Go Search Go Contents Go to bottom site map

(Yonhap Feature) Mom-and-pop bookshops on the rise in the digital age

2017/10/13 09:00

Article View Option

By Park Sang-soo

SEOUL, Oct. 13 (Yonhap) -- For Jung Ji-yeon, a 30-something office worker, dropping by a bookstore near the popular university district of Hongdae, western Seoul, is kind of a routine, but it's important for her to visit the bookshop to close out her often stressful day.

Like others, she used to order the books she wanted to read online, but she recently decided to go to a bookstore in person, as she says she feels something "real" and has a more personal experience shopping for what she wants.

Jung says that, unlike high street bookstores, the mom-and-pop outlet, called ThanksBooks, is not big or spacious but offers something its bigger rivals just cannot.

"This space ... is comfortable for me and not busy, so I can focus on reading books and can buy the thing I am looking for," she says. "I do not buy a book every time I come here, but it's really good for me to come."

A customer selects a book at ThanksBooks, a bookstore in the Hondage area. (Yonhap) A customer selects a book at ThanksBooks, a bookstore in the Hondage area. (Yonhap)

ThanksBooks is one of various neighborhood outlets benefiting from the resurgence of small and independent bookstores, which have emerged as a haven for real booklovers.

"Our shop strives to be a culture bookstore, a kind of community center. Visitors can stay here for a long time with a cup of coffee. They are buyers, as well as browsers," says Son Jung-seung, a manager at ThanksBooks.

The bookshop has about 3,000 books, but it's not enough to meet customers' needs, according to Son. "Around 8,000 books would be good, but we are trying to figure out what books are the most appealing to our customers," she says.

When it opened in 2011, ThanksBooks had a hard time, just like other independent and small bookshops, but it quickly went viral as its customers kept coming back. The shop even draws in visitors from remote regions. "They are not looking for a bargain. Instead, they are looking for a unique and differentiated experience," Son says.

Books adorn the shelves at ThanksBooks, a bookstore in the Hongdae area. (Yonhap) Books adorn the shelves at ThanksBooks, a bookstore in the Hongdae area. (Yonhap)

Years ago, small and indie booksellers were steamrolled by rising numbers of bigger and well-established bookshops armed with big money and robust online retail operations.

Indeed, the country's publication industry has been on a constant slide. From 3,589 in 2003, the number of bookstores in the country shrunk by more than a thousand to 2,331 in 2013. It is currently down 9.6 percent from 2,557 in 2011, according to a biennial report published by the Korea Federation of Bookstore Association.

It was mainly the giant booksellers, online and offline, such as Yes24, Youngpoong Bookstore and Kyobo Book Center that pushed small bookshops out of the market. The trend has led to cheap books everywhere -- on the internet and even on supermarket shelves.

But after years of struggling with stiffer competition, the number of offline bookstores in the country has steadily increased, with that of small and indie bookshops also rising.

The country's big three retailers have opened 30 outlets across the country in the past two years, and Aladin, an online book retailer, also added 17 new offline shops last year. Yes24 has joined the race to open new offline stores, as well.

Dozens of books are displayed on the shelves at Kyobo Book Center, a high-street bookstore, in Hapjeong, western Seoul. (Yonhap) Dozens of books are displayed on the shelves at Kyobo Book Center, a high-street bookstore, in Hapjeong, western Seoul. (Yonhap)

According to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the number of newly opened mom-and-pop bookstores increased by 173 between 2015 and 2016.

The rise of such offline bookstores in part coincides with an increase in new shopping malls, department stores and large retail outlets that want to draw more customers by offering spaces where people can read.

But neighborhood and indie bookstores are also increasing their presence with differentiated services.

In 2015, just three or four indie bookshops existed in the country, but since last year, the number has swelled to over 60, a huge chunk of which has taken root in trendy areas like the Hongdae area.

As small neighborhood bookshops tend to have specific themes of their own, such as fiction-only or travel book-only, they often attract people with similar tastes and interests.

Personalized recommendations for customers and gaining patrons' loyalty are successful ways of doing business for small and indie bookshops, according to Lee Kyu-taek, the owner of Magazine Land, another bookshop near Hongdae.

"We are able to better know customers' tastes and interests. That's not something chain bookstores can offer," Lee says.

Seventeen years ago, Magazine Land started as a small bookshop selling foreign magazines, but expanded its portfolio into academic and specialty publications.

"My customers, mostly professional workers, return here because they cannot find what they want at other outlets," says Lee. "It's a pleasure to serve them like that."

  

Dozens of magazines and books are laid out in front of Magazine Land, an independent bookshop in the Hongdae area. (Yonhap) Dozens of magazines and books are laid out in front of Magazine Land, an independent bookshop in the Hongdae area. (Yonhap)

Many indie bookstores are also in the process of becoming spaces where visitors can do many other things besides reading and buying books. They are adapting to the changing landscape.

DesignBook, a bookshop specializing in books on design near Seogyo neighborhood in western Seoul, runs a cafe and seminar rooms for students and office workers to earn a steady revenue.

The popularity of indie and small bookshops is helped in part by the Internet, the very thing that helped wipe them out, but which has now become a key tool for many small and independent bookshops to survive by connecting them with customers through social media and email newsletters.

The Korea Federation of Bookstore Association recently opened a portal site (www.booktown.or.kr) to introduce neighborhood bookstores to avid book lovers, and ThanksBooks also promotes a mobile application called Funnyplan, whose updates are made by users who recommend bookstores they have visited.

sam@yna.co.kr

(END)

angloinfo.com