Book hoarding: No measure of intellect

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Book hoarding: No measure of intellect


“Book stocking” refers to buying books to display on bookshelves to look smart without really reading them. The boastful behavior is derided by those who truly appreciate the joy of reading. There was a time when intellectuals - who filled a garden with flowers and filled the four walls with books - were respected. At the time, the number of books one owned used to be a measure of intellect, and the homes of those who want to be recognized as an intellectual were overflowing with books.

“Book hoarding” is to buy books in bulk - not by the readers but by the publishers. Publishers sometimes intervene in the market intentionally to manipulate the best-seller list. Recently, the book market saw another book hoarding controversy. Of course, this is no new tactic. Since the 1990s, similar incidents have repeated every two to three years like a chronic illness.

The authors who were involved in the controversy even withdrew their books from the market. Two prestigious writers, Hwang Suk-young and Kim Yeon-su, declared their books would go out of print. As always, the publishing industry complains and urges publishers to change its excessively competitive mindset.

But if simply changing a mindset could solve the problem, how come the same controversy is repeated over and over for so long? Structurally, smaller companies are relying on one or two best sellers, and the method of selecting the best sellers is problematic. But interestingly, even when the tricks and expediencies in selecting the best sellers are widely known, readers still only buy best sellers. So publishers can’t resist the temptation to buy out their own books to make the best-seller list.

The tendency of consumers leaning toward best sellers only may be the fundamental cause of distorting not just the book market but other markets in Korea in general. A distribution insider said that after people share information on social networking sites, shops where people line up get more customers, and those not recommended on SNS struggle from lack of business.

The consumers make a choice to do, visit and see what others have done. A mobile communication provider’s commercial featured a long line in front of a store and emphasized that there are good reasons for so many people to make the choice, urging consumers to follow what others do.

When the consumer culture is overwhelmed by sheer quantity and copying, it is only natural that businesses aim to highlight quantitative superiority. However, it is regrettable that the economy of quantity applies even to books through hoarding, boastful reading and best-seller manipulation when they should be the measure of intellect.

* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Yang Sunny
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