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Publishing Strategies Targeting the MZ Generation




Disappearance of books and/or readers


Is it the disappearance of books, or is it the disappearance of book readers? Or is it both?
According to the National Reading Survey released by the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism in South Korea in 2021, the “annual comprehensive reading rates (the percentage of people who read or listened to at least one paperback, e-book, or audiobook)” for adults aged 19 and older was only 47.5%. That is, 1 in 2 adults did not read or listen to a single book during the year. The belief that literacy is proportional to the amount of reading has become a myth. With a basic illiteracy rate of 1%, Korea boasts the highest literacy levels in the world, but the number of books read is plummeting year after year. In other words, it is the age where people no longer read books.
However, despite the pessimistic outlook for the publishing industry, there are still optimistic indicators. According to the “Korean Publishing Statistics as of 2022,” the number of new titles published over the past five years averaged 60,000. This means that a wide variety of books of different genres have continued to be published in the market despite the difficult situation. It also shows that book subscription rates and the demand for e-books have increased significantly since the COVID-19 pandemic. Just like watching movies through OTT services like Netflix instead of going to the theater, many people have turned to online platforms instead of brick-and-mortar bookstores to find books. In other words, it is not that books are disappearing, it is more likely that the way people consume and read books is changing.
So, what are the right strategies for publishing houses to take in this ever-changing consumer and media environment? The most important factor to consider in publishing marketing is understanding the readers’ interests and identifying their needs. Only then will you be able to attract, engage, and lead readers to purchase books. In this article, we focus on the characteristics and book consumption patterns of the MZ generation - a new type of readership. Gen MZ is an umbrella term for Millennials and Gen Z, and refers to people born between the early 1980s and early 2000s. They are digital-savvy and experience-driven. The emergence of this new generation inevitably calls for a new approach to understanding them.


MBTI as a new audience segmentation method


In December 2020, ROZY, a popular female influencer on Instagram, shocked the world when she revealed that she was a virtual human. Up until then, the only thing she had shared about herself beyond the demographics of her name and age (22) was her MBTI: ENFP (one of the MBTI types, meaning “energetic activist”). But, could there be a better way to describe her than this four-letter description? For Gen MZ, the MBTI has become a slang term for self-introduction that makes wordy explanations unnecessary.


Virtual human ROZY

Virtual human ROZY



Recently, many companies in Korea have been using consumers’ MBTIs in their advertising and marketing. Shinhan Life, a life insurance company, used a virtual human, ROZY, as a model in its ads to appeal to the MZ generation. While it was considered a risky move to use a virtual human in the trust-based insurance industry, it turned out to be a huge success. Within 20 days of its release on YouTube, the video had accumulated more than 10 million views. The publishing industry also drew the attention of book consumers by recommending customized books according to MBTI types through events such as “BookBTI.” Munhakdongne’s “Complete World Literature: MBTI Test” also gained popularity among the MZ generation by recommending the character that most closely matches the respondent from among the 16 classic works.


Munhakdongne’s “Recommended world literature for each MBTI”

Munhakdongne’s “Recommended world literature for each MBTI”



As if reflecting the trend in practice, the academic community is also conducting research on MBTI. An empirical study analyzing the reading behavior of Generation Z by MBTI type (Lee Jang-Seok, Sung Dong-Kyu (2023), An empirical study of college students’ reading behavior: Focusing on the sociopsychological characteristics of Generation Z., Research on Korean Publishing, 49(2), 111-134.) showed that readers have different motivations for reading, preferences for reading genres, and use of informational media to purchase books, depending on their MBTI. The use of MBTI in the publishing industry is likely to continue for the foreseeable future as a way to provide customized services to readers.


A wind of digital transition hits the publishing industry


One of the most recent changes in the publishing industry has been the rise of e-books. Especially, the rise of e-book “subscription services” is remarkable. In Korea, the cumulative number of subscribers of “Millie” exceeded 6 million as of 2023, including free subscribers. Of these, about 70% are between the ages of 18 and 44, which makes it worthy of being called the “reading platform of the MZ generation.” The popularity of Millie is mainly driven by the fact that it has incorporated the features of traditional e-books with interaction with its subscribers, such as “one-liner reviews.” According to market data research firm Statista, the world’s e-book market is expected to reach 186.9 billion dollars (about 24.2 trillion won) in sales by 2026. The growth of the e-book market is expected to accelerate further in 2024, both domestically and internationally.


“Welaaa,” an audiobook service provider

“Welaaa,” an audiobook service provider



Just as Matthew Rubery said, “Audiobooks are for both those who hate to read and those who love to read,” audiobooks are showing steep growth. The global audiobook market grew from 5.3 trillion won in 2020 to 6.2 trillion won in 2021, a 21% increase, and is expected to reach 12.1 trillion won by 2026. Among the various analyses of the growth of audiobooks, it is interesting to note the MZ generation’s tendency to consume media such as video and audio content quickly through “fast playback.” According to a survey on fast video playback released in March 2021 by Japanese marketing and research firm Cross Marketing, the playback rate of the MZ generation was particularly high among the 2060 age group. Welaaa, a Korean audiobook company, was the first in the world to commercialize fast playback technology based on artificial intelligence. The users commented, “This is the technology I needed,” and “I was able to finish the book faster than when I read it with my eyes,” and the positive response shows the unique characteristics of the MZ generation.


Book club service based on fan power


Kevin Kelly, founder and first editor-in-chief of WIRED, once said, “You don’t need the number ‘1 million’ to be successful. You don’t need a million dollars, a million consumers, a million clients, or a million fans. All you need to make a living as a crafter, photographer, musician, designer, writer, animator, app developer, entrepreneur, or inventor is 1,000 true fans.”
Until now, book club services in Korea have been perceived as a “cost-effective activity,” as members could maintain their membership by paying an average of 40,000 to 80,000 won and receive books and merchandise at low prices, as well as participate in various events. However, the same taste among readers is expanding into the fandom business through “connection.” In book club services, readers start as fans of a writer and later become fans of a publisher, narrowing the distance between the writer and readers and the publisher and readers. An official from a publishing house said that the future of a publisher depends on the relationship with its core readership. As such, publishers’ efforts to combat the recession are centered on “fandom management.”
For example, while the 2023 Seoul International Book Fair (SBIF) drew huge crowds, many of them were fans of writers Lee Seul-Ah, Kim Cho-Yeop, and Cheon Seon-Ran. Book consumers are no longer just buying books, they are now advocates for their favorite writers, promoting their new releases and identifying themselves as fans on social media. It is evolving into a collective “fandom culture” from a mere individual “love of books.” This is an example of how fandom marketing where readers “stan writers” can be an effective marketing tool in the publishing industry.


2023 서울국제도서전에 참가한 독자들

Readers participating in the 2023 Seoul International Book Fair



So far, the characteristics of the MZ generation as new readers, the media they use, and how to leverage their fandom have been briefly discussed. It is crucial for publishing marketing companies to deeply understand the characteristics of this audience and develop marketing strategies accordingly. The focus should be on reaffirming the value of books and reading, and emphasizing the importance of book reading culture. Doing so will provide readers with new reading experiences and drive sustainable growth for the publishing industry.
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, once said, “The success of a business is determined by identifying the one thing that remains constant over time and focusing on it.” No matter how much the mediums and channels for reading diversify, one thing is certain: people will continue to read compelling and touching stories. Books have always been fun.



Written by Lee Jang-Suk (Assistant professor in the Department of Media Communication at Gachon University)



Lee Jang-Suk (Assistant professor in the Department of Media Communication at Gachon University)

#MZ Generation#Online platform#MBTI#Digital transition#Fandom
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