It has been 19 years since the emergence of Internet Kyobo, the first online bookstore in Korea, in 1997. Their remarkable selling record, which has probably had an influence on a lot of online bookstores emerging afterward, could be described as two people earning 400,000 won per day. Nowadays, some books are brought from the bookstore by the warm hands of a bookloving owner and some are delivered. How will book purchasing change in the future? Will the current state last? Or will delivered books eventually take up the entire portion of book selling?
So-called ‘offline bookstores’ are having hard times as online bookstores such as Yes24 and Aladdin Communication have become popular because of their convenience, low prices, and lots of sales events. According to the 2012 Korean Publication Yearbook (one of the reference annals), internet bookstores made up an increasingly high portion of total
book sales. In 2002, Internet bookstores only made up 9.7% of total sales but reached up to 40.4% in 2011. For 8 years, from 2003 to 2011, 495 physical bookstores were put out of business, and about 1,700 stores are left now. It means that the number of physical bookstores has dropped by 22.03%. Another statistic shows that more than 70 percent of the stores have been put out of business in the past 20 years. The decreasing number of people who read and buy books also makes the offline bookstore even more worried about their sales. The trend of growing online stores does not have a big significance when the entire publishing market is declining. According to statistics researched by the Korean Statistical Information Service in 2015, the average number of books Koreans read per year is continuously falling regardless of age and gender. Especially, adult Koreans read only 9.1 books on average last year. The figure shows a 34 percent fall from the one ten years ago, which reflects the current situation of the shrinking market.
To survive the competition with online bookstores and the severe downturn in the publishing industry, the traditional bookstores are now looking for ways out. Kyobo Book Center in Dunsan-dong, Daejeon, is one of them. They have brought several changes into their store to overcome hardships. The changes were motivated to beat online bookstores and attract readers. The store offers two services as an effort to gain a competitive advantage over online bookstores. One is a Book Concierge service. When a customer visits the Book Concierge zone, a book master helps the customer find the books that he or she wants. It is not just for finding where the books are located but finding which ones are best for them. Looking for a book on the Internet is very time-consuming.
Recommendations from a book expert can save customers a lot of time and effort.
The other service is called Barodeurim, which integrates the benefits of both stores. People do online shopping because online products are 10 percent cheaper in online shops than offline ones. But usually, they have to wait at least a day. If they do their shopping on Saturday, they may have to wait more than two days. At offline stores, people can get products right away but they have to pay full price. If you use the Barodeurim service, you can get books at the same price as offered on the Internet, without waiting a long time. Order a book online and visit the store at your convenient time. In one hour, they will have it for you. By providing services that overcome the limits of online bookstores and that blur the boundaries between on and offline stores, the offline bookstores are differentiating themselves from the online ones.
These two solutions are good for increasing competitiveness against the growing Internet bookstore market. As mentioned earlier, however, it is of no use for offline bookstores to gain a competitive advantage over online book companies when book readership itself is
declining. So, Kyobo Book Center is making great efforts towards activating the whole book market by encouraging people to read books. For that, they are changing the concept of the bookstore from a place for buying books to a place for enjoying cultural life. First, they replaced book display stands in the middle with tables and chairs, and they installed sofas and benches throughout the store. As a result, people do not have to read books while sitting on the floor. Customers no longer complain about the narrow aisles. Instead of sitting uncomfortably in the aisles, shoppers can sit on comfortable sofas or benches, reading at the table, looking at the contents of books and comparing goods. Also, the store added a cafe and Kids park. In the cafe, customers can drink coffee and eat some snacks while they read books. Kids Park is a place where children can read books with their parents. Furthermore, the store sometimes holds seminars on diverse topics or book signing events at the store for the customers. Also, there is a big stationery shop in the bookstore. It has almost everything, including music albums and digital goods. By offering diverse cultural paraphernalia, the Kyobo Book Center motivates shoppers to stay longer and read more. They hope this change can lead to readers’ joy from reading books. Some people, at first, were skeptical about providing large tables for the reason that it would produce ‘free riders’ who just read books instead of buying them. Also, they were worried that customers might damage the books. However, the manager of the store said that almost all of the customers had good manners when reading books and many of them actually bought the books that they looked at. Besides, positive feedback will positively affect the sales of the shop.
“This is the first time I visited the Kyobo offline bookstore. I love the atmosphere of the store. It makes me stay here longer and keep reading books. The cafe is the most impressive thing. Other bookstores never allow customers to bring any food or drinks, but Kyobo bookstore sells drinks and snacks to eat in the store. And they even let customers read books in the cafe even without buying them! I compared some books, felt respected and ended up buying some books.”, said a 22-year-old female customer, expressing her gratitude for being respected by the shop assistants at Kyobo.
It is not just large book companies that have brought many changes. Regional bookstores have also begun to differentiate their stores from others to boost falling book sales. As Kyobo Book Center renewed the store, Time Book Center added tables and chairs and initiated construction of the stationery store. Also, they have opened another branch on Dunsan-ro, which has a screening room, a cafe, and a restaurant inside. They even sell a variety of wines and beers with meals. Ubunta Books in Eoeun-dong, Daejeon, only sells books related to food, health, and ecology to attract customers who come to the market to buy environmentally friendly agricultural products. The shopkeeper connects the customers to organic farmers. It means that the bookstore plays a role as a platform. An independent bookshop, Door Books in Daeheung–dong, is another example of newly changing bookstores. It only sells independent publications and runs self-publishing programs and a donation program for independent publishers.
Kyobo Book Center 226, Daedeok-daero, Seo-gu, Daejeon, Korea 042-488-3501 Time Book Center-1211, Daedeok-daero, Seo-gu, Daejeon, Korea 042-720-6900 Time Book Center-2 129, Dunsan-ro, Seo-gu, Daejeon, Korea 042-489-5000 Ubuntu Books 53, Eoeun-ro 51beon-gil, Yuseong-gu, Daejeon, Korea 050714101559 Door Books 48, Temi-ro, Jung-gu, Daejeon, Korea 042-626-6938
by Su-Jin Woo, CP Reporter / Sang-Woo Lee, CUB Reporter
by Soo-Jin Woo, CP Reporter email@example.com
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