Market Overview: Sensitive to New Changes and Issues but Still Fundamentally Conservative
In both the major bookstores, Kyobo Book Centre and YES24, the market for economics and business books has grown for four consecutive years. It has been a while since an economics or business book made it onto the annual top 10 bestseller list, but in 2019, The Generation Born in ‘90s Are Coming (Whale Books) was YES24’s third best-selling book and Kyobo Book Centre’s fourth best-selling book. The most noticeable trend of the year was a movement to understand those born in the 90s as they began to enter adulthood and the workforce, therefore becoming a new consumer group. President Moon Jae-in even gave all Cheong Wa Dae employees a copy of The 90s Babies Are Coming as a gift, making headlines with his statement: “Getting to know the new generation is how you prepare for the future. That’s also how you can resolve their issues.”
Readers of books on economics and business management tend to be mainly interested in books that introduce new trends and forecast current issues and analyze them through an economic perspective. This may indicate that the genre is the most progressive. However, books that teach people how to protect and increase their wealth and educational books related to investment and money, generally understood to have conservative characteristics, led the market sector in 2019 as always.
Rich Dad, Poor Dad Still Popular
Commemorating the 20-year anniversary of a classic in the personal finance genre, the 20th anniversary edition of Rich Dad, Poor Dad (Minumin) topped the year’s bestseller lists. When it was published in 2000, author Robert Kiyosaki skyrocketed to fame through his rather aggressive suggestions of getting rich through investment rather than hard work. His blunt writing style, exemplified by such sayings as “Why savers are losers” was controversial, but, even 20 years later, people are still wildly enthusiastic about the book, proving its popularity.
Meanwhile, throughout the publishing industry, educational books for the general public that easily explained various topics were popular and, in the economics and business sector, money-related educational books continued trending. A case in point is The History of Money (Rok Media) which explains the principles of finance through a mix of history and economics. Dan Ariely and Jeff Kreisler’s Dollars and Sense: How We Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter (Chungrim Publishing), Unscripted: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Entrepreneurship (Thoth), Rebalancing (G-World Publisher), have also been popular since 2018. Furthermore, books that provide easily adaptable personal finance tips such as, My First Time Studying Money (Dasan Books), Making 10 Million Won in Six Months (Hankyung BP), and My Salary Independence Project (Leader Books), along with similar books, were well-received.
In 2019, books on real estate were more popular than those on the stock market. Starting in the second half of 2018, real estate books started becoming more and more popular, a trend that continued with The Next 10 Years of Korean Real Estate (Trustbooks), Real Estate on the Brain (Lifelearn), Ji Seong’s One-Person Corporation Method to Turn Real Estate Into Money (Itcon), and Korean Housing Application Map (Dasan Books), which all made it onto bestseller lists.
As Economic Uncertainty Grows, So Does Demand for Books about the Uncertain Future
After analyzing the past 10 years (November 1, 2009–October 31, 2019) of its economic forecasting book sales, Kyobo Book Centre revealed, “The market for economic forecasting has more than quadrupled from 10 years ago, and more than doubled from five years ago. Despite an overall decline in the publishing industry due to a decline in readership, it has continued growing at a steady 20 percent rate.” As many readers face an uncertain future in their lives, they read and study economic forecasting. In addition, books that predict macroeconomic events such as The Next Five Years, Korean Scenario (Knomad) and Global Future Report 2019 (Business Books), as well as books that predict the near future using exchange and interest rates such as The Next Three Years: Economic Warfare Future (Knomad) are being published in accordance with typical trends.
However, the absolute strongest player in the economic forecasting book market in 2019 was Trend Korea 2019, an annually released guide published by Seoul National University’s Consumer Trends Analysis Center, has already established itself as its own brand.
Beyond the Bookstore: The Influence of YouTube, TV
Authors and publishers’ use of their own social media channels to promote their books was notably effective in increasing sales. Take the case of Rok Media for example. On their promotional channels, Change Ground and Dr. Shin TV,. They exposed new books to readers. They also run around 3,000 book review groups in various online spaces, a practice that has launched their books to bestseller lists. Rok Media’s latest book The History of Money, which came out in April 2019, took second place on the Kyobo Book Centre May 2019 bestseller list immediately upon publication.
Meanwhile, books that were introduced on YouTube channels achieved accelerated sales in 2018 and 2019, demonstrating YouTube’s continued influence. In particular, sales of Phono Sapiens: New Generation Born from the Smartphone (Sam & Parkers) and Gigged: The End of the Job and the Future of Work (The Quest) skyrocketed immediately after being shown on the YouTube channel MKTV. On April 17, 2019, the week after being featured on the channel, Gigged’s sales increased by 882 percent while Phono Sapiens, broadcast on the week of May 22, saw its sales increase by 1077 percent. As readers continue to depend on famous content creators they trust, this phenomenon looks like it will continue to grow for the time being.
The influence of TV and radio cannot be left out either. In September of 2019, channel tvN’s new program, The Current Bookstore: Reading You Books was representative of this. This program mainly introduces books on subjects related to the humanities—economics and business books are rare. After being discussed on air, the book Nudge (Leaders Book) shot up to bestseller lists. KBS published a book titled The Good Insight (4 volumes, Influential) which linked to the KBS cultural affairs TV program that shares its title. In February 2019, the final installment of the series, The Good Insight: Inequality, Pathology, Finance, and Regional, was published and went on to take 14th place on the Kyobo Book Centre bestseller list in economic management. Furthermore, This is Economics (Sam & Parkers), written by Professor Choi Bae-geun of Konkuk University, recorded the highest sales out of his numerous past books due to the popularity and trust the author gained by appearing on various broadcast media including TBS’s Kim Eo-jun’s News Factory and KBS’s Choi Kyoung-young’s Economic Show.
The Rise of the New Economy and Looking for New Counterstrategies: Low Growth Basis, Changes in Distribution, Research on M–Z Generations
From a wider perspective, books about the meta-discourse of the new economy, its impact on our lives, and how to deal with the characteristics of emerging consumer groups have gained popularity. Among them, The End of Online Shopping (Knomad), which had the highest sales among this type of books, was written by Wijnand Jongen, who served as the European Commission’s head of e-commerce. The book examines how production, distribution, and consumption activities will change in a world where the boundaries between analog and digital have become meaningless. After its publication, the author visited Korea at the invitation of the media and various economic organizations and gave several lectures and interviews, which became a topic of conversation. The domestic The Future of Retail (Influential), which deals with similar themes, also received attention for about three weeks as aYES24 bestseller.
Additionally, Shrinking Society (Medici Media), which analyzes so-called “low growth” in advanced countries, was highly recommended by Park Young-sun, then minister of SMEs and startups, and therefore received many reviews and high praise among readers. Furthermore, the steady popularity of The Generation Born in ‘90s Are Coming and Phono Sapiens shows the public’s zeal for studying millennials and Generation Z as they emerge as main players in our economy.
Readers Still Want to Know the Secrets behind a Successful Business
In the 2000s, books about the success stories of global CEOs and foreign companies, such as those in the US, were guaranteed hits in economy and business sections, much like box office blockbusters. However, this was not the case in 2019. It was difficult to find Google and Amazon at the top of bestseller lists. Of course, this was not because there were few avid readers who wanted to learn about the operation and culture of such successful businesses. Books that sold well, not only for their well-dressed titles and covers but also for their practical, useful advice, included Radical Candor: How to Get What You Want by Saying What You Mean (Chungrim Publishing) and The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups (Woongjin Jisikhouse).
Influence of Global Gurus Wanes, Practical Knowledge Gained from Domestic Economics and Business Books becomes Popular
While the lectures and writings of such experts as marketing guru Seth Godin and renowned scholar Nassim Taleb still seem to be popular, they are not as strong as before. Seth Godin’s new book, This Is Marketing (Sam & Parkers) received lower sales reports than his definitive work Purple Cow (Jane Books). This is also true of the new book, Skin in the Game (Business Books) by Nassim Taleb, who has previously discussed how to survive in an unpredictable world in books such as Black Swan (Dongnyok Science) and Antifragile (Wiseberry). Of course, both Godin’s and Taleb’s books made it onto top 100 bestseller lists upon their releases in March and April respectively, but this popularity did not last as long as it had in the past.
On the other hand, sales for domestic books that deliver practical, useful knowledge in fields such as accounting, financial statements, marketing, and planning (which are keywords that always do well in the economics/business management section) have been doing well. Some examples include I Almost Worked Without Knowing Accounting (About a Book), Becoming a Brand (Turnaround), Smart Store Marketing (Economic Books), and Reading Financial Statements Perfectly (Business Books). These changes in the field of economics and business management books are due to economic changes becoming faster and the field becoming younger.
What Will Extreme Uncertainty—Greatly Feared by Many—Change?
The waning influence of major authorities as seen above is a clearly visible publishing trend. However, this does not mean that expert insights have decreased. Nassim Taleb seriously addresses in Skin in the Game the concept of “intellectual yet idiot” and the “agency problem.” He criticizes those who, he states, watch and judge how society should be run from the comfort of the outskirts and those who make influential decisions at no risk to themselves, namely politicians and intellectuals who are not responsible for the consequences of their actions. He warned that such an accumulation of the asymmetries of action vs. responsibility would lead to a sudden “black swan” event, or an unexpected large event that has an enormous impact on the world.
As of writing this in 2020, we are currently swept up the black swan event of the global COVID-19 pandemic. This unexpected event has shaken up the global economy and the lives of people around the world. Many workers, due to sharp decreases in oil prices, the plummeting stock market, and losing their jobs suddenly, are creating social unrest. Additionally, many people in their 20s and 30s, who have no experience in investing, are jumping into the stock market. The sales of investment-related books are skyrocketing. The greater the fear of uncertainty, the more people gravitate towards safety. Economics and business management books about protecting one’s wealth and increasing one’s job security are enjoying enormous popularity.
Written by Gim se-won, head of economics and business, Gilbut Publishing Co., Ltd.