Rights Sales in the Korean Book Market

Licensing rights to a local publisher is a good option for Canadian publishers looking to make their books available in Korea.

In general, the process for publishers looking to sell rights in the Korean marketplace is as follows:

  1. Contact an agent.
  2. The agent will recommend you to a publisher and kick-start negotiations.
  3. The publisher will translate the book and release to market.
  4. The agent will collect approximately 10 percent of the royalties and will monitor the status of your book to ensure your Korean publishing partner is accurately communicating the sales.

Foreign publishers can contact Korean publishers directly in an attempt to sell rights; however, it is important to note that there may be a language and customs barrier. In order to circumvent any complications and simplify the process, many foreign publishers employ Korean sub-agents. There are a number of these agencies located within Korea, each with their own strengths and areas of specialization. Sub-agents work on behalf of several client publishers to sell their rights in the Korean market. Traditionally, these agencies have existing relationships with the Korean publishers they approach on behalf of their foreign clients, adding an element of trust and legitimacy to the titles you hope to sell. Working with a sub-agent lends a level of local expertise that can be a great bonus when entering a new market.

Korean copyright regulation has vastly improved for the rights holder since 2012. The government has encouraged standardized contracts, and landmark court rulings have had a positive impact on defining the scope of publishing agreements. These rulings include the following:

  • Producing derivative works (film, cartoon) from basic rights agreements is severely restricted. It can be done only with explicit approval.
  • Ebooks are considered their own respective legal entity. A separate agreement must be signed to permit ebook sales. This applies to past and future publishing contracts.
  • Because ebooks are a special case, their rights can be sold to a different company than the publisher of the print edition. But be careful: if the print publisher owns the rights to the Korean-language translation, you may have to pay to have the book translated a second time.
  • The Fair-Trade Commission has annulled agreements where publishers could unjustly sub-license rights to a third party.

Preferences of Korean Publishers in Acquiring Rights

The following recommendations are based on interviews with industry specialists that have a presence in Korea, on condition of anonymity.

Twenty-five major publishers were interviewed about their preferred method of approach from foreign publishers. More than 90 percent responded that they prefer to act with agents as intermediaries, as this enhances both their capacity and linguistic ability to acquire rights from foreign publishers.

The few publishers that did have the capacity and ability to deal with foreign publishers directly still preferred to have agents recommending books. One publisher suggested the Seoul International Book Fair, hosted every June, as an ideal place to start introducing books.

The publishers cited the following criteria when considering foreign-published books:

  • Awareness of the foreign author            (75%)
  • Commercial potential                             (15%)
  • Content of the book                                (10%)

According to publishers, the most popular genres are:

  • Children’s books
  • Business
  • Self-help and motivation
  • Current events (e.g. , free speech, biographies of public figures)
  • Educational books

It is important for Canadian publishers to recognize that translating a 200-page novel from English to Korean can take an average of three to six months.

Negotiating with Publishers

Negotiating with Korean publishers is best done when a relationship is established through face-to-face contact or through a local proxy (e.g., sub-agent). Larger publishers are harder to approach, making agents a necessity. Once trust is established, negotiations may commence, with the following factors in consideration:

  • Advance payment: Down payment on future royalties. The industry standard can be anywhere between US$1,000 and US$5,000 depending on the book’s profile.
  • Royalties: Ten percent of gross retail value is the current industry standard for print titles. As in all markets, royalty rates may fluctuate depending on the profile of the book and author.
  • Payment frequency: Time period or number of copies sold.
  • Payment term: Duration between incurring a royalty liability and its payment. Usually 3, 6, or 12 months in arrears.
  • Responsibility for marketing and promotion
  • Method for verifying sales volume
  • Term of license

It is important to note that there are no standardized royalty contracts or arrangements. Efforts by the KPA to introduce a standardized format have met with mixed success. There are reported cases of publishers (especially the smaller ones) printing more copies than authorized within royalty arrangements.

One of the most difficult parts of the negotiation is fixing the royalty percentage. The problem is that gross retail value fluctuates by distribution channel and over time. One method of addressing this variation is to fix royalties based on the number of volumes printed. If the first-edition print copies aren’t sold and remainders exist for a period of time, risk is assumed by the publisher. There is a chance that up to 10 percent of those copies will sit in inventory or that the publisher will illicitly print more books without the rights holders’ knowledge.

Pro Tip: If you and a Korean partner share confidence in the success of a book, push for a percentage of the publisher sales to wholesalers and Internet outlets. Tax receipts for these transactions are more verifiable than subjective estimates on gross retail price. Payment terms are usually fixed to 12 months. Choose this method only if you are sure the first print run copies will be sold within a set period of time.

This text was drawn from our market guide Selling Canadian Books in Korea. For more valuable insights into the publishing market in Korea, download the full guide.

11/21/2017 | Export, Market Guides, Rights