With the development of technology, reading culture has changed in modern society. The governmental survey conducted in 2018 showed that four out of ten Korean adults do not read any books throughout the year. Hence, attempts to revitalize the reading culture new approaches are in progress both offline and online: reconstruction of independent bookstores with unique themes and introduction of online communication platforms which promote reading.
2019 Midnight Bookstore: Osteria White Noise
One of the ways to invigorate independent bookstores is through the “2019 Midnight Bookstore” program which is sponsored by Korea Federation of Bookstore Association . The event aims to create awareness of local bookstores and invite readers to experience unique cultural activities. It is held on the last Friday of every month from Aug. 30 to Nov. 29. Participating bookstores operate in different themes, while visitors choose among them.
Among the bookstores, “Osteria White Noise,” located at Yeonhui-dong of Seodaemun District, uniquely mixes the characteristics of a bookstore and a restaurant. It encourages people to have conversations about literature while dining in a relaxed atmosphere.
Seo Ho-jun, CEO of the Osteria White Noise, mentioned the story behind the stores’ name.
“I named this place Osteria White Noise, because of my wish for harmony between various noises such as cooking sounds from the kitchen to flipping pages of a book,” Seo said.
When informed about the program, Seo thought it would be a great opportunity to introduce favorite authors and have monthly discussions. As it is a place where cuisines and books coexist, they wanted to convey the message that it is open to all visitors.
“I used to consider reading as a solitary work rather than something that can be enjoyed with others,” Seo said. “However, now I believe that reading can entail warmth. I feel satisfied when I see people focus on a same book at the same place. This scenery and the conversations between them deliver a sense of harmony.”
Adding on to his thoughts about the value of reading, he elaborated that literature is one of the channels to experience something that is beautiful. Seo believes that literature has become an essential value in a modern society where usefulness has become the absolute standard for judging worth.
“We will focus on holding programs with authors. A poetry reading session with poet Seo Youn-hu was held in the past and it was a memorable experience to feel the rhythm and voice of the poet. I hope to share this special opportunity with others as well.”
Independent bookstore enlivens reading culture
Chaekbang Saenghwalui Jihye is an independent bookstore located at Ewha 52nd Street, meaning wisdom of life in Korean. Jeon Ji-hye, alumna of Ewha, opened the store in 2018.
“Above all things, my love for books motivated me to open this bookstore,” Jeon said. “After resigning from a company, I wanted to create a platform for cultural activity. It seemed to me that a bookstore could play that role.”
Jeon shared her thoughts on the charm of independent bookstores. She believes that although these bookstores fall behind bookstore franchise in size and amount of customers, curation is what makes them special. The process of selecting, organizing, and looking after great books is enacted in the bookstores by the display of its publication. Thus, books that were not shed light on in large bookstores are able to stand out in independent bookstores.
Along with curation, this unique bookstore shows a distinct feature of holding workshops with authors.
“Through workshops, I hope to publicize the authors,” Jeon said. “I tend to invite authors of books that are in the store. As these authors each specialize in a certain area, we open a class to share their talent.”
Book artist July held an art book class under the theme “Sentence Collector” on Nov. 11 at Chaekbang Saenghwalui Jihye. In the class, she helped people make their own book art by selecting sentences from used books.
“I hope independent bookstores can be a familiar place that people can easily visit,” Jeon concluded. “By doing so, they would naturally make reading a habit. It will become an act of knowing more about oneself and the world.”
Papervore: books better than any food
The Papervore, which literally means people who consume paper, is an online platform that introduces books in the style of movie trailers with a slogan: books better than any meal.
According to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in 2017, 40 percent of the average Korean adult does not read a single book a year, and 32.2 percent of them replied that they are too busy with work that they simply do not have enough time to read books. However, Papervore is changing this situation by advertising that reading books can be as interesting as watching films.
Papervore summarizes the plotline and edits the interesting part about the book into card news in the style of a trailer and currently has over 67.7 thousand followers on Instagram. They introduce three books a week and their content can be found on various social medias such as Instagram, YouTube, and 1boon.
“As soon as we published our own first book in the market, we realized we couldn’t afford expensive offline book advertising,”said Lee Hye-rim and Madonna, founders of Papervore when asked about the motive for starting such business. “So, we started self-promoting our book online and realized we had more fun creating card news and short videos rather than writing them,” Lee and Madonna further mentioned that the main reason why people are much more hesitant to start reading a book than watch a movie is because it requires more devotion and time, which is why they decided to make their introductions in the style of trailers.
“All one needs to start reading is something that can stimulate one’s curiosity,” Lee and Madonna said.
When asked about their future plans, Lee and Madonna replied.
“We do realize that the more followers we gain, the easier our words can influence one’s thoughts and ideology. That’s why we are always careful and think twice of the words we use in our contents. Our ultimate goal is to help people learn to think outside of the box and have multiple perspectives.”
Millie: “Get friendly with reading unlimitedly”
Millie, which is an app that provides a monthly e-book subscription service, has been leading the e-book market ever since its first launch in 2017. By offering various book-related services with the largest number of e-book contents in the market, Millie aims to change the negative perception of reading culture in our current society through its service.
“These days, a lot of people think of reading as a boring and time-consuming experience,” said Michelle, the Public Relations (PR) manager of the Marketing team. “They are reluctant to read long passages and often feel pressured when asked to finish a book. What we want to change is people’s attitude towards reading. We want to let them know that reading can also be a fun and pleasant experience, something that can be easily pursued in their daily lives.”
When Millie started its business, it was the first to adopt a subscription service to the e-book market. Their attempt was considered as sensational since this kind of system had only been used in movie or drama streaming platforms in the past. Jeon commented that the subscription service allowed Millie’s users to start reading books comfortably without feeling the burden to finish an entire book.
“Once subscribed, the users get to have unlimited access to e-books for a month,” Michelle said. “With previous e-book services, they had to purchase e-books per chapter or per book, which disturbed them from being immersed in stories. It was also more expensive, and the users had to think carefully before they made a purchase. With a subscription service, however, they can freely choose to move to another book whenever they feel like it without paying an extra fee.”
Along with the subscription service, Millie has been continuously striving to change the current reading culture by offering unique digital services.
One of its original services is a “reading-book” service, which is an audiobook system that provides a summary and a commentary version of a book. As its length is about 30 minutes long, people can simply listen to it while they commute or before they go to sleep. By providing this kind of service, Millie hopes to make reading a common and casual experience.
Michelle further highlighted the importance of having a taste in this fast-changing society. The current trend is rapidly changing due to the development of technology, and the book industry is no exception to this trend. By providing thousands of e-book contents, Millie helps people build their own tastes in reading, which could be a value that would last in their lifetime.
“Our ultimate purpose is to present a more pleasant reading experience,” Michelle stated. “Rather than replacing paper books, we want to coexist with them and create synergy with the current reading market. Our role is to supplement the paper book market by providing more opportunities for people to read. What we all want to do is to help stimulate the book industry to flourish.”