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Ongoing disputes cast shadow on international book fair participationBy Hwang Dong-hee
Published : Jan. 18, 2024 - 16:56
As interest in Korean literature surges around the world, the publishing industry is actively participating in international book fairs to introduce Korean books.
However, ongoing conflict between the publishing sector and the government regarding subsidies is expected to lead to a reduction in the scale of book-related events and their participation this year.
Korean Publishers Association Chairman Yoon Chul-ho addressed the press Tuesday at the KPA office in Jongno, central Seoul, emphasizing the challenges the publishing sector faces.
The press conference, attended by Yoon and the executive directors of the KPA, introduced major projects scheduled for the year and explained the conflict with the Culture Ministry that has been ongoing since July 2023.
Established in 1947, the KPA stands as the largest publishing organization in the country, boasting over 4,000 member publishing companies.
Yoon expressed dissatisfaction with the situation in which government budget is not being executed for projects that have typically been supported by subsidies, such as the Seoul International Book Fair and the operation of the guest country of honor’s pavilion at overseas book fairs.
This year, the KPA is set to host the 66th Seoul International Book Fair from June 26-30 at Coex in Gangnam, southern Seoul. The theme, "Houyhnhnm," draws inspiration from Jonathan Swift’s novel “Gulliver's Travels.”
Additionally, the inaugural Busan International Children’s Book Fair will take place at Bexco in Busan from Nov. 29 to Dec. 1, with a total budget of 1 billion won ($746,000), jointly hosted by the KPA and the city of Busan.
The KPA also received invitations as the guest country of honor from the Montreal Book Fair in Canada and the Sao Paulo International Book Fair in Brazil. Traditionally, the KPA and the Culture Ministry jointly operated the guest country of honor’s pavilion at book fairs, but the government notified the association that it would not do so this year.
“We received official invitations from Canada and Brazil, and delivered them to the Culture Ministry last year. … Although a budget of 1 billion won was allocated for this, the ministry claims it will redirect the budget to other international events,” said Yoon.
“In fact, the budget related to the KPA’s projects was passed by the Ministry of Economy and Finance and the National Assembly, but the Culture Ministry is not executing the budget. It has been completely suspended,” he said.
This year, some 3 billion won has been allocated for events organized by the KPA, including 670 million won for the Seoul International Book Fair, 1 billion won for operating the guest country of honor pavilion at overseas book fairs and 550 million won for running the Korean pavilion at overseas book fairs, according to the KPA. Last year's governmental budget support for KPA’s projects was around 2.45 billion won.
The KPA remains committed to proceeding with the events despite potential disruptions in the government budget execution, but downsizing is inevitable, according to Yoon.
In August, the Culture Ministry requested an investigation into Yoon and the KPA, alleging the failure to turn over detailed accounting for the Seoul International Book Fair, an event for which KPA received government subsidies. In October, the KPA filed a complaint against four Culture Ministry officials for defamation.
“The conflict escalated during the tenure of former Minister Park Bo-gyoon, leading to the requested investigation. It is now up to the next person to resolve it,” Yoon said, urging dialogue with incumbent Culture Minister Yu In-chon.
In response, the Culture Ministry said that given the diplomatic nature of overseas book fairs, such fairs should be led by the government through the Publication Industry Promotion Agency of Korea, as opposed to the KPA, a private entity.
“We plan to support the Seoul International Book Fair in a way that is helpful to the publishing industry,” the Culture Ministry said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon.
“However, it is difficult for the KPA, which is currently under investigation, to directly execute the budget. So, the ministry is looking for reasonable alternatives,” the statement continued.
It added that the ministry intends to utilize the budget allocated for the guest country of honor at overseas book fairs on the occasion of the Summer Olympics in Paris, holding events at bookstores throughout the city.
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