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[Weekender] Subscription plans bring readers back to books

Monthly book delivery and unlimited e-books plans pave the way for new reading experiences

Nov. 15, 2018 - 16:33 By Lee Tae-hee
The rate at which Koreans read books regularly is hitting new lows each year. Only 60 percent of adults read at least one book in 2017, down 5.4 percent from 2015, according to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

The decline in book readers comes as no surprise, as people are drawn to activities with more instant gratification, such as games, social media and video streaming.

One hopeful sign for authors, publishers and booksellers is the emergence of new services built upon what is called the subscription economy. 

A gift-wrapped book is sent to users of Flybook’s subscription service, Flybook Plus. Using small presents, the startup does all it can to help people read books. (Flybook)

A case in point is Flybook, whose slogan is “Helping you to read a book every month.” The startup offers a 15,000 won ($13) monthly book subscription service named Flybook Plus, under which users get one book a month. The service, started in 2014, is designed to deliver books to users regularly via a convenient format.

“The need for subscription services started from the idea of someone else doing your daily chores in a way that helps you enjoy the convenience,” said Kim Jun-hyun, the CEO of Flybook, in an interview with The Korea Herald.

“We all have such experiences as getting milk or newspapers delivered. Likewise, book subscription services have become popular because they make it easier for people to read books.”

Kim said the subscription service could also help people acquire reading habits.

“The majority of people agree on the importance of reading books,” Kim said. “It’s just that people consider it bothersome or don’t know what to read. If such physical limitations are eliminated through the convenience of subscription services, we believe more people will start reading books.”

In a bid to make reading a more enjoyable experience, Flybook has built its own curation function into the subscription model. 

Part of their delivery service, Flybook delivers curated books to their customers every month. (Flybook)

Instead of the regular model in which customers select which titles they want to receive regularly, Flybook is doing the job for its paid subscribers. The company analyzes the data about users’ gender, age, occupation, interests and moods in order to come up with a list of books that better match their preferences.

“About 70,000 books are being published every year,” Kim said. “Everyone has different preferences and finding the right book out of so many titles is time consuming. Our subscription service offers curation that helps users find the most interesting books to read.”

Kim said there were already positive signs from the book subscription service. Some users gave feedback that they now read regularly, or even go to the bookstore in person to buy more books, he said.

Subscription business is not limited to physical books, as a growing number of readers are embracing the e-book format for better mobility and convenience.

Amazon Kindle launched its unlimited subscription for its e-book titles in 2014. Korean e-book providers also followed suit, with Ridibooks and Kyobo Book Store kicking off similar subscription plans for local book lovers.

For busy Koreans, e-book subscription services offer greater accessibility. People who find it difficult to read books due to a lack of time appreciate the great library of e-book titles instantly available on smartphones. 

Subscribing to monthly e-book services, people can get access to limitless supply of books. (Yonhap)

“It takes an hour and a half subway commute for me to go to school, and reading e-books is great for killing time,” said Park Ji-yoon, who has signed up for monthly subscription with Ridibooks, one of the frontrunners in e-book providers in Korea. “It’s difficult to carry around books on top of heavy school supplies, but an e-book application basically weighs nothing.”

Park said that unlimited access to Ridibooks selection for a monthly fee helped her read more books.

“It might sound miserly, but after paying a monthly fee, I wanted to make full use of it,” she said, laughing. “After my first book, I kept searching for more books so it would be worth the money I spent. Before I knew it, I read seven books in just one month.”

For Korean users, the appeal of unlimited access through a book subscription service cannot be ignored as it is a key driver behind the rapid rise of customer use.

Flybook’s Kim Jun-hyun said that readers were drawn to the clear advantage of book subscription services.

“Once you sign up, you get access to a whole library of books. Then, even those who never read books begin to read books, not just one book a month but more books out of a huge library.”

By Lee Tae-hee (