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regular-article-logo Monday, 17 June 2024

Have a book-nic: In K-pop land reading is a part of life among all age groups

The newspaper arrives on time in Seoul and most read it cover to cover. Children crowd around bookstores, spending hours looking for the next night read. All this has been happening in the land of K-pop for long but the world doesn’t talk about it

Mathures Paul Published 30.07.23, 06:48 AM
Just a perfect day at Starfield Library in Seoul

Just a perfect day at Starfield Library in Seoul Pictures: The Telegraph

The newspaper arrives on time in Seoul and most read it cover to cover. Children crowd around bookstores, spending hours looking for the next night read. All this has been happening in the land of K-pop for long but the world doesn’t talk about it. “I am afraid that one day, people will not listen to K-pop anymore,” Park Ji-won, CEO of K-pop powerhouse HYBE, said during an interview with Bloomberg News a few months ago. In fact, it’s a cliched image to think of Seoul in terms of K-pop. Yes, think of bibimbap and kimchi when you think of Seoul but not just K-pop.

An open, inviting space

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A far more realistic image involves spending hours every week at Starfield Library. It’s not just another library. Located in Starfield Coex Mall, it’s home to thousands of books. To make it palatable to young people, the setup is Instagram-able and maybe an hour will be spent posing at different parts of the library but ultimately you will sit down with a book or two from a collection of well over 50,000 titles.

It’s a permanent library with a unique purpose. COEX is one of the largest malls in Gangnam, Seoul, but after buying the latest and greatest, people eventually settle for the library. And it’s also a great spot to find yourself in when it’s pouring outside. The 13-metre tall bookshelves covering a two-story space have physical and digital copies of books and magazines. You can just pick up any book and then find a spot in the huge seating area. On a sunny day, nothing is more enjoyable than reading Pigs Have Wings sitting on the field, with a flask of coffee for company. Here, it’s somewhat similar. The design of Starfield Library allows natural light from the outside to stream in, giving it a feel of “book-nic”, that is, a picnic with books.Visitors to the address have access to every part of the space, thanks to long escalators, giving one the feel of the magic a floor-to-ceiling library can offer. What’s also interesting is the selection of literature, which is primarily focussed on Korean titles. Visitors spend hours taking photographs while local people keep themselves busy reading books, especially during the evening.

Bookstores and galleries

Starfield Library is not a flash-in-the-pan scenario. Bookshops dot the city and most of them go beyond just stacking books by the likes of Chetan Bhagat and Durjoy Datta. Paper Muse, for example, is a good stop for art and culture magazines. Arc N Book is a cross between a bookstore and a lifestyle space (and it’s Instagram-worthy). Book Park Lounge is where books meet coffee. Kyobo Bookstore is one of the most popular bookstore chains in South Korea. Cheongun Literature Library is set in beautiful surroundings, complete with traditional walls.

Not just books, there are enough magazines at Starfield Library

Not just books, there are enough magazines at Starfield Library

It’s not that Koreans don’t spend the evening watching films or spend hours before the TV, but for a large percentage of the population, achieving personal development is very important and that’s where books come in. There are plenty of reading clubs and startups that encourage the youth to lead a life among words. If not books, art galleries too hold a prominent place here. Popular international gallery, White Cube, announced the opening of a permanent exhibition space in Seoul this autumn. The gallery is joining a group of international exhibitors that have expanded their presence in Korea, like Pace Gallery, Lehmann Maupin, Thaddaeus Ropac, Perrotin, Gladstone Gallery and Esther Schipper.Looking beyond the K-pop scene

A young girl going through the collection in the bookstore attached to Starfield Library

A young girl going through the collection in the bookstore attached to Starfield Library

Of course, all of this points to the question: Is K-pop still a driving force? Bang Si-Hyuk, or “Hitman” Bang, is the founder of Big Hit Music and Hybe Corporation; he engineered the debut of BTS a decade ago. He has said K-pop’s business growth has slowed in some markets. Not that K-pop is not popular but Korea’s K-pop exports have been declining since 2020. According to Billboard, there was 53 per cent less K-pop on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2022 than in 2021, and K-pop consumption is shrinking in Southeast Asia.The hiatus of BTS is motivating the downward trend. “The biggest influence of BTS is that they increased K-pop’s dependency on the overseas market and made it truly a part of the global popular music market,” said Lee Gyu-tag, an associate professor at George Mason University Korea, who has studied the globalisation of K-pop, in an interview with NPR.Then there are issues of poor management in some cases and a system that may not be conducive to coming up with music that breaks the clutter. The “total management” system around K-pop at first helped it to succeed but more and more people are now criticising it because it tackles every aspect of artistes’ activities.Places like Gimbab Records and Dope Records continue to encourage vinyl sales but you eventually end up buying classic rock here.We went looking for popular K-pop merchandise and eventually made it to Myeong-dong where you can get lost for hours. There was brilliant food, great clothing stores and whatnot but when it comes to merchandising, it was the same old-same old. But what continues to be a popular sight are Koreans hanging around bookstores or simply sitting with a copy of The Korean Times.

Escalators take people around the massive reading space

Escalators take people around the massive reading space

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