South Korean publishers target Abu Dhabi book fair

Korean executives see scope for big deals in emerging UAE market.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – March 15, 2011: Kim Dong Hwi, CEO of Yeowon Media, and Seung Hyun Moon, director of Korean Publishers Association, left to right, are interviewed at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair about translating Korean children's books translated to Arabic.  Last year, 130 Korean children's books were translated to Arabic.   ( Andrew Henderson / The National )

ABU DHABI // The South Korean book publishing executive Kim Dong-hwi has been betting on the UAE children's book market for years.

He regularly attends the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, which opened yesterday at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.

Mr Kim's Seoul-based company, Yeowom Media, has already seen 130 book titles translated into Arabic and distributed in the UAE.

But for the first time this year, he was not alone in marketing Korean books at the event.

The South Korean book market was a major focus of this year's fair, with an area sectioned off for that country's publishers, and a panel designated to Korean authors and poets.

Event organisers and publishers say there is growing collaboration between industries in both nations.

Books are the best medium for cultural understanding, they say, amid recent steps by both countries to strengthen political and business ties.

"Publishers recognise that there is an untapped market in the Middle East, the UAE especially," said Seung Hyun-moon, the director of the Korean Publishers Association.

"With all of the other deals going on between the two countries, this could be another way to exchange ideas."

Matchmaking sessions have been organised between Korean writers and publishers and their Arab counterparts to create networking opportunities, said Monika Krauss, the general manager of Kitab, the joint venture between the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (Adach) and the Frankfurt Book Fair that manages the capital's event.

While most of the books currently being translated and distributed are children's books, there is also a market for adult books, she said. One discussion forum included the award-winning author Kim Joo-young, the political commentator Yi Mun-yol and the poet Kim Min-jeong.

"In light of the co-operation between the two governments, it is very, very important to develop ways for people to know each other, and people know each other through books," Ms Krauss said.

The UAE and South Korea have built heavily on diplomatic relations. The UAE is also one of the largest suppliers of oil to South Korea.

The South Korean president Lee Myung-bak visited the UAE this week, accepting an award for environmental leadership from Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. Mr Lee also attended a groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of nuclear power plants.

A South Korean consortium has won a US$20.4 billion (Dh74.91bn) contract to build four nuclear plants in the UAE.

Adnoc, meanwhile, has recently awarded contracts for oil and gas infrastructure development to Korean companies.

Also this week, the UAE-Korea Business Council held an inaugural meeting in Abu Dhabi to foster commercial ties aimed at boosting economic growth.

On the book front, Kalima - Adach's translation arm - has been translating and distributing Korean books in the UAE for the past two years.

This year's book fair "celebrates the Korean book, as the access to the Korean book market and its own characteristics and mechanisms of action [are] worth paying attention and interesting," said Jumaa Abdullah al Qubaisi, director of the fair and deputy director general of the National Library at Adach.

Park Soo-young, the international rights manager for the book publisher Kyowon, said he saw a lot of promise in the UAE market. His company hopes to translate several series to Arabic, including the Musical Stories children's book series and biographies of influential figures such as the artist Leonardo da Vinci.

"When I come to Abu Dhabi, I see very few books for children in the book stores," he said. "This is a chance not only for us to offer that, but to extend our ideas so that maybe that market can grow here."