The Korean Book Market: Opportunities and Recommendations

There is a substantial market for imported and translated Canadian books in Korea. Canadian publishers must decide on the appropriate strategy for approaching this market, whether it is to export their books to Korea or license them for publication. The translated market is approximately twice the size of the import market (21 percent versus 9.5 percent, respectively), but with greater potential, there are greater obstacles.

In today’s post, we provide a final excerpt from our guide on Selling Canadian Books in Korea: A Guide for Canadian Publishers, in which experts Tony Michell and Darwin Shim outline some specific opportunities and recommendations for making inroads into this market.

Content with an international focus: Korean publishers believe that books from the United States and the United Kingdom are more marketable—Canadian books are often perceived as having too strong a domestic focus and/or regional content, limiting their marketability in Korea. Thus, promoting Canadian books that have a more international or universal flavour may increase their marketability. Specifically, university textbooks or trade non-fiction books that focus on domestic issues can undermine title marketability in Korea.

Educational market: Canada has an excellent reputation as one of Korea’s most preferred educational destinations. The preference for going to a Canadian school has somewhat subsided in recent years, as the cost of living rose and the exchange rate became unfavourable. Despite this, Korea Educational Statistics Service ranks Canada as the No. 2 popular destination for high school students for 2016. Canadian exporters have an opportunity to capitalize on Canada’s reputation for educational excellence. This is especially applicable to English-language learning materials.

Imported books: Communication is key for international business success. Potential exporters are encouraged to initiate communication with potential distributors and evaluate their communication abilities (promptness, relevance, and completeness of response). Targeted distributors should be provided with a list of available publications together with a profile of each book. Of interest to the distributor will be the past performance of the book in other markets. Although success in the home market is important, successful export to other Asian markets, particularly Japan, would suggest success in Korea. A personal visit to Korea to meet with the distributor representatives and observe the company’s capabilities prior to formalizing a contract is strongly recommended.

Licensing translation rights: The process to initiate a relationship to license books for local publishing is similar to that for distribution. However, potential licensors for translation rights must decide whether to work through a sub-agent or directly with a publisher. Although sub-agents provide access to several publishers, they charge a fee and results are tied to the agent’s ability. Korean publishers, on the other hand, are increasingly seeking direct access to foreign publishers. In either case, as with exporters, the process for initiating a dialogue and the need for a face-to-face meeting at a book fair, or a personal visit, are the same.

Quality of translation: Poor translations can critically damage the reputation of the author and depress book sales. The quality of translation services in Korea varies greatly and Canadian publishers are advised to participate in the selection of the translator. Ninety-four percent of translated titles are found to contain translation errors and approximately 50 percent of subsequent editions fail to correct errors found in the first edition.

According to CEO Song of the School of Humanities, Korea continues the unfortunate practice of translating works from Japanese to Korean, instead of translating from their original language. The market for translators is biased towards having Japanese as the least expensive language to translate from. One such example is Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. It continues to have multiple translation errors that were carried over from the Japanese translation—for instance, translating “belier” to “goat.”

To find out more about the Korean book market, including key insights into how to make your books visible, finding selected agency and publisher contacts, as well as information on domestic promotional events, you can download the full guide.

11/23/2017 | Distribution, Export, Market Guides, Programs