North Korean state-owned enterprises have been busy printing a range of 2018 calendars with a variety of themes, including many that are not focused on glorification of the Kim family regime.
“You can see a shift in public attitude towards the calendars. As the years have passed, calendars depicting propaganda for Ryomyong Street, orphanages, and Mt. Paektu have become less and less popular,” a source in Pyongyang told Daily NK on December 19.
Glorification calendars have thus seen declining sales over the last few years, resulting in lower prices in the markets. In contrast, calendars featuring movie stars became popular last year, while food, ceramics, and landscape-themed calendars are proving popular this year.
The source said he believes the change reveals how public sentiment is turning against Kim Jong Un. Instead of purchasing calendars containing what they see as deceptive propaganda, people are preferring those that feature more relatable subjects.
For this reason, state-owned publishing companies like the Foreign Languages Publishing House and the Korea Stamp Company have had no choice but to respond to customer demand and request approval to produce calendars free of propaganda. They explain that the propaganda material does not earn as much money for the government.
“In this day and age, even the Pyongyang Publishing House must respond to customer demand or risk falling behind the competition,” the source said.
These publishing companies have also benefited from recent developments in transportation and delivery. Calendars are typically printed in Pyongyang by various publishers and first appear in the Pyongyang markets, but are then distributed nationwide through wholesalers.
“The 2018 calendars began showing up in the markets in early December, and soon became available across the country. Every year, Pyongyang wholesalers are able to corner the market on calendar distribution due to the fact that they are produced in their city,” a source in South Pyongan Province added.
“The donju (newly-affluent middle class) acquire calendars directly from the publishers in Pyongyang and then sell them to merchants in the local markets. Traders and wholesalers from other parts of the country purchase thousands of copies here, then use trains, buses, and taxi services to distribute them for resale in other markets.”
While district government offices also offer simpler calendars to residents for only 100 won, these days many are reportedly too embarrassed to hang these in their homes, opting instead for the new calendars.
If consumers are dissatisfied with both of these options, they can purchase imported Chinese digital calendars in the market. However, these are often too expensive for all but the wealthiest of residents, retailing for around $50-70 USD.