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Subscription Models of Local Bookstores

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Local bookstores are making colorful and fresh changes. From mere bookstores that sell books, they are transforming to become cultural hubs that represent the culture and art in their region. With large and small gatherings such as book clubs and transcription meetings, local bookstores serve as the main gathering spots in their neighborhoods. They are also loved as cultural complexes that run unique cultural art events such as exhibitions and music concerts. However, the situation local bookstores are going through nowadays is not as good as it used to be due to the pandemic. Bookstore managers have been mulling over how to break through the challenging time, and one solution they came up with was adopting a subscription model. Let’s take a look at some of the fine books and the “extra special” service that local bookstores have introduced.


Hoping for today to be another safe, peaceful day: Musa Books


Musa Books, located in a rural village in Jeju Island, is where book- and Jeju-lovers dream of living “safe and sound (meaning “musa” in Korean).” The word “musa (無事)” in Korean refers to a status of being at ease without any worries or incidents. The little hope of the bookstore manager for the bookstore to live on without undergoing troubles has become a big hope for everyone to live in peace. Meanwhile, the word “musa” also means “why” in the Jeju dialect. Therefore, the bookstore always asks “why?” to the visitors. First established in Bukchon, Seoul, the bookstore moved to Jeju Island in 2016 and is now into its 6th year. During the somehow long but short period, Musa Books has been searching for strategies to survive while coexisting with the region as a local bookstore, fulfilling its given role to the fullest. After moving to Jeju Island, Musa Books has even opened film-camera exhibitions, sales, and photo exhibitions. The owner of Musa Books hopes to make the bookstore a cultural complex through more unique and familiar projects where people can enjoy not only books but also experience various cultures.


Views of Musa Books

Musa Books has come up with various subscription models. The first model is “Secret Curation Service,” which targets those who want to read books but don’t know what to read, those who want to give books as a gift, or those who cannot visit the bookstore in person as it is located in Jeju Island. In this subscription model, if anyone sends a message to the bookstore manager about the types of books they want to read, they will receive in return appropriate books chosen by the manager. Hence, the attractive characteristic of this model is that it makes the heart of both the bookstore manager and the reader's pound as they do not know what the next message will be about or what books they will receive. The second model is coexisting with the region. Last year, Musa Books ran “Super Sweet Corn Project,” where they sold super sweet corns, Susan-Ri’s specialty, under the brand name of “Ahrumi’s Super Sweet Corns.” The brand got the name from “Ahrumi” the dog owned by the cafe next door. The staff members from singer YOZOH’s entertainment company (YOZOH is the bookstore manager) came along and helped with harvesting and packing the corns. Also, Musa Books says that it wants to host various open events where bookstores can join in. The bookstore has been running a project for an extended period where it collects cloth bag donations that are no longer used. The donated cloth bags are then reused as bags given out to customers when they buy books. 

Views of Musa Books, currently with the billboard “(Han)Ahrum Store”

Address: 3, Susi-ro 10beon-gil, Seongsan-eup, Seogwipo-si, Jeju-do
Instagram: @musabooks 

Is this the book you were looking for?: Bomnal Books and “Chaekbadabom”


Bomnal Books (“Bomnal” means “spring days” in Korean) is a bookstore run by Namhae Bomnal (“Namhae” means the “southern sea” in Korean), a representative publisher in Tonyeong. Reflecting the hope for life to be always full of a warm spring breeze, Bomnal Books designed its interior to look like a place where people talk about the life and culture of Tongyeong. Books published by Namhae Bomnal and local books that feature Tongyeong’s culture and art are displayed on the main shelf, and various books, including picture books, liberal arts, literary, art, ecology, and teen books, can be found in rooms themed with different topics, such as the Ocean Room, Author’s Room, and Reading Kitchen. The staff members, who specialize in different fields, curate books that they think will match the atmosphere of Bomnal Books after exchanging ideas with each other. As you can take a glimpse at what a bookstore offers by looking at its shelves, Bomnal Books puts effort into book curation so that the visitors can find good books that match their liking. The manager recommends taking a stroll around Bongsugol, where the bookstore is located in, as one of the ways to enjoy the bookstore to the fullest. If you slowly look around the themed rooms after taking a walk, you will be relaxed evermore, which you could not feel in urban life. Also, even though they are closed due to COVID-19 at the moment, Bomnal Books had been actively providing opportunities for members from Tonyeong and Gyeongnam by hosting cultural exchange events such as book concerts, not to mention book-stays where its members could spend a night at the bookstore with the mileage (loyalty) points they collected.

Views of Bomnal Books

The number of visitors has dropped significantly due to the pandemic. In response, Bomnal Books and Namhae Bomnal have launched a special book subscription service called “Chaekbadabom,” which means “to receive and read books,” where they can help the local economy struggling due to the disease and coexist at the same time. “Chaekbadabom” is a service where not only Namhae Bomnal’s books but also selected books of local publishers are sent in parcels to the subscribers along with local specialties 6 times a year, for an annual subscription fee of 250 thousand won. Last year the service began with 100 members recruited on a first-come, first-served basis, but as it received an explosive response, its next opening this year was sold out in just 10 days, even though the size had doubled and gathered twice as many people. The bookstore manager commented, “We have limited room for subscribers at the moment, but we want to be with more readers in the longer term,” adding, “The most important thing is that Bomnal Books continues to communicate with readers and expand opportunities for people to experience more local culture and art, not to mention coexisting with our neighbors.” Bomnal Books hopes to be at least a helping hand for the local economy to make Bongsugol, Tongyeong, to be a vibrant village that people want to live in, and add energy to people’s life and work, letting more people take on new challenges in their regions across the nation.


Subscription service, “Chaekbadabom”

Address: 6-1, Bongsu 1-gil, Tongyeong-si, Gyeongsangnam-do
Website: http://bomnalbooks.com/

Three beats of ample life: Samyoso


Samyoso is a 4-year-old bookstore and a cultural space located in Daejeon. The name “Samyoso” refers to a place that provides three things that are not necessary but make our lives more abundant – books, communities, and drinks (“Sam” means three, and “Yoso” means elements in Korean). The bookstore manager is highly interested in literature, sociology, and art that are mainly about Korean literature, and prefers books that he believes help us understand human beings and society. Hence, he mainly curates books that we need as members of society and those that can make us better people. Bookstore Samyoso has been running an array of cultural events such as book talks, lectures, book-reading sessions, and performances where people can meet famous authors and poets that are difficult to meet in person, and small and big meetings about reading, writing, writing novels, movies, and documentaries. As a number of public organizations, companies, and research institutes are located in Daejeon, where Samyoso is, there were many people that moved in from other regions. Thus, the bookstore manager has been organizing meetings and events aiming to encourage residents to meet new people based on specific interests by analyzing visitors’ demands. However, as offline meetings have become barely possible due to the pandemic, he needed a new book subscription model.


Views of Samyoso

Samyoso offers “Monthly Samyoso,” a monthly subscription service. There are two types, “Option A,” which consists of one literary and one non-literary book published within the last 6 months, and “Option B,” where the bookstore manager selects two books of any kind. For Option B, he selects a number of nominees among frontlist and recommended books by several channels, reads them through, and chooses the final two considering their balance with those he has chosen before. The subscription fee is 30 thousand won if you take the books yourself, and 33 thousand won if you use the delivery service. If the book’s price is below 30 thousand won, Samyoso returns the remaining amount with the books. Samyoso’s recommended books for April were the novel Perhaps Twenty Times (Munhakdongne) by Pyun Hye-Young and essay Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion (Thinking Power Books) by Jia Tolentino, while for March, novel Our People (Changbi) by Pak Sol-Moe and Winners Take All : The Elite Charade of Changing the World (Thinking Power Books) by Anand Giridharadas were picked. Samyoso is planning to run a separate channel for collecting readers’ feedback from May in order to identify their satisfaction in more detail. If you want to experience more than Monthly Samyoso, how about visiting the bookstore in person? In Samyoso, you will be able to find a collection of about 40 books chosen by the manager, a blind-book series where the books are covered with an impressive page from each, and blind-book set of recommendations classified by themes. Samyoso hopes to be a bookstore that continues to introduce more fine books and more fine things to more people. 

A quote attached to the shelf (left), a pack of “Monthly Samyoso” (right)

Written by Lee Ji-Hyeon

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