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Seoul International Book Fair 2020

New Attempts and Experiments in the Era of COVID-19

 

2020.12.07

 

Official poster of the Seoul International Book Fair

 

Early this year, the Seoul International Book Fair organizers had been busy preparing for the next fair set to be held in June as usual. However, as the first big wave of the pandemic crisis hit Korea in February and persisted into March and April, most cultural art events that amass a big audience had to be canceled or postponed until the second half of the year. As such, the SIBF could not be held in June, as unforeseeable circumstances curtailed the freedom of movement. It was also difficult to predict how the situation would change, so taking the event's original form and plans was a high risk. The Seoul International Book Fair 2020 had no other choice but to take on a new challenge. Physical isolation, non-contact, and online platforms accelerated the changes and made the Book Fair think of a new paradigm. It postponed the schedule to October, and while preparing for an online book fair, it saved room for a possible chance that it might go offline again. Taking a new perspective towards the totally different platform, the SIBF began to think of fundamental questions.

 

The Seoul International Book Fair 2020 had to think of taking on new challenges and uncertain adventures.

 

A book fair is a platform where many different groups meet with books as an intermediary. Readers meet authors, authors meet publishers, and publishers meet other publishers. Contemporary discussions are held through knowledge and information seminars, and publishers from home and abroad come together, exchange information, and build relationships for further copyright agreements. How should book fairs cope with the crisis of restricted traveling, people-to-people interaction, and human relationships in the era of COVID-19, where in-person meetings, communications, interactions are inevitable? How should they meet people, and how should they build relationships? How should the new way of beginning a relationship change? The SIBF was most deeply concerned about the style. What does it mean to transform an offline book fair into an online one? It did not merely mean the shifting of publishers' booths to the digital fair. Questions seemed to never end.

 

Website of the Seoul International Book Fair 2020

 

How can the two worlds – online and offline book fairs – be connected and interact with each other and diversify people's experience? If an offline event used to host a massive audience turns online, how can the elements of time and space from the offline fair be realized in the online platform? How can the readers stroll around inside the digital space as if they are on a trip, meet publishers and books, and even purchase one? What would be the motivation for people to stay in the virtual space and make frequent visits? And would it be possible for the online fair to build solidarity rather than merely ending as an individual's experience? What would be the way to raise the accessibility of publishers, bookstores, and readers to the virtual space? From the copyright-exchange perspective, which is another purpose of the book fair, what is needed for publishers from home and abroad to build networks, share information, and carry on valuable business relationships online? What is the crisis, and what is the opportunity? Questions followed one after another, and hosting the Seoul International Book Fair 2020 was a journey to find the answers for them.
The organizing committee of the SIBF 2020 decided to design the online fair with visual and spatial elements in which readers could expand their experiences while interacting in both the online and offline world. The online fair was planned to be a three-dimensional space for exploration and travel, rather than being a mere information provider. An exhibition section for publishers was prepared where their identities could be most effectively shown. It is sad that online fairs cannot mimic the corporeity of books consisting of paper and ink in the physical world and that we cannot meet various and unique curations of the publishers. This was why the fair this year put more focus on the "theme" when planning programs.

 

 

Exhibition of "XYZ:Entanglement", the theme of the SIBF 2020

 

The theme of the Seoul International Book Fair 2020 was "XYZ: Entanglement." It was decided before the pandemic broke out, but no other topic would suit the situation better. The book fair format, where both online and offline styles are blended, also reflects this theme. The letters XYZ imply various things such as the generation, males and females, the third gender, and humanity's end. Issues related to gender, feminism, the Anthropocene, and the environment that have been keenly rising above the surface for recent years have significantly influenced everyone's life, let alone the pandemic. The book fair wanted to explore the beauty of coexistence and entanglement across generations, genders, animals, and plants through seminars and books. More than 40 seminars were opened on various topics such as the Anthropocene, the environment, the millennial generation, feminism, gender, animal rights, and plant rights. Being a "book-cast" program, some seminars presented high-quality videos with pre-recording and editing. Most of the seminars were open for pre-booking during the fair period inviting small groups of readers to the site and expanded accessibility by running real-time video streaming online for more readers to join.

 

Book-Cast Lecture

Youth Program

Book-Cast Lecture (left) and Youth Program (right)

 

Themed exhibitions were also a total makeover compared to last year. About 300 "entangled" books recommended by around 100 authors and speakers participating in the book fair were exhibited online and offline through curations. These books were curated based on the five keywords of "solidarity in the story surpassing time and space," "coexistence of nature and humanity," "entanglement of society and humanity," "symbiosis between you and I," and "connections surrounding us." As the books were grouped with more detailed hashtags, readers could have a book journey following the intertwined books from sub-topics to the main topic. Publishers participating in the book fair also exhibited recommended books about "entanglement" both online and offline, allowing readers to meet around 1,000 curated books offline. While frustrated that they cannot get to enjoy fancy and various publisher booths just like before, the readers that came to the offline fair commented that it was in another way a good exhibition in that they could meet all the fine books at once and enjoy curated books entangled together like our lives, which helped them expand their thinking box through books. The theme of the fair was also applied to various programs; "My Entangled Exhibition – Curation in My Room" was designed to open book fairs at each participant's house as the number of allowed guests to the offline fair was highly restricted. Readers got to choose their topic about "entanglement" with their book and share and curate it online with others. Thanks to this, the scope of discussed topics could expand, and information about more books could be shared.

 

Program for Publishers

 

Another new program of the Seoul International Book Fair 2020 was "Strolling the Book City," a joint program of the fair, publishers, and bookstores. As not many people could gather around in one place due to the pandemic, the program was designed to scatter people as much as it could. The idea was to make people visit bookstores and cultural spaces while walking around the city with books as an intermediary, meet books and authors, and experience various programs. A total of 32 bookstores and publishers were matched one on one to plan and operate the joint program, and a variety of programs were prepared, such as book exhibitions, meet & greet, lectures, workshops, and performances. Readers held a specially-made paper map in their hand and visited bookstores located in parts of Seoul, getting stamps, participating in programs, and making their version of a book-stroll map as a mission. They could also use a digital map on the SIBF website alongside a paper map. So, when you arrive at a bookstore, it would be recorded automatically on the digital map, and you could carry out a mission for a digital bingo game depending on the number of bookstores and places you have visited. As the pandemic persisted longer than expected, people began to go out to local bookstores that were significantly hit by the crisis and reinvigorate the area. The "Ghost Publisher" that was specially designed as part of the 1:1 program for publishers and bookstores was an extension of the year's featured genres – mystery, thriller, and horror. Alongside various lectures and talks of those featured genres, exhibitions and game-style programs where readers could be engaged in were held both online and offline. The readers could meet 32 curated books at a mystery-specialized bookstore or online. They could experience becoming a real mystery writer by signing a contract with a "ghost publisher" that is only open during the fair. While participation was not limited, you had to visit those mystery-specialized bookstores in person to find more clues.

 

 

Photos from "Strolling the Book City"

 

The special publication named "Limited Edition," published by the Seoul International Book Fair, has been published since 2017. After publishing Era of Bookstores in 2017 and Bookstores and Memory of Flavor in 2018, the SIBF released Chaotic Illustration (hondonsaphwa) in which 11 highly-anticipated writers in the contemporary world wrote on the topic of the "millennial generation." The story of the writers living the world as a millennial generation themselves depicts entanglement in today's world and across generations, along with the chaotic situation today. The edition was greatly loved by readers from the book fair. The audiobook edition of Chaotic Illustration narrated by a writer reached more readers. Also, the re-covered books of publishers were displayed in special exhibitions as well.
Interest in digital platforms and discussions surrounding the methodology would never be hotter than in 2020. People were also more interested in digital books. The Seoul International Book Fair 2020 organized the 14 years of history since 2007 in a timeline when the first generation of Amazon Kindle and the first smartphone was released, taking the year 2020 as a critical turning point for the post-COVID-19 era, and looked at the development of technology and media, and changes in the publishing industry. The exhibition was open to various questions about books and publications in the post-COVID-19 era alongside topics such as the expansion of the e-book and audiobook markets, big data and subscribing economy, and combination of AR, VR, XR technologies with publishing.

 

Exhibition of digital books

 

The restricted movement across borders due to the pandemic has almost made it impossible to carry out international exchanges and copyright business. Overseas publishers that were planning to participate in the fair early this year waited for things to settle down, but meetings surrounding copyright business had to be conducted online. Here, an online Copyright Exchange Center was established for publishers from both Korea and other countries apart from the official SIBF website for readers. It was a platform in which both domestic and international copyright information was collected, not to mention news from overseas markets, and people could communicate through it online. It was an unfamiliar method for all, but through the online meeting channel, experts from Europe, North America, and Asia could gather and discuss how publishers worldwide should respond in the era of COVID-19 and what kind of changes could be made. Business talks continued in meeting rooms organized online. Programs prepared by Russia, who was the guest of honor for the Seoul International Book Fair 2020, were organized online for various exchanges of information; meet & greet sessions for overseas writers were also held online.

 

Amidst the "entangled" world, the Seoul International Book Fair sought coexistence and symbiosis while expanding the horizon of new experiences.

 

As a sizable offline book fair could not be held due to the pandemic, the Seoul International Book Fair 2020 thought of opening it online, not as an alternative for an offline fair, but as a new way of hosting it. Many questions were thrown out for answers to be found - "What should we do to make a divided form of book fair offer new experiences to readers, and how can we make an environment where publishers and bookstores coexist in harmony? What would be the new way of connecting a digital book fair with a physical fair, encouraging interaction between the two, and expand readers' experience and the publishing industry?" We are already standing at the end of 2020, where we have had hope in our hearts that maybe things might go back to normal in the second half of the year while suffering from the hard times the pandemic has given us. The book fair in the era of the virus has taken various attempts and conducted experiments from October 16th to 25th. The Seoul International Book Fair is now discussing the direction book fairs should take in the post-COVID-19 era. Just like this year's theme "entanglement," everything is entangled in the world. Here, book fairs seek to find various paths that are based on and lead to books by promoting coexistence and symbiosis with publishers, bookstores, and readers.

 

* Official website of the Seoul International Book Fair

* Official Youtube channel of the Seoul International Book Fair

 


Written by Park Ji-Sun (Director of the Seoul International Book Fair 2020)

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Park Ji-Sun (Director of the Seoul International Book Fair 2020)

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