Posted : 2013-05-01 17:11
Updated : 2013-05-01 17:11

Desperate publishers fight over new Murakami novel

Haruki Murakami
Baek Byung-yeul

Korea's financially-squeezed publishers are ferociously competing to secure the rights to publish the new novel by Japan's superstar author Haruki Murakami.

In a country where book readership is hitting new lows amid a bad economy and explosion of mobile Internet devices, Murakami is one of the few writers capable of moving a large volume of hard copies and paperbacks.

In Japan, more than a million copies of his new work, "Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage,"were sold in just the first six days of its release in mid-April, surpassing the pace of Murakami's previous work, ''1 Q84,'' which needed 12 days to reach that mark.

Murakami's books have always sold well in Korea, where publishers are chasing "Colorless'' like a pack of starving dogs fighting over a piece of steak. The bidding war is led by major publishers like Gimmyoung Publishers, Minumsa Publishing Group, Munhak Sasang and Munhakdongne Publishing, which sold more than 2 million copies of 1Q84 here.

Since his debut in 1979 with the novel, ''Hear the Wind Sing,'' Murakami has published 13 novels and 46 short stories and is perennially rumored to win that year's Nobel Prize for Literature.

His most popular works include "Norwegian Wood" (1987) and "Kafka on the Shore" (2002), both translated into more than 40 languages. In 2006, New York Times reported that "Norwegian Wood'' was the most frequently stolen book in America along with J. D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye."

The Japanese copyright owners will decide on the company to publish the Korean version on May 20, with the goal of having the book on the shelves by July. It's difficult to project how big of a check the publishers must cut to land the rights for "Colorless.'' One Korean publisher was said to have offered 100 million yen ($1.03 million) in advance royalty payment to Murakami for the right to publish 1Q84 three years ago and still failed to clinch it.

"Giving a million dollars in advance to the author means the publishing company thinks the book will sell at least a million copies," said an official of a publishing company.

"In the early days of this decade, the average royalty that the companies paid to the author in advance was about $100,000 to $200,000. Now it has risen up to a half million dollars for bestselling authors."

In a worsening book market, these big-money gambles are becoming dangerous. A slew of publishing companies last year scrambled to secure the rights for "The Casual Vacancy," the new novel series of J.K. Rowling. However, the Harry Potter author's new work has yet to create a significant buzz here.

According to separate data from the Korean Publishers Association (KPA), publishers introduced 39,767 new books last year and printed and published 86.97 million copies. It was the first time since 2000 that less than 100 million copies of new books were published over a full year. Government figures show that the average over-20-year-old Korean read 9.9 books in 2011, compared to Japanese readers who read about 40 that year.

"The reason of the decreased number is regarded as due to the worsening economic situation both inside and outside of the nation, decreased number of the reading public and increased book production costs," a KPA official said.

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