Report by Alex Hedley, Publisher, General Non-fiction, Penguin Random House New Zealand
At the start of October I attended a fully-funded fellowship with a group of editors from the Asian region, at the invitation of the Korean Publishers Association. ‘The Asian Publishers Fellowship Program’, as it was called, ran alongside Editor’s Week in Seoul. There were two editors from China, three from Korea, and one from each of Hong Kong, Vietnam, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Malaysia. It was the first time an editor from the Pacific was invited to take part.
We spent much of our time at Paju Book City. The Koreans are proud of Paju and rightly so. Paju is home to 250 publishing companies and 10,000 book industry professionals (and counting). It’s also flush with cafes, bookstores and leafy streets – a place for literary-minded Koreans and writers to gather on weekends. Last year over 40,000 titles were published in South Korea, a mind-boggling number even with a population of 50 million. Having come from being one of the world’s poorest nations in the 1960s to the land of corporate giants like Samsung, LG and Hyundai, South Korea is an incredible story of industrial success. Not surprisingly, one of the dominant publishing trends is business books, but children’s is still the biggest market for locally published titles, followed by literature and poetry, and a good showing of ‘self-empowerment’ titles.
The theme of our fellowship itself was the ‘era of the proteur’ (a proteur being mixture of an amateur and professional), and how this is affecting the place and role of the traditional book editor. Much of the talk was around authors who aren’t writers, and the rise of amateur publishers. The group concluded that the professional editor’s role is still as important as it ever was – perhaps even more so. Our ability to discover new authors in new markets and innovate with new technology is an important competitive edge, but maintaining our traditional standards of editorial excellence is critical to the success and credibility of books in the modern age.