidst the strong trend of “healing novels” that warm up people’s hearts with their content and cover illustrations, Farewell (Bokbok Seoga), popular writer Kim Young-Ha’s new full-length novel in 9 years, was enthusiastically welcomed by his fans. Also, SF novel Cursed Bunny (Arzak) by Bora Chung received the spotlight in Korea as it was chosen as a final nominee for the Booker Prize in the UK.


* K-Book Trends Vol. 44 Go to the interview with Kim Ho-Yeon


* K-Book Trends Vol. 47 Go to the interview with Bora Chung


The news that the publisher of the very popular novel Pachinko was suddenly changed was also an interesting topic for Korean media. It is a story written by Korean-American writer Lee Min-Jin describing the daunting lives of Koreans who moved to Japan during the Japanese occupation of Korea. Its Korean edition was published in 2018. With the explosive popularity of its drama adaptation that aired on Apple TV+, a global online streaming service (OTT) since March this year, the original novel immediately became a top best seller. However, an unusual situation occurred in mid-April, when the five-year contract to publish the translation ended, and sales suddenly ceased. The most popular book had suddenly gone out of the bookstore. The book could not be sold for several months until a new publisher signed a contract again and redid the Korean translation. If it hadn’t been for the sales stoppage, it would have been a much higher ranking book than its current 8th rank among other best sellers.





I Look at You Like a Flower, See What They Mean, Say What You Mean, and Black Cat Ggamnyang



Among other non-fiction titles, emotional essays such as I Hope You Are Happy (Highest Books) and I Am Thankful For Myself (Book Romance) were popular. For poetry, I Look at You Like a Flower (Ji Hye) written by Na Tae-Joo, who has an amazing line-up of best selling poem collections just like his nickname “poet of all Koreans” was the most beloved work, while for home life, See What They Mean, Say What You Mean (Gimm-Young Publishers) by Oh Eun-Young, the No.1 mentor for parenting in Korea, and Impatient Child, Short-tempered Parents (Korea.com) were most read by people. For children’s books, The Longest Nights (Munhakdongne), Black Cat Ggamnyang (Changbi), and Deungsil’s Rice Cake Shop (BIR Publishing) were popular. For humanities books, The Last Lesson of Lee O-Young (Yolimwon Publishing) was highlighted as it was published after the death of Lee O-Young, a representative intellectual in Korea. Finally, for science, foreign books that deliver warm messages, such as Survival of the Friendliest, The Rabbit Effect, and Friends, were the most read among readers.


* K-Book Trends Vol. 46 Go to the interview with Dr. Oh Eun-Young


The publishing industry in Korea seems to be returning to the pre-COVID state,
opening the 2022 Seoul International Book Fair as well as authors’ lectures
and autograph signing events.


Aging of the demographic with the core purchasing power and increased purchases through smartphone apps


One notable phenomenon is the changing trend in the purchasing of readers by age groups. Sales data reported by Kyobo Book Center show that women in their 40s accounted for 24.7% of the overall sales as women around that age buy books for their children. A particularly eye-catching figure was how much people in their 50s and above purchased books; accounting for 22% (16.2% for the 50s, 5.8% for the 60s and above), it was the first time that the number surpassed the ratio of those in their 20s or below (19.5%; 2.7% for the 10s and under, 16.8% for the 20s), excluding the 30s and 40s. People in their 20s or under spent less on books, from 25.4% in 2017 to 19.5% in 2022. On the other hand, those in their 50s and above increased from 15.3% in 2017 to 22.0% in 2022. Furthermore, the age of buyers has increased by approximately 6% over the last half-decade. It can be seen that the characteristics of Korean society, which is expected to enter a super-aged society in 2025, are being reflected in the publishing market.
Meanwhile, regarding the sales channels, the proportion of online sales (including web and mobile purchases) remained high. The proportion by sales channel was 39.3% for bookstore sales, 33.4% for mobile sales, and 27.3% for web sales, according to the sales report of Kyobo Book Center. The number of readers who visit offline bookstores has not increased much, but the proportion of readers who order through a smartphone app is gradually increasing. The prospect that the proportion of mobile sales will increase in the future is strong as readers’ purchasing patterns, once established, tend to be maintained.



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



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

#Trends in the Publishing Market#Korean fiction#Children’s books#Endemic
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