Finding the new in the old

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Finding the new in the old


When Netflix CEO Reed Hastings visited Korea last year, he remarked that he enjoyed both watching television and reading books. He explained that Netflix releases whole seasons of television series rather than individual episodes, just as readers can choose to read books in one sitting or chapter by chapter. Hastings noted that reading can be done whenever people choose, adding that it was the original method of enjoying content. It turns out that online streaming, which has drastically altered people’s viewing habits, was inspired by a far more ancient medium.

Of course, books change over time. Recently, I purchased an online report about a knowledge content website run by a start-up called Publy. The layout was different from conventional books. Videos and hyperlinks were included for reference. It was more like a blog than a book. Instead of numbered pages, estimated reading time was indicated. While I did not check how long it took me to read the report, the site must have kept track of it for data analysis.

The publishing process was also different. Before the content was compiled, the topic was announced and buyers were all pulled in together. It was a crowdfunded, order-based publication.

A few months ago, I had a chance to meet the CEO. After an interesting presentation at an open forum, I approached her and asked a few questions. More than her degree in management or experience at a consulting firm, the impression I took away was that she enjoyed reading very much.

Digital and online platforms are transforming books and the publishing industry. The impact, though, is not unilateral. Lately, the worldwide growth of e-books started by Amazon’s Kindle has slowed. In other words, e-books have not replaced paper books, but they each hold stable market shares.

The report highlighted that independent bookstores are on the rise in the United States. In Korea, small neighborhood bookstores for specific niches have also become an evident cultural trend. In these bookstores, each and every book in the stack seems special.

But while I’d like to make a more optimistic projection, there is news that the second-largest book wholesaler has filed for bankruptcy. I am reminded of the time after the IMF bailout when a number of major wholesalers went bankrupt and publishers were also in trouble.

During a slow economy, the publishing industry is no exception to its adverse effects. Calls for “cultural prosperity” are made in vain. No administration should take for granted the simple truth that the most familiar can be the most refreshing.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 4, Page 30

*The author is the deputy cultural news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.


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