One day in April, around sunset, it suddenly starts to rain. A girl enters a small space that looks like a bookstore to take shelter from the rain. There is no one else, and only the owner of the bookstore is quietly reading in a wooden chair. Books densely packed in a small space surround the girl and soft jazz music flows out of the speaker. The smell of burning incense is in the air. She slowly looks through the books on the shelves until the rain stops.
The rise of new types of bookstores
More and more consumers are visiting independent bookstores with a calm and tidy atmosphere. An independent bookstore refers to a small bookstore decorated according to the taste of the owners without relying on large capital or large distribution networks. Many independent bookstores sell independent publications made by small publishers as well as additional offerings. First of all, there are many places that sell design props and stationery besides selling books. Some places offer a space to read one's purchased books and sell drinks and refreshments like a cafe. Also, they serve as a complex cultural space. They provide a unique experience to consumers by hosting workshops, lectures and book talks. As such, they are different from the general kind of franchise bookstores that sell books at a rapid pace in partnership with famous publishers. According to a 2020 survey of the independent bookstore search platform Neighborhood Bookstore, the number of independent bookstores increased from only 97 in 2015 to 634 in 2020. It shows that as demand increased, so did their number, and various forms of independent bookstores are emerging.
There are many independent bookstores that attract people not only in Korea but also abroad. McNally Jackson, based in Manhattan, seeks to discover the true value of books. It rebels against the traditional way of selling books that focuses on earning distribution revenue. The CEO here envisioned a bookstore to go up against Amazon, which leads the U.S. book market. Currently, it has become an open space where readers, authors and editors can gather. Also, Utrecht, located in Tokyo, provides various art designs that are difficult to find on the market. It mainly deals with independent publications produced by authors in small quantities and fashion-related books. In addition to selling and distributing books, it also carries out various activities such as co-hosting the Tokyo Art Book Fair. Even overseas, independent bookstores serve as a kind of cultural space.
Would you like to explore the attractions of those places?
This SMT reporter visited three independent bookstores located in Seoul to fully feel the atmosphere. The first place is Thanks Books located between Hapjeong Station and Sangsu Station. The curations gathered neatly by subject are clear. This space is relatively large and books in various fields such as food, film, travel, architecture, and literature are displayed. Every week a Book of the Week is displayed, and few books were presumed to be independent publications. There are more popular books here compared to the other bookstores that this reporter visited. The next place is Bookstore Yeonhee located right next to Hongik University Station. When this reporter visited, a lecture on writing a fairy tale book was happening. There are many books about travel, destinations and writing. Independent publications and short essays that are difficult to find in regular bookstores are seen. In addition, the owner's messages were all over the books on display. Bookstore Yeonhee is the quietest and most cozy of the three bookstores. It is a place where people can feel the ambience of an old bookstore. The last place is the rotary branch of Storage Book and Film in Huam-dong. Storage Book and Film has a total of three branches: two in Huam-dong and one in Yongsan-dong. There were many distinctive books, art books and magazines, which stimulated the senses. Among the three bookstores, this one had the most unusual and non-mainstream books. Book-related miscellaneous goods, postcard books, and eco-bags are also displayed. The SMT reporter thought it was a place that fits with the ambience of Huam-dong.
After visiting some bookstores, this SMT reporter was able to clearly grasp the three attractions of those places. First, their book curations show consumers a new world. In large bookstores, vast amounts of books are accurately classified by field. However, in independent bookstores, the owners select the books to display on the shelves, so books that are not usually noticed can be promoted more. Secondly, they provide readers with a wide range of cultural experiences. There are many places where book sales happen alongside events such as book-related special lectures, reading meetings and writing meetings. Creating a culture that connects readers and authors can be cited as one of their plus points. Finally, people can have a quiet time there where they can focus only on the books and themselves. Unlike online bookstores, they can purchase books after experiencing them in their hands. While large bookstores are crowded with people, they can quietly browse and choose books here. The simplicity and coziness of the place is good for calming our minds.
A world where various voices can attract attention
The world of books is endless and there are many stories that we are missing. Independent bookstores pay attention to such stories. They focus on culture and daily life stories such as travel, food and movies, not economic management books, self-development books, and examination textbooks. Some people may still find bookstores with various and numerous kinds of books more convenient. However, if you experience the unique atmosphere of some bookstores like this reporter, you will soon be fascinated by the philosophy there and will not want to escape.