By Tom Chalmers, Managing Director at IPR License
The two markets in the spotlight this month can both claim to be in the top ten publishing markets in the word whilst still maintaining a certain degree of mystique, untapped potential and boundaries/red tape to overcome.
The Korean market is one which will come under increased scrutiny in the year ahead after being announced as the ‘Market Focus’ of the London Book Fair 2014. It’s fair to say that there appear a few parallels in these markets despite seeming to be worlds apart. Korea, like Russia, remains an important market for translational rights sales as well as for export sales and their reputations continue to grow within the international literary community. However, room remains for a greater degree of understanding regarding their individual business environments and the potential to strengthen trade links with overseas publishers.
It’s clear that despite huge number of titles being produced within their borders that both countries need to explore ways of expanding their international rights business. And, by the same token, publishers and authors the world over need to get to grips with these important marketplaces to grasp the wealth of opportunities on offer.
But don’t take my word for it; here are some expert views on the Korean and Russian markets.
Korea: Can K-Lit Lure Western Readers
Laura Deacon, Editor at Blue Door at HarperCollins, reports on the available opportunities for international publishers to forge closer links with their Korean counterparts following a recent visit
In advance of the Korean Market Focus at next year’s London Book Fair, the British Council organised an editorial scouting trip for six UK editors to introduce a market which remains relatively undiscovered. So far, the most notable Korean success is New York Times bestseller Please Look After Mother by Kyung Sook-Shin. In 2014, Mantle will publish The Investigation by Jung Myung-Lee and there are more acquisitions to be announced over the coming months. But is K-Lit the next wave to break in the UK market?
The fiction sales market in Korea is declining year on year. Readers remain fiercely loyal to their favourite authors. The debut fiction market faces similar challenges to those experienced in the UK. It is a challenge which publishers such as Monhakdongne (translated as “literary community”) are actively trying to counter by publishing anthologies of new writers and sponsoring a prize for new talent. With an impressive stable of writers in translation (including Raymond Carver, Jeffrey Eugenides and Herta Müller) it is committed to publishing the very best voices in literary fiction. In spite of this, literary fiction has taken the biggest hit with some agents commenting that it could become a niche genre.
Fiction in translation has witnessed some notable successes including Jonas Jonasson’s The 100 Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared and The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. There is real scope for British publishers to forge closer links with their Korean counterparts as roughly a quarter of the market is made up of fiction in translation. So whilst launching new writers in translation is difficult, it is still possible. Just as the Scandinavian crime phenomenon shows no sign of abating in the UK, publishers such as Book21 and Open Books are committed to bringing European trends to Korean readers. Classic fiction and novels which are supported by successful films or TV series are also guaranteed success in the Korean market. The English-language section of book giant, Kyobo, was full to the brim with tables displaying George R.R. Martin and J. R. R. Tolkien.
Perhaps the most successful outcome of the trip was the direct access to Korean agents and publishers. We were able to share knowledge of how we are tackling current challenges within our industry and also ensure that the potential bestsellers of tomorrow can be showcased more effectively in both markets.
Russia: Where Talent is Going Unrewarded
James Appell, Head of Global Development for Russia-based subscription ebook service Bookmate, explains that despite a vibrant and sophisticated literary culture Russian writing talent is still going largely unrewarded
It should come as no surprise that the land of Pushkin, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky continues to play host to a vibrant and sophisticated literary culture. Of the 120,000 new titles published annually in recent years – a figure surpassed only by the USA and China — several, most notably by Viktor Pelevin, Boris Akunin and Lyudmila Ulitskaya, have enjoyed worldwide acclaim. Others, such as Darya Dontsova, author of a series of ‘light and fluffy’ detective novels, are treated more snobbishly by critics but nonetheless sell in the millions.
Sadly, however, the breadth and depth of Russia’s writing talent does not always translate into commercial success: whether for publishers, retailers or the authors themselves. To a degree, Russians are no different from readers in the rest of the world who are opting in ever greater numbers to consume other media besides books. But Russia presents a particular set of circumstances which together contribute to an industry-wide decline.
There are currently just 1,500 bookshops to serve a country of 140 million stretching across nine time zones, a jaw-dropping number which nonetheless continues to fall. In such straitened times, publishers’ belt-tightening has led to some harmful practices. Most buy rights on a fixed-term basis of three to five years, print a limited run and then allow the agreement to lapse. That means that many Russian publishers effectively have no backlist titles to sell and, moreover, that those who wish to hunt down rights to books published more than a few years ago – by finding the author themselves – often find the process tiresome and unprofitable.
Though the ebook market is doubling year-on-year, piracy is a continued threat. Recent surveys suggest upwards of 80% of ebooks downloaded in Russia are pirated. But though publishers despair, they are part-contributors to the problem. The industry was rather late to the party on e-retail (the first legal store for downloading ebooks appeared in 2007, years after illegal sites had established themselves). And even today, publishers often do not have an in-house solution for digitizing their works, further pushing readers towards pirated copies.
Happily there are bright spots on the horizon. On the one hand, government funds have been promised to support small publishers and to finance campaigns to encourage reading. On the other, new players, particularly in the digital sphere (not least subscription reading service Bookmate), are opening up alternative retail channels to authors, publishers and consumers. Such initiatives may help to give Russian writers the platform — and the royalties — they deserve.