|Zimfree, an independent bookstore is selling a variety of independnt books.|
|/Photograph by You Eun-sun|
Publications with a variety of formats and contents have begun to make a mark in the publishing world. Among them, books published by one or a small number of publishers are generally called “independent publications.” As the attention towards independent publishing increases, it is creating a new culture with its own values and characteristics.
Independent publishing as a method of expressing individuality
Independent publishing means the overall operations of making books including planning, editing, printing, and bookbinding that are carried out only by an individual or a small group of publishers. It is regarded as one kind of indie culture in the publishing circle since it usually covers creative and ingenious contents without following the mainstream culture or commercial success.
Specifically, there are two types of definitions of independent publishing: the definition in terms of the format of books and the other one about the contents in the books. In accordance with the definition about the format, independent publishing corresponds to the one that is not officially launched and does not sell books in grand bookstores. Another definition of independent publishing, which is about the contents in the books, explains that independent publications should have their own values that are even less influenced by the capital market and the pre-existing culture. However, in a broader sense, publications created by authors’ distinctive sensibility, which break the tradition of the publishing market, are considered as the independent publications.
Growing interest in independent publishing
In Korea, independent publishing is thought to have first appeared in the mid 2000s. Also, recently, the scale of its market has increased. According the statistics from the related industry, in April 2015, there were only about seven to eight independent bookstores in Seoul. However, in 2016, more than 60 independent bookstores are newly established. Lee Jin-gon, the CEO of Zimfree, an independent bookstore located near Hongik University Station, said, “When I made my book through the independent publishing, there were only two bookstores available where I could distribute my book.”
As the attention to independent publishing increases, the exhibitions and fairs for the independent publishers are appearing in the publishing world. In 2015, exhibitions regarding independent publishing were held in Konkuk University and the National Museum of Korea. Furthermore, some owners of independent bookstores conducted independent book fairs or festivals such as “Unlimited Edition” and “Seoul Zine Festival.” In case of “Unlimited Edition,” about fifteen thousands of people visited the festival in 2015 and it is the number that has grown exponentially compared to the one of 2009, whose sales was around 900.
The fairs related to independent publishing seem to go on again this year. Lee Jin-gon commented that he is going to hold another “Seoul Zine Festival” on April 22nd and 23rd with several other owners of independent bookstores at Gyeonui Line Book Street.
|Independent publications are on display with decorations.|
|/Photograph by You Eun-sun|
Independent publihsing recognizes the diversity in the society
The process of making independent publications which is operated by an individual or a small group helps to express a variety of opinions and perspectives in diverse areas. Independent publications play their roles bringing up problems of the society’s universal values by displaying the voices of an alienated class of people such as the agony of the youth and the issues concerning sexual minorities which the mainstream culture does not capture. Every single independent publication has their own stories that others cannot cover, and it is what makes them form the diversity on the whole. For example, Hi, Bye, Doonchon Jugong Apartments, an independent publication which covered the stories about residents living in Doonchon Jugong Apartments is highly regarded since it formulates the landscape and narratives of the local society. Lee Jin-gon said, “It seems that independent publishing can feature the stories that the mainstream publishing usually does not.” He added, “I would like to recommend an independent publication, I Did Not Wear a Short Skirt whose stories are about the male victims of sexual violence since other publishing companies usually focus on the female victims when they cover sexual violence.”
Furthermore, some independent publications convey contents of higher quality than the mainstream of the publishing world. BLINK, the independent magazine specializing in art is considered to be a groundbreaking magazine since it publishes the up-to-date photographs and the contents of which characteristics reflect the publisher’s individuality. Kim ARam, the publisher of BLINK, said, “I can say that it is possible to maintain my own values and apply it to BLINK because I do every part of the publishing.” She added, “In case of the main artistic communities in Korea, it has a strong tendency to form ‘the league of their own,’ thus it seems slow to follow the trends of the culture and art around the world.”
The diversity of independent publishing can be found in independent bookstores. Each independent bookstore has its own concept and books because each owner can design the interior and choose which kinds of books to sell. Lee Jin-gon, the CEO of Zimfree, an independent bookstore whose concept deals with travelling, said, “I made Zimfree as a bookstore related to travel since I believe that the beginning of travel is reading books. Both of them have the chance of encountering people in common.” Accordingly, Zimfree has books including travel books and provides tourists with services that check baggage and execute reservation for restaurants or tourist attractions. In addition, many independent bookstores not only distribute independent publications but also offer the opportunities of communication between authors and readers.
Economic difficulties and the lack of diversity cause hardships
Although independent publishing is receiving more attention than before, it is too early to tell if it has been established well. Lee Jin-gon pointed out the limitations of independent publishing, saying, “It is obvious that more customers are visiting than when I just opened the bookstore. However, the awareness of independent publishing is not that high enough for publishers to feel free from the economic difficulties.” He added, “More and more independent bookstores are appearing but a considerable number of them struggle with the small income and some of them end up closing the shop.
The atmosphere of paying no regard to the art is one of the difficulties that independent publishing deals with. Kim ARam, the publisher of BLINK pointed out that the footing where artist can express their worlds of art does not established in Korea. She said, “BLINK has higher recognition in foreign countries than it does in Korea. I believe this difference comes from the attitude of society towards art.”
Persistence of its characteristics, a way to improve the values
When it comes to the way to enhance the independent publishing, it is important to broaden the opportunity for independent publishers to show their works. CEO Lee said, “The support from the government and organizations in terms of evaluating independent publishing as the important culture can be the one way to preserve the independent publishing.”
In addition, the attitudes of readers to admit the diversity and not to depend on the pre-existing media and publication are required. Kim, the publisher of BLINK said, “Cultures in Korea have a tendency to focus on the mainstream media, which deletes the diversity in the society. I believe that we should acknowledge the illusion of standardization and then, every single part of the society including art and publications will be respected.”
You Eun-sun email@example.com
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