SEOUL, Korea, Nov 14 (Korea Bizwire) – Books allow readers to live someone else’s life and thereby broaden their minds. Even Socrates said 25 centuries ago, “Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings, so that you shall gain easily what others have labored hard for.” But today the number of people who read regularly is steadily on the decline.
According to the Korea Statistical Office, the month average spending on books per household was 19,026 won, the first time the figure went below the 20,000-won level since 2003. In another 2010 survey by the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, only 6.5 adults out of 10 have read more than one book (not including those books related to their line of work) in one full year. That number has decreased gradually from 8.7 persons in 1994. The book readership of Korea is notoriously low, with the bottom rank among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member nations and ranked 166th in all United Nations 191 countries.
Given a person’s breadth of knowledge determines her employability, the lack of book reading among Koreans must be regarded as a serious problem eroding the country’s long-term competitiveness. Realizing this, companies large and small are setting out to encourage their people to read more. They don’t just tell them “Read more book” or “Books are food for thought.” The companies are introducing a variety of measures to encourage reading such as book gift giving, awarding employees who submit good book reviews, and organizing book clubs.
For example, consumer goods company Aekyung famous for brands like Kerasys and LiQ has been active in so-called “book reading management” under which it has spent since 2007 100 million won a year for book clubs, author lectures, and book sharing events. Aekyung’s book love was largely owing to its vice chairman Ahn Yong-chan who is known in and outside the company for giving away books that he thinks useful for his employees. The company set an unusual corporate goal of becoming the world’s No. 1 company in book reading management, as well as the world’s No. 1 in consumer goods.
NH Nonghyup Bank is also trying hard to change its organization through the diffusion of book reading culture. The bank has in place a program called “NH Fill-you-up Book Club” in which it suggests 60 recommended books in the areas of economics, business, self-help, and humanities to its people and encourage them to share ideas based on the books. Intended to nurture leaders with creative minds, the program has received rave reviewers from the employees.
SK Engineering & Construction is also active in disseminating book reading culture, thereby helping the employees improve themselves. In March this year the company opened an in-house library on the 24th floor of its main office building with 4,000 books and 200 DVD titles. The library regularly awards employees who have taken out books or DVDs of the library and posted book reviews on its corporate Intranet. It also purchases an average of 50 new books a month at the request of the workers.
In response to the rising demand for books by major corporations, Kyobo Books, Korea’s major bookstore chain, has launched a service called “Reading Tree” that helps the corporate effort to encourage the habit of reading to their people. The service makes recommendations on books according to business type, employee level, and special goals set by the company. In addition, it provides customized services including book discussion sessions and book reading management leadership programs.
Currently about 100 companies including OurHome, AmorePacific, and Kyobo Life are taking advantage of Kyobo’s Reading Tree service. For example, food company OurHome is offering a reading program to its employees with the assistance of Kyobo Books. Kyobo Life, an affiliate of Kyobo Group that also owns Kyobo Books, has adopted Sam3 e-book service since May this year. All employees with Kyobo Life can download up to three e-books on their Sam3 e-book reader and read each book for up to 180 days.
Even though most companies are interested in book reading management, still there are many more who think book reading and business are two strange bedfellows. To address this lack of positive perception, the Publication Industry Promotion Agency of Korea has recently published a guideline for job interviews asking about the candidates’ book reading experience. Consisting of seven different tests, the guideline is useful for companies to find out the job applicant’s reading level, creative aptitude, thinking ability, and the like. The agency is currently in talks with large private and public corporations to widen the base for the guideline.