February’s International Bookshop of the Month – Bookstore 17 in Seoul, South Korea

If you are interested in art books but are unsure about what to buy, Bookstore 17 in Seoul, South Korea is the perfect shop for you. It features an extensive art book collection, and employs two art experts working alternatively throughout the week – one focusing on artbooks and the other on purchasing photography and fashion books. These in-store experts can offer advice and guidance about your art, photography and fashion interests. Read on to learn more!

1. What makes your bookshop unique and how has this changed over the years of trading?

We initially started as a company that imported and supplied books to art galleries, university libraries and hotels. However, the dream that I always had in my heart when I saw new books come in every year (occasionally up to 500 in number) was to provide a customised space for customers who love art books. Now, our bookstore is not just a space to sell books, but also a space where you can view various rare books in Korea, share stories about writers comfortably and attend artist gatherings as well.

2. Do you think that the pandemic has made readers more interested in bookshops and independents?

It is undeniably true that the interest in the cultural industries has increased after the pandemic due to limitations on outdoor activities. Therefore, there has been an increase in purchase enquiries about popular books on social media or non-English art books.

3. What is the most rewarding part of working in a bookshop? What is the most difficult part?

The original plan was to only operate a traditional (offline) bookstore to cater to the specialised artbook market, so we have had difficulties navigating the broader online competition due to the unexpected extension of COVID-19. Not to mention, while online sales can positively impact general profit, due to the increasing online competition from larger bookstores, its impact is relatively small and does not help contribute much toward our physical bookstore operation costs.

But I felt rewarded when a student preparing for an exam purchased a collection of their favourite artist’s work, mentioning that artists often gain inspiration through books, and this inspires their own art.

4. If you could recommend one book published in the past year, what would it be and why?

I would recommend Edvard Munch: 1863–1944 (Skira) which includes articles on individual themes and phenomena encompassing Munch’s evolving perspective on art. It also takes a fresh look at his response to modern issues, such as the relationship between art and reality.

I also like Yale University Press’ book Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again. This book, with its wonderful golden cover, is a book that everybody wanted to own. It is unfortunate that it is not in print anymore.

Finally, the most popular request lately at the shop has been for books on David Hockney – such as Yale University Press’ book Hockney to Himid, the street artist Banksy from England and the contemporary American artist Jonas Wood.

5. Have you noticed any changes in the specific genres/artistic movements that art book buyers are interested in?

There was a big interest in Grand Masters in the 2010s, before foreign book markets were born in Korea, and in recent years various modern artists are starting to attract attention again. However, until now, experimental contemporary art has not yet received the support of various age groups here.

6. How do you go about choosing the range of art titles that you stock in your shop?

In the past, our books were selected through paper catalogues and book exhibitions, but now books are chosen through the publisher’s homepage and various social media sites. The emails sent by the publisher every week or every month are also a big support in helping us decide what titles to order.

To find out more about Bookstore 17, you can visit their website, Facebook or Instagram page, or check out the shop:

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