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Shortcut to bestseller: Put it on popular drama

The talk of the town in the book industry is the classic novel “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” which marked a sharp rise in sales and landed on the bestseller list of major online and off-line bookstores all of a sudden.

The reason behind the unexpected popularity of the Korean version of the book published by Minumsa, which was printed five years ago, is SBS’ mega-hit TV soap opera “Secret Garden.”

Soon after the book made its TV debut, carefully tucked between the fingers of actor Hyun Bin and actress Ha Ji-won in the drama, it started to sell like hot cakes.

“The book is a classic so it used to sell slow and steady. But three days after it aired on ‘Secret Garden,’ 9,000 were sold and two weeks later, which is today, it marked 50,000. We are surprised, too, that it became such a big hit,” Lee Mi-hyun, a PR official at Minumsa.
A scene from “Secret Garden” where actress Ha Ji-won, who plays Gil Ra-im, reads the book “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (Captured from SBS)
A scene from “Secret Garden” where actress Ha Ji-won, who plays Gil Ra-im, reads the book “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (Captured from SBS)

As of Monday, the book ranked 4th place in the best selling list of Yes 24, an online book market, 3rd in that of Kyobo Online Bookstore’s and second in that of Aladdin’s, another online book retailer.

Off-line, the book ranks 13th place as of Monday in the bestselling book list by Korea Publishers Society which put together the lists from nine different bookstores including Kyobo, Youngpoong and Bandi & Lunis.

The book plays an important role in the drama. Although many different firms had published the book, Minumsa’s was lucky enough to star in the show because the company had lent 3,000 books to fill the library in the main character’s house.

“We were lucky and we think this will not end as a one-time thing because the book itself is a guaranteed classic. ‘Momo,’ which also marked a big hit after starring in ‘My Lovely Sam-soon,’ was a worldwide bestseller as well,” said Lee.

In fact, not only Alice but also several other books made it into the bestseller list after making an appearance on a popular TV show.

The sales of “And Then There Were None” by Agatha Christie suddenly quadrupled in August after MBC’s popular entertainment show “Muhandojeon” or “Infinite Challenge” aired a special episode motivated by the mystery novel.

“The Days of Seonggyungwan Scholars” by Jeong Eun-gwol, the original work of the hit KBS2 drama “Seonggyungwan Scandal,” was steadily on the bestseller list while the drama ran from August to November. 
“The Days of Seonggyungwan Scholars” by Jeong Eun-gwol (Paran Media)
“The Days of Seonggyungwan Scholars” by Jeong Eun-gwol (Paran Media)

The book was originally published in 2007 but was republished in time for the TV soap. A follow-up book titled “The Days of Gyujanggak Officials,” which was published in 2009, gained popularity among the drama’s fans as well.

Jean Ziegler’s book “Why Half the World Starves” doubled in sales after it appeared in “Secret Garden” along with many other books. In this case, the publishing company did not provide the book but the soap opera staff discovered it on their own. 
“Why Half the World Starves” by Jean Ziegler (Galapagos)
“Why Half the World Starves” by Jean Ziegler (Galapagos)

The book’s popularity, however, only lasted about three weeks, unlike “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” perhaps because the book’s appearance lasted only a couple of seconds and there were no lines regarding it, said Lim Byeong-sam, director of Galapagos, the book’s publishing company. 
“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll (Minumsa)
“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll (Minumsa)

“It is hard to calculate the exact effect of the TV drama alone because there were various situations simultaneously going on. The book, which is a steady seller in the social science section, usually sells well near the beginning of winter break and it was also one of Ven. Beopjeong’s recommendation books, which were running a promotion event. Compared to the explosive effect it had when Han Bi-ya first introduced this book to the public years ago, the effect of ‘Secret Garden’ was weaker,” said Lim.

But he added that books appearing in TV dramas are mostly positive in the publishers’ point of view.

“The book industry is generally depressed right now, so it is very encouraging when books are starred in TV dramas. It could be the opportunity to invite TV drama viewers, who are usually considered as different from book readers, to bookstores,” said Lim.

Some, however, worry that the hasty craze of certain TV-starred-books may not always bring constructive results.

“If more books are sold, thanks to TV drama’s promotion effects, it is a good thing. But if the books gain popularity without any given thought on its content or quality but simply because the main character glanced at it once or because titles of the books connect to make sentences that only makes sense in the soap opera, we have to reconsider its effects,” said Park Sin-gyu, manager of Changbi Publishers’ Arts and Culture section.

By Park Min-young  (