Bridging the gap between books and their readers

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Bridging the gap between books and their readers

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Park Jong-won, president of Booktique, promotes the pleasure of reading books at his bookstore in Nonhyeon-dong, Gangnam District, southern Seoul. [KIM SEONG-RYONG]

Long after many of the city’s smaller bookshops have closed their doors as larger chains take over, one store is bucking the trend.

In 2014, a small bookshop opened up in Nonhyeon-dong, Gangnam District, in southern Seoul, which boasts the highest land prices in Korea. The store, Booktique, was built by Park Jong-won, 34, who wanted the place to become a space where people could gather and socialize through books.

“If big bookstore franchises are where people buy books and libraries are places where people read books, I want the Booktique to be where people ‘meet’ books,” Park said.

Park used to work as a marketing manager for a publishing company for seven years.

“Each of us was busy selling books without a stable readership,” Park said. “There were no new readers, and, of course, the books weren’t selling. The ads, which focused on best-selling books, didn’t make the readers think about books but just got people to buy them.”

Park worked on a business project for a year, trying to bring readers closer to books. His business plan was selected as a social enterprise supported by the Seoul Metropolitan Government in March 2014.

“The amount of books Korean people are reading isn’t declining, but the number isn’t steadily increasing either,” Park said. “People say they are too busy to read books because they think books are only for studying. But reading books can be a way of relieving stress, just like watching dramas or movies. People just need to make it a habit to enjoy reading books.”

Park therefore opened Booktique to shorten the distance between people and books.

The name of the shop is a combination of the words “book” and “boutique.” From the outside, the place looks like an ordinary coffeeshop, but on one side of the store, there is a variety of fashion accessories, such as scarves and leather goods, displayed together with books.

“I want this place to look different from the usual dark and shabby bookstores people often think of,” Kim said. “I want this place to be more chic, a spot where people, regardless of gender or age, come together and interact through books.”

Every week, there are about 12 book club sessions taking place at Booktique. Most of them are during the weekends, since the majority of participants work during the weekdays.

On Mondays, people share their feelings and thoughts on different books from a variety fields, and on Saturdays, they discuss books that have been made into movies, and then watch the movies. On Fridays, people stay in the store overnight, reading books and making friends.

The shop, however, isn’t occupied only by heavy readers. The major purpose of the place is to attract nonreaders and help them read books on a regular basis.

Park emphasized that the role of book club leaders is to fulfil this purpose. Many of the books sold in Booktique are those recommended by club leaders.

“Since we can’t purchase as many books as ordinary bookstores, we supply books recommended by book club leaders or approved within book clubs,” Park said.

In this way, merely by browsing the books in stock, visitors are already, in a sense, interacting with the book clubs.

In addition to this, Park is thinking of adopting a book concierge system that will guide visitors through books according to their interests and tastes, somewhat like a hotel concierge who takes care of the demands of hotel guests.

“Some book campaigns that suggest people read more seem to me like a mother nagging her children to study harder,” Park said. “Only through human-to-human interaction in a small bookstore will I find readers who truly love books.”

BY KIM NA-HAN, PECK SOO-JIN [shin.sooyeon@joongang.co.kr]

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