중앙데일리

Book cafes let you read, drink and be merry

Apr 11,2016
According to recent research done by the Korean Publishing Research Institute, 74.4 percent of Koreans read more than one book last year. Here, the definition of book excludes comic books, textbooks, magazines and reference books.

The figure is not too bad compared to the OECD average of 76.5 percent. But the truth is, according to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the majority of that percentage comes from elementary, middle and high school students, while the percentage of Korean adults reading books is notably low among OECD countries.

“The research states that 94.9 percent of students read more than one book in 2015,” said Park Wi-jin, director general for cultural infrastructure policy at the Culture Ministry. “But only 65.3 percent of adults read more than one book last year, which is a figure that’s substantially low when comparing only adults in other OECD countries. It’s a problem as the percentage of adults reading books has been decreasing over the years, not to mention dropping rates of adults purchasing books as well as visiting libraries.”

Perhaps a recent revival of book cafes and the emergence of trendy book bars where visitors can read and purchase books while drinking coffee, tea or even alcohol, will help reverse the trend.

Book cafes are not a new concept. In 2008, the franchise coffee shop Caffe Bene opened branches one after another across the country, promoting itself as the country’s first trendy book cafe, although it has since lost the focus on books.

From top: A Drink of Book After Work in Mapo; Booktique in Gangnam; and Your Mind in Mapo, are among the book cafes that have opened in Seoul. [A DRINK OF BOOK AFTER WORK, BOOKTIQUE and YOUR MIND]
The ones that have begun to emerge on the market recently are quite different from the old book cafes. If previous book cafes were coffee shops furnished with dozens of best-selling books for customers to read over a cup of coffee, book cafes today, according to insiders, are more of a space where book-lovers can come to not only to read specially selected books over drinks, but also meet people, hold book club meetings and so on.

“Usually, when we think of a book cafe, it’s a space where you go to drink coffee or tea and read a book that’s displayed there,” said Kim Jong-hyun, owner of A Drink of Book After Work in Daeheung-dong, Mapo District. “For such book cafes, the function of the cafe is the main agent. But we are quite different.”

Kim opened his so-called “book store slash cafe slash bar” last April because he always wanted a space, as a consumer, where he could “casually go read books, buy one if I liked the book, listen to good music, meet people, drink coffee or sometimes beer if I feel like one.”

“You could say that the book cafes that have emerged recently are similar to this one,” said Kim. “They are small in size but very trendy, have their own style they pursue, their own genre of books they want to recommend, and atmosphere they want to offer to their consumers.”

Seventy percent of books at Kim’s cafe are independent books, and the rest are well-established books that Kim has read and wants to recommend to his visitors.

“I wanted provide a space for independent writers without publishers,” said Kim. “For popular ones, since they get sold at large bookstores, I only pick out ones I’ve read and want to recommend.”

Although some book cafe owners may not like when visitors pick up brand new books to thumb through and crease the pages, Kim said he doesn’t mind when visitors read new books.

“I believe the quality of a book doesn’t diminish in value just because it has creases or stains, as long as the content is visible,” he said.

Shin Hyun-hoon, who owns a book cafe called Mr. Vertigo in Ilsan, Gyeonggi, describes his store as “a small bookstore that sells novels and beer.” Shin used to work at an online book retailer but decided to open up his own store last March out of his love for novels. The name of his cafe comes from a novel by American author Paul Auster.

“There are not many people visiting my bookstore or a book cafe if you like to call it, but I really enjoy meeting my regulars and recommending them the books I’ve read,” Shin said.

One of the reasons regular customers frequent such book cafes is because they like the books selected by the owners or managers. Usually, the cafes only have few genres of books in stock, and many of them are not available at large bookstores.

On Wednesday afternoon, Lee Jung-hyun, a woman in her 50s from Seoul, was reading an illustrated book while drinking a cup of coffee on the fourth floor of Shinsegae Department Store in Seocho District, southern Seoul. Last May, the large bookstore chain Bandi & Luni’s opened a small book cafe by collaborating with a coffee shop Bean Brothers inside the department store. Since the floor is dedicated to women’s apparel, the books at the cafe are limited to the categories of design, art, fashion, beauty and other genres that might appeal to passers-by.

“I heard about this book cafe so I made time to visit here today,” said Lee. “It’s very convenient for people like me who only look for certain kinds of books. I like reading books on art and illustrations, and when I go to large bookstores I feel very tired as there are so many people and so many books. Since books that are to my taste are already selected for me here, in a nice and quiet environment, I am really enjoying my time browsing through and reading them with a cup of coffee.”

Above: Bookstore chain Bandi & Luni’s last May opened a small book cafe in collaboration with Bean Brothers coffee shop at the Shinsegae Department Store in Seocho District. Right: Cafe Comma is a book cafe in Hongdae, northwestern Seoul, operated by the publishing company Munhak Dongnae. [YIM SEUNG-HYE, JOONGANG ILBO]
Bandi & Luni’s, which operates a large bookstore on the basement floor, opened up this smaller book cafe in an effort to stay abreast of the new trend.

“I think the trend is coming from Europe,” said Lee Seong-kyu, manager of the Bandi & Luni’s book cafe. “We don’t focus on selling books here but offering a place and atmosphere for people to sit down, have some quiet time, rest and read books they like and purchase one if they wish.”

Kim Seong-shin, a publishing critic, says the revival of book cafe-style bookstores is partly due to the nationwide fixed book price system that was adopted last year in an effort to create a healthier ecosystem of the country’s publishing industry while helping independent bookstores stay in business.

“Small bookstores are finding their own way of appealing to their customers, some by offering special drinks, selecting special books, organizing book clubs and so on,” said Kim. “It seems like only the beginning of the trend, and more and more book cafe-style bookstores will emerge with their own styles.”

BY YIM SEUNG-HYE [sharon@joongang.co.kr]


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