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Independent Publishing

Movement in South Korea's Publishing Industry Worth Noting The Age of 'Independent Publishing'




Recently in South Korea, independent bookstores are gaining increasingly more attention, especially among younger Koreans. As a testament to this, the number of independent bookstores has been on the rise after being pushed to the brink of extinction by large bookstores, online booksellers and a general decline in the number of book readers. At an event not too long ago where 20 independent bookstores introduced and sold books at Seoul's international book fair, many visitors came to see what it was all about. This section takes a look at the reasons behind this recent trend.



1. The place where 'concepts' are sold, not 'books'

The biggest advantage independent bookstores have is that they can make their own 'concept' - something difficult for larger bookstores to risk. Large bookstores aim to sell books to all readers and so they offer as many categories as they can, making it difficult for them to select one characteristic to stick to. However, independent bookstores can create their own unique concept that sets them apart from others. A good example would be the 'Saie' travel bookshop in Yeonnam-dong in Seoul. This location solely focuses on books about travel - it offers travel books as well as light reading for while on the go. The store is full of books that involve travel.


'Saie' Travel Bookshop&Coffee, an independent bookstore focusing on travel and travel-related experiences


Another concept bookstore would be the 'Mystery Union' near Sinchon train station. This bookstore offers 1,600 mystery novels, making it obvious what its concept is. Readers who visit the store are welcome to browse through a number of mystery books, like detective novels that can get your palms sweaty or those that tap readers' imaginations.



'Mystery Union', a mystery novel concept bookstore


Like these two stores, independent booksellers are now attempting to draw in customers with a firm concept, instead of selling all kinds of books like the larger bookstores do. They do not lure in readers with a vast number of books and book categories, but with their concepts and content. This also pertains to the fact that independent published works now have enough content power to attract readers.


2. Make customers 'buy' books, not 'read' them


In large bookstores, customers browse books as if they are in a library. They are aware even if they stop reading in the middle of a good book, they can come back the next day to finish it as large bookstores have ample copies of books. However, this is not the case for independent bookstores as they have a limited number of copies, due to the fact that most of the books on sale there are independent works. Once customers leave the store without buying the book they like, it is unlikely they will be able to come back and buy it after changing their mind. This is why at independent bookstores, readers usually buy books first.
This is yet another advantage independent bookstores have that has led to increased independent publications. More outlets sell their work, while actual readers buy them. Independent published works do not have International Standard Book Numbers (ISBN), so their sales statistics cannot be tracked. However, when considering the fact that the number of bookstores selling these books now stands at 60 nationwide when there were just seven a year or two ago, we can easily say that demand and supply have both grown. More stores, more books and more readers.


The roughly 60 independent bookstore locations seen on 'Bookshop Map in Korea'


3. Books that only I know


Another reason independent bookstores are popular is due to their rarity and how their visitors enjoy this exclusivity. Readers who visit large bookstores do not take pictures and post them on the Internet to show they were there. This is due to the fact that large bookstores are easily accessible by everyone. However, with independent bookstores, this changes. Visitors want to prove they had visited somewhere unique, someplace only they know. And because these bookstores have their separate concepts, this also reflects on the visitor's taste. This has led to more Koreans taking to social networks to talk about these independent bookstores and for the bookstores themselves that usually don't have a separate marketing tool, this can be a boon.
The books found at these stores are also different and are rare, compared to mainstream publications. Reading these and 'discovering' these books helps readers look unique. For instance, there are comic cooking books, where readers can learn to cook through comics, while another book offers itself as a graphic dictionary for South Korea's national treasures. These are unlike ordinary books one can easily find at large bookstores. In addition to these, there are independent works that are handwritten just because the author didn't feel like printing them, or books with just two copies - one for the author and one to sell. It all adds up to the fun found at independent bookstores, where rare and unique content can show one's taste and make readers feel special.


A comic cookbook, where recipes are in the form of comics ⓒ The Kooh 


National Treasures of Korea - a dictionary with South Korea's national treasures in the form of graphic illustrations 


The popularity of independent bookstores and their content has boosted diversity in South Korea's books and made the country's publication environment rich. A variety of themes and concepts that had been buried due to their previously unknown economic value are now out in the light, showing what South Korea's publishing industry can be capable of. Also, these unique books are now just receiving interest from foreign readers thanks to their experimental value that goes in hand with today's trends that stress the value of the individual. Hallyu has shaken up the global contents market with K-pop, K-fashion and K-food. Industry observers' hopes are high a new hallyu will be driven by K-books.


* Independent bookstores in Korea (small concept bookstores) -As of 2017 



30인의서점 (30nbooks)

51페이지 (51page)

5km 북스토어 (Cafe5Km Bookstore)

Caffe & the book 홍익서점 (Hongik Bookstore)


강원 (Kangwon)

건영문고 (Keonyeong Bookstore)

검은책방 흰책방 (BNW Bookshop)

경기서적 천천점 (Kyungki Bookshop)

경기서적 호매실점 (Kyungki Bookshop)

경희문고 (Kyunghee Mungo)

고스트북스 (Ghostbooks)

고양이서점 (Catbooks)

고양이쌤책방 (Gossaem Books)

고양이책방 슈뢰딩거 (Catbookstore Schrödinger)

고양이책방 파피루스 (Catbookstore Papyrus)

고양이책방 분홍코 (Catbookstore Boonhongko)

고요서사 (Goyo bookshop)

공간, 시도 (Don't try)

공공책방 (OOBOOKS)


공상온도 (Gongsangondo)

공씨책방 (GongC Bookshop)

구름책방 (Cloudbookshop)

국자와주걱 (Ladle and paddle)

굿라이프 (Goodlife Bookstore)

그날이오면 (Gnal)

그냥과보통 (Just Bookshop)

그림책문화공간 NORi (Picture book NORi)

글벗서점 (Geulbut Bookstore)

기억속의 서가 (Used-Book Store Bookshelf of Memories)

길담서원 (Gildam Sowon)

깨북 (Ggeebook)

꽃길책길 (Flowerroad Bookroad)

꿈꾸는책방 (Bookstore Ggumbang)

낭독서점 시집 (Sijib)

노르웨이의 숲 (Norwegianwoodbooks)

노말에이 (NOrmal A)

노원문고 (Nowon Mungo)

다시서점 (Dasi bookshop)

단골서점 (Dangol Bookstore)

달팽이 책방 (Snail Books and Tea)

대교서점 (Daekyo Books)

대륙서점 (Daeruk Books)

더북소사이어티(The Book Society)

더폴락 (The Pollack)

데이지북 (DaisyBook)

도시여행자 (City Traveler)

도어북스 (Doorbooks)

도원문고 (Dowon Books)

동네책방 개똥이네책놀이터 (Gaeddong Book Playground)

동네책방 숨 (Bookcafe Sum)

동아서점 (DongA Books)

동양서림 (Dongyang Bookstore)

딜다책방 (Dilda)

땅콩문고 (Peanut Bookshop)



라비블 (La Bible)

라이너노트 (Liner Note)

라이킷 (Like it)

라이트 라이프 (LITE LIFE)

레드북스 (Red Books)

마들렌 책방 (Madeleine Bookshop)

마들문고 (Madle Books)

마음책방 서가는 (Mindbookstore Seoganeun)


만춘서점 (Bookstore Manchun)

매거진랜드 (Magazine Land)

문우당서림 (Moonwoodang)

물레책방 (Mulae Bookstore)

미스터리유니온(Mystery Union Book)

바다의술책 (Badasulbook)

바람길 (Baramgil)

밤의 서점 (librairie de nuit)

버티고 책방 (Vertigo)

베로니카이펙트 (Veronica Effect)

별책부록서점 (Byeolcheck)

봄날의책방 (Bomnalbooks)

부비책방 (Buvibooks)

부산양서협동조합 문화공간 인 (Goodbook Coop)

북그러움 (Bookgroum)

북극서점 (Bookgeuk Books)

북바이북 (Book by Book)

북뱅크 (Bookbank)


북스토어 작은정원(Bookstore Little Garden)

북스포즈 (Books Pause)

북유럽 (Book You Love)

북카페.659 (Bookcafe.Tong659)

북티크 (Booktique)


불광문고 (Bulgwang Moongo)


사슴책방 (Deer Bookshop)

사적인서점 (Sajeokin Bookshop)

살림책방 (Sallim Books)

상상하는삐삐 (Imagining PiPi)

새한서점 (Saehan Bookstore)

샵메이커즈 (Shop Makers)

서울셀렉션 북샵 (Seoul Selection Bookshop)

서울오감도 (Seoul Ogamdo)

서울책방 (Seoul Bookstore)

서점 림 (Bookstore Lim)

서점 커뮤널테이블 (Communal Table)

서점협동조합마들 (Bookstore Cooperative Madeul)

세렌북피티 (Serenbookpity)

소년의서 (Boysbookshop)

소소밀밀 (Sosomilmil)

소소책방 (Soso Bookstore)

소소한책방 (Sosobookstore)

소심한 책방 (Sosim Bookshop)

속초 동아서점 (Bookstore Donga)

송파문고 (Songpa Books)

숨어있는책 (Hiddenbooks)

숲속작은책방 (Supsokiz)

쉬바펍 & 북스 (Shiva Pub & Books)

쉼표, 하나 (Comma1 Books)

슈가맨북스 (Sugarmanbooks)

스토리지북앤필름 (Storage Book and Film)

스튜디오 콰르텟 (Studio Quartet)

슬기서점 (Seoulgi Bookstore)

신고서점 (SINGORO)

신원문고 노량진점 (Shinwon Books - Noryangjin)

신원문고 대전점 (Shinwon Books - Daejeon)

신원문고 도농점 (Shinwon Books - Donong)

신원문고 부산점 (Shinwon Books - Busan)

심지전문서점 (Simji)

씽크빅문고 (Think Big Moongo)

아동도서좋은책 (Goodbook For Kids)

아무책방 (Amoobooks)




Written by So-jin Lim (Freelance writer)


So-jin Lim (Freelance writer)

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