Kyobo: Somewhere between Bookstore and Dictator

Posted on April 13, 2011

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by Eunji “Swan” Song

“The man makes the book. The book makes the man”

The biggest bookstore in Korea, Kyobo Bookstore, hasn’t changed their catchphrase for a long time.

The history of Kyobo goes back to the 1980s. Kyobo stock company was established in 1980. Its first and now largest bookstore , Kyobo Gwanghawmoon Bookstore, opened the following year. The store was closed in 1990 for remodeling and reopened in 1991. Since then, the name Kyobo is synonymous with the first and biggest bookstore in Korea.

“Wherever I go there is a Kyobo bookstore. I can find every book I want,” said Youngrang Yoon, a senior in the Department of International Relations who interned last year for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Not Just About Books. It’s About Culture.

They have been promoting many programs for books such as the “Ten Thousand Book Club”, online book selling, and customer service monitoring among others. The most popular program is the mileage point saving system. The “book booking system” is also loved by many customers. If there isn’t the book needed in-store, a customer can book the book at a 10% discount. “It is reliable and quick,” said Juhee Lee, a Sookmyung University student who frequently uses the bookstore.

Kyobo now has 24 branches throughout the country providing not only books, but also cultural space to read, eat, and meet with friends. Many cultural events like the literature train trip, classic concerts, and author’s signing events are getting much attention from citizens. Kyobo also holds the Seoul International Book Fair each year, a huge exhibition with every major Korean publishing company there exhibiting books.

Kyobo also has the biggest foreign book section in Korea. It offers English, Chinese, and Japanese sections. There are many foreigners such as professors and exchange students who go to Kyobo to buy original English books.

“I’ve been to many foreign bookstores while living in Korean and Kyobo is the best,” said Jayleen Hille, an English teacher at a middle school in Ansan. She added that even if it takes a long time to get to the Kwanghwa Moon area where the nearest Kyobo is located,  it is worth the trip.

Photo from Kyobo Bookstore's Homepage

“It’s Just Too Big””

There are others who worry about Kyobo monopolizing the bookstore market in Korea. Many of the smaller bookstores have disappeared.

In Anyang, there were two bookstores facing each other and competing for customers. One was an old and relatively small bookstore which has been in existence for a long time. The other was Kyobo which was established only several years ago. Now only Kyobo remains and because it has the money, will continue to expand and open new bookstores.

“There is no way small stores can survive in this monopoly,” said Myunghwa Lee, a resident of Anyang for 7 years.

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