[OUTLOOK]Don’t judge a book by its coverBook publishers are busy day and night with their work but for ordinary spectators outside the publishing field, the field looks uneventful in general. Compare the book publishing business with the jobs of politicians or celebrities. However, the publishing sector has changed. The people wonder what will happen next.
A popular TV celebrity, Jung Ji-young, was accused of having been only a promotional front for the translation of the book “Don’t Eat the Marshmallow...Yet!” while another professional translator actually did the job. Art critic Han Jemma, who has published many books on art, has been criticized for publishing a new book under her name when another professional writer did much of the writing.
Ma Kwang-soo, a Yonsei University professor, has confessed that he stole a poem written by one of his former pupils and included it in his recently-published collection of poems. The Korean translation of “Life Lessons” included drawings and carbon copies of photos by a Canadian photographer without the original artist’s knowledge.
A suspicion has grown that Internet Web portals have received money from publishers to buy books published by them to increase the sales volume, making certain books best-sellers.
Many blame all the people involved: the author or translator credited on the cover of a book, those who actually wrote or translated the books without being credited, the publishers and even the readers.
The responsibility lies with all of these people. Publishers’ unethical marketing strategies are the primary problem. Publishers tend to do anything to sell more books, saying such practices have been commonplace.
Those who have done little work on a translation or writing but have their names on the front also share the responsibility. The people who actually wrote or translated books behind the scenes but come out now are also making an ugly scene. Readers have some responsibility, also. They flock to best-selling books or books by popular authors without much consideration of their own.
However, it is regrettable that publishers have not yet shown that they are sorry. Even I feel I need to say sorry, even though I am not a publisher myself.
There are many problems regarding publishers. First, the status of publishers is shaky. Jung Ji-young became a celebrity translator, at least for a while, taking advantage of her fame as a TV personality. Han Jemma, on the other hand, has entered the broadcasting arenae by using her fame as an author. That can be seen as the difference between the two personalities. However, both of the women are better known through visual media. Publishers wanted to lean on other media, including the broadcasting field, to sell their books, instead of pursuing completion and perfection of their own specialties ― books. That only makes publishing appear a shabby business.
Second, a balance between the means and goals of publishing has toppled. Books are now a “product.” Publishers make plans for books beforehand and publishing is a business activity, which pursues profits. Even so, there are principles to be abided by when publishers produce books as sales items. The sale may appear to be the only principle, but the respect for the dignity of books is the essential principle. Publishers are ignoring that principle.
A third problem is the blind point of bestsellers. It is hard to trust a list of bestsellers as long as there are chances that the authors or translators are only fronts or cheap marketing strategies come into play.
I used to analyze the factors that make bestsellers. But if the author or translator of a book was phony or if a book had become a bestseller because of a deceitful strategy, I became an accomplice even though that was not my intention. So, I would like to give my sincere apology in this space.
Fourth, publishers have double standards. They keep to such decades-old malpractice, while pretending books are high-end culture. They raise their voices when asking for material or institutional aid, saying publishing should be duly supported, but have been quiet when asked to reform their malpractice.
They should remember that heaven helps those who help themselves.
*The writer is a critic on publications.Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Pyo Jung-hoon