In my ignorance, there were many things that surprised me in my visit to Seoul last week. The city's infrastructure from the immaculate and extensive subway, some incredible architecture, to the lack of potholes in the wide boulevards that course through Seoul, there was a lot to admire.
Since we were hosted by publishers, our hosts were obliged to ferry us through one of their primary bookstores which proved similarly impressive. Located in downtown Seoul the Youngpoong Bookstore in Gwanghwamun, is large. Approximately 75,000 sq feet large - on two floors.
In a store this big, they can afford to carry as many as a million titles and 'every classic Korean book ever published'. Some of this may be marketing hype but in our visit the store seemed a poster child for those who don't believe print is dead.
A mostly open layout with flat tables covered with stacks of books, the store didn't feel overwhelming despite its size. It was also full of customers - which was perhaps the most interesting aspect. We visited in the middle of the day and there was easily 500 people in the store.
Their English language section was larger than many independent bookstores in the US (and if you look closely at the photos they carry an eclectic selection). The store also had a Japanese book section that was smaller but also impressively sized.
Clearly, print isn't yet dead in Korea; in fact, it is robust. YoungPoong has one other superstore of similar size in Seoul but their main competitor (with a total of 18 stores) has an even bigger store located a half mile from the store we visited. So arrogant are they in their market position that they could afford to close their mega store for six months to renovate.
In terms of book selection, other than the translated Korean titles many of the books throughout the store were recognizable from UK and US titles. There were few hardcovers and I noticed that their covers were all highly graphic and colorful no matter the subject. While predominantly a bookstore, the lower level included a restaurant, coffee shop, software and gaming products and an event space. All in all, a very impressive operation.