[EDITORIALS]Removed from the books

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[EDITORIALS]Removed from the books

Another cherished landmark now seems part of history. Chongno Book Center was the symbol of Korea's publishing industry for most of the 95 years it was in business. It has closed its doors after a default on obligations Tuesday. The failure comes as a shock especially because we have been seeing a renewal of the book industry. The term "New Renaissance" is being bandied about in the publishing world.

In general, Chongno's collapse comes as no surprise. The industry long has been resigned to the bookstore's fate. Blanketed in the comfort of its past glory, Chongno failed to adapt to change, especially to a greater customer-focused industry. It has been labeled the "inconvenient bookstore," with its premises standing vertically on more levels than bookbuyers are willing to navigate, and added to this challenge, there was no parking lot. Over the years, the layout remained unchanged, as fossilized as the unresolved conflict within the owning family, which discouraged outside investment. And then labor conflict riddled the business to the core, tarnishing the store's reputation as the "academy of publishing industry marketing corps." Grasping for a reed of life, it finally was pushed off the cliff by late-coming giant bookstores.

What appears to be Chongno's demise shows painfully that the old way of operating a bookstore -- simply keeping books stocked on the shelves -- no longer is enough to assure survival. This sad affair also raises questions about the survival of regional bookstores at a time when online bookstores and giant, multi-branch outlets have become a fact of life. Lessons can be gleaned from bookstores in other countries that offer more than a place to buy books. In many foreign countries bookstores are places to relax and read, and many offer unique features, such as an inventory of volumes on specific topics or used and rare books. But most of all bookstores must become cathedrals where faithful readers find comfort and pursue religiously the love of books at home, in school and throughout society in general.

In Korea, where there is a nearly complete absence of public libraries, regional bookstores are precious spaces where people and books come together. Sadly, such spaces are not expanding, but instead continue to dwindle.
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