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Number of bookstores in S. Korea marks first rise on record

Statistics show positive signs in bookstores’ growth, but problems linger for smaller stores: KFOBA

Bosudong Book Street, located in Junggu, Busan(Junggu Busan Metropolitan City)
Bosudong Book Street, located in Junggu, Busan(Junggu Busan Metropolitan City)
The number of bookstores in South Korea exceeded 2,500 at the end of last year, increasing by more than 200 from two years prior. The yearly increase in bookstores was the first recorded since 2003, when the tally began.

According to the Handbook of Korean Bookstores, a biyearly publication by the Korea Federation of Bookstore Association released Thursday, the number of bookstores recorded 2,528 as of December last year. That number was a 0.9 percent increase from 2,320 in 2019. The initial figure in 2003 was 3,589, according to the report.

The increase was analyzed by the KFOBA as being a credit to standardizing ordinances on revitalizing and supporting local bookstores, as well as public institutions’ concerted efforts to purchase from local bookstores.

The report added that the data gathering method has also been expanded to count smaller bookstores located within another business establishment, such as department stores.

“The revised Publication and Culture Industry Promotion Act was promulgated in August 2021, and this has played a pivotal role in marking definitions of bookstores, which we did not have before,” a team manager at the KFOBA told The Korea Herald on Friday. “This will hopefully lead to further discussions on how different types of bookstores outside the major realm can be protected and promoted.”

Referring to the case of Bulgwang Bookstore in northwestern Seoul closing down last year due to financial struggles, the manager said that although the overall number has risen, such difficulties have become extreme especially in regions outside the capital, where populations of younger people, including students, are steadily on the decline.

The figures indicate one bookstore per 20,502 people, or 2,356 students.

Seven areas -- including Ongjin in Incheon, Pyeongchang in Gangwon Province and Uiryeong in South Gyeongsang Province -- had no bookstore, and 29 local counties had only a single store.

“Unlike general franchise bookstores with (the budget to stock) books of all genres, small and independent bookstores cannot rely solely on book sales.”

Adding that local bookstores operate by offering various cultural events, the KFBA official requested policymakers’ steady interest in the bookstore industry.

By Kim Hae-yeon (
Korea Herald Youtube