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Worsening slump hits Korea’s magazine industry

The embattled industry shrinks as sales and staffs drop by 25%

A reader uses e-book subscription service through her tablet device at a public library. (Yonhap)
A reader uses e-book subscription service through her tablet device at a public library. (Yonhap)
Amid the drop in demand for print media, the local magazine industry has seen a huge loss in both sales and number of workers over the past two years.

According to the “2020 Magazine Industry Status Survey,” published by the Korea Press Foundation on Wednesday, the total magazine sales profit was 777.5 billion won ($703 million) in 2019, a 24.9 percent drop from 2017.

A total of 1,264 publishers were surveyed, and the average annual sales for a single company was estimated to be 438 million won ($396,380), which is a 15 percent decrease from 2017, and one-third the number in 2012.

In terms of sales composition, magazine profits based on subscription fees accounted for 39.6 percent, followed by advertising revenue 34.2 percent, and the rest were from other profit-making sources related to contents.

The number of workers in the magazine industry fell below 10,000 nationwide, as many employees left the field due to an apparent recession in the overall magazine industry. The total number of employees in 2019 was 9,104, a 25.1 percent drop from 2017. The number of workers in the magazine industry in 2012 was 17,748, nearly double the 2019 figure.

A total of 45.2 percent of companies said they were “in progress” when asked if they operated online services, while 20.7 percent said they have not implemented online services yet, but have plans to in the near future.

The main reasons for having online-based plans were as follows: in response to digital media environment (71.8 percent), in response to a heavy loss in offline magazine readers (11.8 percent), to create new sources of income (6.1 percent) and to reduce offline production costs (5.3%).

“Our customers commonly seek already well-known magazines specializing in business and economy, such as the Dong-A Business Review, and Harvard Business Review, which usually occupies the top shelves in the magazines section,” Sun Young-ah, the manager of Seosa, Your Library, a bookstore located in Hapjeong, western Seoul, said in a phone interview with The Korea Herald

Sun added that independent publishers’ magazines dealing with unique topics are steadily being introduced, and they have their own enthusiasts among readers. “Unfortunately, it remains difficult to lead to sales when customers encounter a particular magazine for the first time, especially today when going to bookstores itself is a hobby that seems to be gradually fading out.” Sun said.

Along with the survey results, the KPF announced that the print magazine industry will need to reexamine and critically analyze the current media environment. 

The Foundation added that goals can be better met when collaborating with the government to promote policies and foster the industry in a manner that suits the needs of readers.

By Kim Hae-yeon (hykim@heraldcorp.com)
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