Go to contents

E-book market is dominated by ‘Adults Only’ rated romance novels

E-book market is dominated by ‘Adults Only’ rated romance novels

Posted May. 12, 2014 03:44,   


A 37-year-old office worker identified by her surname Lee has recently found a “secret joy” on her way to work. She enjoys reading Adults Only (AO) rated romance novels on her tablet PC at a subway train. She said that “one of the advantages that e-books offer is that people do not know what kind of book you read.” Like Lee, many people read popular novels through e-books. In particular, romance novels targeting adult women are popular.

○ Writers of popular novels move to the e-book market

According to the analysis of e-book top 10 bestsellers from April 1 through May 9 by Dong-A Ilbo, romance novels for adults such as “Closer, Much Closer” and “Bewitchment of Crown Prince” accounted for over 70 percent of the total e-book sales in Kyobo Book Center. During the same period, the share of romance novels such as “Marriage with a Devil” and “Lover of Sun” reached 80 percent in online bookseller Yes 24.

These books are called “19 Roseol ("ro" from romance and "seol" from soseol meaning novel in Korean), short for AO-rated romance novel. According to publishers, most of the writes of “19 Roseol” are those of the popular novels, which were usually distributed through book rental shops in the early and mid-2000s. As the number of book rental shops dramatically decreased after 2005 with the popularity of Internet downloading, the market for romance, martial arts and detective novels has shrunken. These writers have now moved to the e-book market.

Kim Jeong-hui, a manager of Bandi Books, said, “Writers of romance and martial arts novels faced difficulties between 2007 and 2011 in the changing market, but with the e-book market stimulated in 2012, (the writers) found a way to make a living.” According to the Publication Industry Promotion Agency of Korea, the e-book sales increased from 45 billion won (about 43.9 million dollars) in 2011 to 80 billion won (about 78 million dollars) in 2012 to 120 billion won (about 117 million dollars) in 2013.

Behind the rise of AO-rated romance novels in the e-book market are women readers. In Yes 24, women in their 30s or 40s accounted for 41.4 percent of the e-book purchasers in 2013 (Table 2). Lee Min-jeong, an e-book merchandiser of Yes 24, said, “Usually, women do not read martial arts or fantasy novels and are reluctant to reveal what they read… E-books meet such needs of women readers.”

○ Publishers need to add variety to e-books

The publishing industry predicts that the growth of romance novels in the e-book market will continue for the time being. Unlike general books as well as other popular novels such as martial arts or fantasy novels, romance novels are short and easy to read, so they fit well in the so-called “snack culture.”

Because these novels can be written and published in a short period of time, it is easy to incorporate latest trends into novels. Kim Jeong-ryeong, a 32-year-old office worker, said, “Main characters of romance novels use buzzwords, making easy to empathize with them.” In addition, it takes only one fifth of the cost to make an e-book compared to a paper book and e-books sell only at 2,000 to 4,000 won (about 2~4 dollars) a copy.

The publishing industry estimates that there are about 50,000 writers of e-book romance novels. Lee Soo-rim who has written romance novels for the past 10 years said, “When the books were distributed through rental stores, writers received royalties for one copy even if the books are rented hundreds of times, but in the e-book market, we get 50 percent of the selling price… Some writers earn more than 100 million won (about 97,466 dollars) a year.”

There are problems as well. Many of the romance novels use sexual expressions, such as “A hand touching down from the bottom reached a fair thigh,” without hesitation. An official from the industry said, “Even if the contents are similar, sales remarkable jump up when the title is sexual or nudity is added to the story… Some publishers demand writers that many sexual scenes be included (in a novel).”

Lee Sang-hyeon, an e-book publication team manager of the Publication Industry Promotion Agency of Korea, pointed out that “it is a problem (for publishers) to put sexuality ahead of the quality of work” and the agency has been promoting publishers “to publish general books in an e-book version so that e-book readers can read various books.”