Can Independent Publishers Rescue in South Korean Publishing?

In Global Trade Talk by Dennis Abrams

A recent exhibit at the National Library in Seoul highlighted the work of independent publishers.

A recent exhibit at the National Library in Seoul highlighted the work of independent publishers.

Independent publishing and bookstores that offering indie press books are lone bright spots in an otherwise depressed South Korean publishing landscape.

By Dennis Abrams

At the Korea Herald, Ahn Sung-mi notes that while growth in Korea’s book industry is virtually non-existent (with large numbers of bookstores closing their doors in Seoul), “a new type of publishing is on the rise, attracting readers, writers and sellers with rarely-written about topics, creative new designs and a niche approach.”

Independent publishing has hit South Korea and is, according to independent publisher Kim Kwang-chul, owner of Propaganda Press, “a rare bright spot in the country’s moribund book industry.”

A look at some figures proves his point:

While the number of bookstores is in steep decline (in 1994 there were 5,683 bookstores in South Korea, today there are only 1,625), the number of registered publishers has grown from 16,000 in 2000 to a remarkable 42,000 today.

The article quotes Seomun Hyung-chul, an official at the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, who believes that the rise of independent publishing is good for the industry as a whole, “injecting a breath of fresh air into the sector long dominated by mega publishing houses.”

“It’s a sign of cultural diversity and people’s increasing interest in producing their own creative works,” he said.

Independent Publishing Reading Room

A recent exhibit at the National Library highlighted the growth in independent publishing.

And bookstores too are doing their part. Your Mind, a bookstore located in a back alley of Hongdae, Seoul, specializes in independently published books.

Shin Jin-ah, a 24-year-old design student told the Herald that, “I learnt about this place from my professor. (I am surprised) there are so many creative people making their own unique books.”

The store’s customers, largely in their 20s and 30s, learned about the store through SNS or the store’s website, which launched a year before the shop actually opened. Iro, the store’s owner said, “When I first started, more people bought the books through our website. But now, the percentage has drastically shifted toward offline sales.”

He added that, “I don’t really see independent publishing as an alternative or a real threat to the industry,” telling the paper that “in the large pie of publishing, there are tiny crumbles and that’s where independent publishing comes in. There are consumers who desire something peculiar, unique or different.”

Helen Ku, owner of The Book Society, another store that specializes in small press and independent publications agreed, saying, “Independent publishing is about carrying diverse voices. “That’s really important to us.”

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.