Used books are catching on in cafes, too

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Used books are catching on in cafes, too


Many book cafes, run by local publishers, are thriving in Seoul and Gyeonggi. Cafe Comma, left, and The House with Book Smell are both operated by publishing companies. Provided by each cafe

Fancy telephones on coffee tables were mandatory items at coffee shops in Korea back in ’90s, when everyone was carrying pagers. In the mid-2000s, coffee shops couldn’t attract customers without huge pools of tiny doctor fish that would bite the dead skin off their feet.

Today, every coffee shop wants a stack of books on the table for customers to peruse. At least 300 so-called “book cafes” are now thriving in Seoul alone. A look around major Web search engines will return hundreds of results.

The trend is particularly interesting as it’s not the bookworm around the corner opening a shop for customers who love to read but rather the publishing companies themselves, looking to connect to their consumers.

“One reason we’re doing this is to diversify our sources of income, but that’s not all,” said Jang Euddeum, the CEO of Cafe Comma, which is operated by local publishing company Munhakdongne. “Publishing companies are manufacturers. So, we generally have no means through which to meet our customers in person. We rely only on anonymous figures about book sales. For this reason, it is kind of a dream come true for us to watch people read our books in front of our own eyes.”

The book cafes run by publishing companies have a professional feel and offer an almost library-like experience for those who want to curl up with good books.

But don’t think just because they’re run by big companies that they’re all the same. Each book cafe has its own environment, with some emphasizing the drinks over the books and others doing the opposite.

The Korea JoongAng Daily selected three book cafes that are appropriate for a weekend visit.

Grida Kkum

Book cafe Grida Kkum, which means “painting one’s dream” in Korean, is suitable for those who love to read books in a tranquil environment. No one talks here; they just read. For this reason, you can even hear a pin drop.

“I don’t know why it’s so quiet. We don’t even have a sign telling people to keep their voices down, but everyone just seems to read,” said one of the staff members. “This cafe is well known for its tranquil atmosphere, so people don’t even think about chatting with their friends.”

Each visitor to the cafe must order at least one drink, although a range of snacks are also up for sale, such as sandwiches and desserts. The cafe also has a variety of reading materials from novels and magazines to books specializing in design.

Located in Hapjeong-dong, western Seoul, (02) 3143-7650

Cafe Comma

Cafe Comma is starkly different from Grida Kkum. Run by publishing company Munhakdongne, it has about 3,000 books, but it doesn’t want to be defined by a library-like atmosphere, according to Jang, the CEO.

“People who love books can read them anywhere, but we want people to come here even if they want to do more than read,” Jang said.

The cafe’s huge bookshelves, which stretch from the bottom of the first floor to the ceiling of the second floor, are certainly a sight in themselves that visitors would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in the city.

Located in Seogyo-dong, Mapo, central Seoul, (02) 323-8555

The House with Book Smell

Most book cafes located downtown target people in their 20s and 30s. But those located in Paju, Gyeonggi, near Paju Book City, where many publishing companies settle down, tend to focus more on attracting entire families to their locations. One of them is The House with Book Smell, run by Sakyejul Publishing. From children’s picture books to self-help books and novels for parents, there’s something for anyone looking to put up their feet for a few hours. A single beverage, including coffee or traditional Korean tea, costs 1,000 won, and all proceeds are donated to small libraries across the nation.

In the same spirit, the book cafe also offers many cultural programs that it organizes on top of its everyday business operations.

One such event in a monthly book concert. There, newly released books are introduced by their authors, who are accompanied by music to create the atmosphere of a small concert.

Located within Paju Book City, Gyeonggi, (031) 955-8597

By Sung So-young[]
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