The major Korean bookstores

Written by on September 21, 2011 in Arts, Brands & Products, Lifestyle, Travel

“Autumn is the season for reading,” the Korean saying goes. This isn’t simply because it becomes gloriously sunny and cool, which is perfect weather to become engrossed in a book on a park bench, but because autumn is the season for harvest, when grain and fruit are aplenty to feast upon. As we feed our bodies with nature’s bounty, it is said that we should feed our minds as well to balance the yin and yang of body and soul. Here are several places where you can find “nourishment for the soul”:

Kyobo (교보)
Kyobo’s main store in Seoul’s Gwanghwamun has been a landmark for decades. The store went through major renovations last year and reopened with a more modern and functional layout. Along with their Gangnam branch, Kyobo has 24 stores nationwide.
Kyobo also manages Hot Tracks, a stationery and music shop that shares space with the stores. They have a large selection of foreign books available and those you can’t find in store may be ordered via their custom service counter. Getting a membership card (which has no annual fee) gives you mileage points with every purchase and can be used like cash. Membership also gives you a discount on most of the foreign books so it’s definitely worth signing up. Kyobo also has an online store as well.

Young Poong (영풍)
YP Books was established in 1992 and quickly set itself up as Kyobo’s main rival. The store introduced a new customer-friendly layout at that time and changed the concept of what a bookstore should look like. The main store in Seoul’s Jongno particularly has spacious corridors, a very large stationery section, and a gift mall. YP Books has 22 stores nationwide and an online store. YP Books also has a membership card with which you can accumulate mileage points.

Bandi & Luni’s (반디앤루니스)
Bandi comes from the Korean word bandiburi (반디불이) which means firefly, and Luni derives from the Latin word luna (moon). These two words come from the idiom ‘hyeongseoljigong’ (형설지공, 螢雪之功) which means “to accomplish by firefly light and snow,” describing the efforts of a poor scholar studying by the light of the fireflys and the moonlight reflected in the snow. Korea is a nation obsessed with studying and books, so the store’s name is a brilliant play on this. The store’s character is naturally, a firefly. The store has eight branches in Seoul, with the main store situated at COEX Mall, and branches in Ilsan and Ulsan. Their online store also carries a wide range of products besides books. I personally find their selection of English fiction the best among the major bookstores, as they do not stock only the news-making bestsellers but also the works of lesser known authors.
B&L have a membership card with which you can accumulate mileage points; they are also affiliated with various banks’ credit cards where you can get a discount, so check out the information at the cashier before payment.

In a country as small as Korea where you can buy something online and have the product delivered the very same day, it is inevitable that online stores will flourish. It’s the same for bookstores. The major bookstore chains run their own online stores, but there are other online bookstores that do not have offline stores:

Launched in 1999, Yes 24 is Korea’s first online bookstore. Long know-how of the business has made their site more than just a store; there are extensive introductions to authors and their work, a well-established webzine, and a database of reader reviews. The site also sells gifts, CDs & DVDs, cosmetics, and various tickets. Site membership offers many benefits. Foreigners may join the site with an official alien registration number.

Aladin (the different spelling is deliberate) is another online bookstore that opened in 1999 and which was built on the power of readers’ reviews. Back then, most book reviews were done by professional critics in the newspapers and literary magazines; reading honest and blunt reviews from real readers was quite the eye-opener. Aladin has continuously kept readers’ participation as the core of their business and the site offers a blogging platform called “Aladin’s Library” and also a separate section for budding authors to publish their work online, to offer a channel for them to meet readers, and also maybe earn a chance to get published officially. Members get various benefits. For non-Koreans, you do not need an alien registration number to join.

Libro is run by the childrens’ educational service and publishing company Daekyo. Consequently, their main divisions on the site are: Korean books, foreign books, children’s books, and comics. Not surprisingly, their children’s section is quite extensive with detailed categories to easily find the exact book you want. Their comics section is equally as extensive, covering a wide range from light webtcomic books to graphic novels. The site also has a webzine and a community zone for blogs and discussions. You can also buy music, DVDs, movie tickets, and gifts. You can accumulate mileage points with membership; for foreigners you need your alien registration number.

Interpark is not only an online bookstore; the online mall carries a vast array of products. Their book section has gradually been getting better and better the past few years. One of the advantages that Interpark has is one-stop shopping; after filling your shopping cart with the latest fashions that you’ve been eyeing, you can just click over to the book section and continue shopping without interruption or logging in again.

The store breaks down the bestsellers in detail, not only by category and period, but also by age group and new releases. It’s interesting to see what other people are buying and reading; for example, the top 10 bestsellers for teens are all study guides (how very Korean); while for the 30-somethings they are children’s books, confirming that mothers are mostly doing the book shopping.

There are a lot of events and benefits that come with membership; an alien registration number is required for non-Koreans to join.

Although all of the sites mentioned above allow foreigner membership, unfortunately the site registration forms are in Korean only so if you’re not sure of your Korean skills, be sure to have someone nearby who is when you register.

About the Author

Suzy Chung

Multilingual editor, writer, and translator. Coffee addict, bookworm, art junkie, foodie, oenophile, and a billion other things. I tend to talk a lot. @suzyinseoul