Using Social Media (ALL of it) to promote Korean Literature: Pt. II Amazon

Social Media: Big Bang Theory

Social Media: Big Bang Theory

Part I of this series: Facebook and Twitter
Part III: Wikipedia

Last post discussed Twitter and Facebook , and how representatives of Korean fiction are not adequately represented there.

Here are the best measurement tools I could come up with on that (March 28, 2012):

Facebook can’t be directly queried, so far as I know, for total posts on a topic, so I had to try to measure using two other facebook metrics:

  • Facebook has 25 pages dealing with Korean literature
  • 46 with Japanese
  • 8 groups dealing with Korean literature
  • 12 groups dealing with Japanese literature

So Korea, using these admittedly imperfect metrics, is somewhere between 50 and 90 percent behind on Facebook, if it is judged against Japan.

Twitter is even harder to measure, but I’ve started looking at hashtags Korean lit and Japanese lit for which there are none for Korea literature, but only three for Japanese literature. I’ll have to keep looking for this, because it seems to have a time limit into the past.

BTW – if anyone out there knows a better way to measure Facebook or Twitter, I’m all ears.

Moving on to Google, we find a way in which we can really limn the problem. Though Google does not query Twitter or Facebook, it is the master at looking at the web (from a previous paper of mine and the search referred to took place on This search took place on October 31, 2010):

A general search for “Korean Literature,” using Google , returned 119,000 results, while a search for “Japanese Literature” returned 720,000 results. When using the search terms for fiction, “Korean Fiction” returned 28,500 results, while “Japanese Fiction” returned 91,500 results. Finally, a general search by author for “Korean Author” returned 31,700 results, while the search for “Japanese Author” returned 57,400. Statistically, for Google, this was the best relative result for Korea. In general the difference in numbers was vast, but as Google search results tend to lose relevance the farther along Google one clicks, this initial search seemed a bit imprecise as the “long tail” of these results might be composed of less useful results.

I measured these things again on March 26, 2012

  • 1,390,000 hits for “Japanese Literature:
  • 272,000 for “Korean Literature”
  • 629,000 hits for “Japanese fiction”
  • 203,000 hits for “Korean fiction”
  • 270,000 hits for “Japanese author”
  • 139,000 hits for “Korean author”

When you break this down into ratios (to take account of the general growth of the number of sites measured by Google) you get the following results:

The ration of Japanese lit to Korean lit went from 6:1 to 5.1:1
The ration of Japanese fiction to Korean fiction went from : 3.2:1 to 3.1:1
The ration of Japanese author to Korean author 1.8:1 to 1.95 to 1

So, proportionally that’s  pretty much a draw, meaning that at least with respect to Japanese literature on the web, Korea has not advanced. Given Korea’s relatively poor initial position (based on many things beyond the scope of this paper), that is a deflating result.

I return to Sun Jung, quoted in part I of these two posts:

New knowledge, cultures, and lifestyles are increasingly transmitted transculturally, quickly, and easily in this ever more globalized, diverse, and technologically mediated world. The growth of social media since the mid-2000s has rendered various Asian popular cultures—once considered marginalized and difficult to access—now freely accessible as they flow across different national borders.

So, how does Korea take advantage of this?

Well, with Twitter and Facebook in the mirror, I’m going to turn to to some other Social Media.

In some ways the more important ones, maybe? Next post I’ll be talking about Wikipedia and, perhaps surprisingly, today I will consider Amazon as a Social Media opportunity/tool, and related to Amazon, the possible role of ebooks in the proliferation of translated Korean literature.

Amazon is often considered a commercial site, but it is also a whole lot more. It is a commercial site with a strong social media aspect, particularly in it’s “recommend” feature, which creates what I call the Amazon Ripple Effect. Also, Amazon has a review functionality that works two ways.

Let’s begin with the review function, which is quite simple, but currently empty for Korean books (Not including Please Look After Mom, the major commercial breakthrough, which will be discussed shortly). Amazon reviews both give more perspective to a particular book that a browser might be considering, but they also function as a kind of thermometer. When you go look at Please Take Care of Mom you see all these reviews and you feel reassured it is a book people cared about enough to discuss. Additionally, for reasons I will talk about on a larger scale in part V of this series, this kind of social media site also functions as an aid to translation, or as a cultural translation tool.

I should say that this argument is true of other “bookie” sites like Goodreads.

Then there’s the ripple effect, as noted last week. If I like a book by Kim Young-ha, Amazon politely refers me to more books along the same lines (ones that were purchased by previous browsers of Kim Young-ha), primarily books of translated Korean fiction.

Recommendations for Kim Young-ha

Recommendations for Kim Young-ha

This is, I should say, what other PURCHASERS bought, so the more ‘mainstream’ the Korean book, in some ways, the less it will impact other Korean fiction.

Please Look After Mom, for instance, renders this:

Amazon Recommends for Shin

Amazon Recommends for Shin Kyung-sook

This, obviously, raises a question for a different time, “Do genre-blockbuster successes actually have a salutary effect on Korean fiction as a whole?” LOL, maybe that’s a potential part VI for this series.

Anyway, in two ways, at least, Amazon is a social media platform, and as I have demonstrated elsewhere, the success of particular translations of Korean literature on Amazon, in fact does have an “a rising tide lifts all boats,” effect on other translations of Korean literature.

How can this be used – well two ways. One way is simply to add reviews to existing books and view them. I suppose this could be done by contest – give a prize each month to the person who writes the best review.

The other way this can be used is to carefully choose, before translating, to maximize the translation of books that will:

  1. be at least moderately successful, and
  2. contain substantial Korean cultural content

As usual, I’m not saying that other kinds of books shouldn’t be sold; in fact I’ve long been an advocate of running out pulpy genre-based potential best-sellers. But this does mean that other kinds of books also have their roles in pushing the brand.

Which brings me to my final point about Amazon (and other publishing platforms).  Please publish more ebooks!

There actually are hundreds of translations of Korean literature available online, it is just that they are incredibly difficult to access. The Korea Journal, for instance,  has hundreds of short stories and poems available in pdf (of various quality) form on their website. Unfortunately, you have to use their search function to find the works, and this requires that you previously know the name of an author or title of a book.

Similarly, LTI Korea has translated a raft of stories that aren’t available, and scores of older collections of Korean fiction (e.g. The Cruel City) have gone out of print (BTW.. if you’re interested in The Cruel City there is currently only one used copy available on Amazon, but it is also super cheap)

If the publication rights are already owned for these works, and there are no copyright issues, why isn’t some clever person assiduously converting these to ebooks and making them available online, either free or for a small price?

This just seems obvious.

This wouldn’t necessarily  have to have anything to do with Amazon, they could be published anywhere, it is just that Amazon is well known, extremely centralized, and has a powerful search engine.

As note previously, this just seems obvious.

Next – “Wikipedia, the best tool of all?”

4 thoughts on “Using Social Media (ALL of it) to promote Korean Literature: Pt. II Amazon

  1. Pingback: Using ALL Social Media to promote Korean Literature Pt. I

  2. Totally agree on the ebook point. Retailers in the UK just don’t stock Korean fiction, and Amazon isn’t that much better (so much has gone out of print). Buying from Korean online stores is complicated and postage prohibitively expensive. Ebooks have got to be the answer. Currently reading on my Kindle: Samguk Yusa in translation. Can’t remember seeing that in hard copy anywhere.

  3. Your prescription:

    “The other way this can be used is to carefully choose, before translating, to maximize the translation of books that will:

    be at least moderately successful, and
    contain substantial Korean cultural content”

    would likely be terribly unfair to genre fiction, and would strongly favor a certain type of literary fiction grounded in the ennui of South Korean life.

    Mysteries, for example, would be viewed as not containing substantial Korean cultural content, on the basis that mysteries have universal characteristics.

    I would, in contrast, argue that for Korean literature in translation to thrive, it should highlight the universalist characteristics of Korean literature.

    A quality mystery, romance science fiction novel need not be grounded in the peculiarities of ROK culture — the fact that it displays Koreans behaving like all other people would itself be a powerful notion.

    Your notion, I believe, appeals to Korean nationalism (already quite strong) that theirs is somehow an exceptional culture.

    I would argue that for Korean literature to be more widely accepted abroad, ut needs to show that Koreans are basically like everyone else,, not different from everyone else.

    Japanese novels that have done well, or Chinese, have appealed to a common sense of humanity, rather than to the cultural oddities that separate Japan or China.

  4. LOL…

    “As usual, I’m not saying that other kinds of books shouldn’t be sold; in fact I’ve long been an advocate of running out pulpy genre-based potential best-sellers. But this does mean that other kinds of books also have their roles in pushing the brand.”

    Both are required..

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