Thursday, July 9, 2009

"What the book?" -- New and Used English Books and Magazines -- Itaewon, Seoul, South Korea

One of the first things many new foreign English teachers want to learn about is where to find and buy English books whether they are for teaching or for personal reading.

One bookstore every teacher should visit at least once while they're in Korea is "What the book?" The store sells used and new English books, and is located in Itaewon, Seoul.

If you take the subway get on the brown line (#6) and head to Itaewon Station (see below, left of center and slightly down).

If you arrive by taxi go to the main intersection of Itaewon. At the main intersection of Itaewon you will find a place called the Hamilton Hotel (the most popular landmark in Itaewon). Whether you're traveling by taxi or subway you'll begin by facing the Hamilton Hotel and then turn to your right. With the Hamilton Hotel on your left walk about three blocks down the street. You will come to an intersection with a small street that runs uphill. Turn right and walk up the hill until you almost reach the top and you'll find "What the book?" bookstore.

This is a shot taken from the top of the hill standing right in front of the bookstore.

And here it is . . .

The staff speak English and will help you find titles in the store, and order titles in if you want them to. There is a website, though, that is used for orders.

Some people have trouble with paying for orders on the website, so you might try simplifying things by just doing an ATM money transfer to "What the book?"'s account . . . the number for which I seem to have misplaced . . . if you call them and ask I'm sure they'll give you the info. (I'll put it up later after I've found the piece of paper I wrote it on).

There is a bathroom and water cooler inside the main entrance.

The bookstore might seem a little small but after spending nearly 5 years in Korea I'm pretty happy that this store even exists. There is a children's book section and a small teaching books section (though I'd recommend looking at the bigger selections in Bandi & Luni's, Yongpoon Bookstore (in Jonggak Station), or Kyobo Bookstore if you need teaching and lesson plan books).

The back wall has a huge selection of used Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Fiction . . . etc. The only problem is that if you're reading a series finding all the volumes can be difficult to find at times. Depending on how badly you want the missing volume you can buy it new or have the clerks order it in for you.

Also, if you're into reading history, literary theory, philosophy, psychology, and other more academic genres the selection is really good.

"What the book?" also offers a delivery service. If you spend 25,000won or more they'll ship the books to your home. I've done this several times now and had no problems. It usually takes 2-3 days. I like this a lot cause it saves me from lugging around a bag full of books while I'm doing other stuff in Seoul.

If you're a magazine buff the store has a really big selection of foreign magazines.

Finally, when you visit "What the book?" you should also check out the Foreign Food Mart. They've got a lot of stuff that you can't find in Korea, or is difficult to find. Things like: granola bars, cereals, hot cereal, dill pickles, cheese, spices, deodorants, soaps, floss, canned goods, pasta, frozen foods, shampoo . . . and so on.



Here's some more info from the website itself,

About What the Book? Makes Shopping for English Books Easy

First of all, What the Book? is the only retail bookstore in Korea with an internet site in English. What the Book? is the only English book sales site to offer foreigners the following options: pay for your order at our retail location, pick up your order at our retail location, and bank transfers to pay for your order. We know that foreigners in Korea do not like to send money home to pay for items they have bought using their credit card. We know, you are trying to pay those little flat devils off! What the Book? is the only book sales site in English in South Korea with a full search function. Other sites only allow you to search by author OR title. We allow you to do both at the same time. We are the only book sales site in Korea with a native English speaker on staff to help you with your customer service needs. Click on Live Chat for your questions. What the Book? is the only internet sales site to allow you to get certain titles in two days time!

Selection and Discounts

Our online selection boats over 1,000,000 titles in every genre and format possible. We gurantee our prices will be the cheapest in Korea. Find it cheaper and we will match or beat the price. We also offer a large selection of the top selling books at a discount. The staff at What the Book? analyzes the buying pattern of its customers to ensure we are selecting the most popular books to put on discount. What the Book? does not try to fool you like other websites. One major internet site that sells in Korea claims they offer Lonely Planet guides at 35% off. They state this because of a so called street price that is 35% higher than the retail price. In all actuality, they are only offering you the book at the suggested retail price.


What the Book? opened in July of 2003. The owners, Hye Lim Yoo and Chris Chiavetta envisioned something different for the book scene in Korea. This vision started with analyizing the problem they thought all the bookstores have in Korea--lack of atmosphere. The atmosphere in Korean bookstores is just not comfortable. Basing their store on this idea, Chris starting working on the interior of the store. It took him over a month to complete the shelving, electrical work, and the flooring--working before and after teaching his English classes. While the store may be small, it features ample seating and is always clean. Offering free coffee and espresso, helped complete the homey feeling they were looking for.

The store was an instant success. Books were flying off the shelves at an alarming rate. Soon Chris and Hye Lim realized one fact, people do not like to trade in the quality books. When the store first opened, the store had twelve copies of "The Bridge at No Gun Ri". After selling out of all twelve, they realized that none of the copies have been sold back to the store. Chris starting making phone calls to various publishers in the States to see how What the Book? could stock their books. He was pleasantly surprised to find out that the publishers were more than willing to sell their books to a small enterprise like What the Book?. Chris started out a test phase to see how people would react to coming to a used bookstore and find new books stocked on the shelves. His first order, a modest selection of 50 different titles flew off the shelves as well. The inventory of new books has been steadily climbing over the months.

Having the least expensive English book prices in South Korea, Chris started hearing from his customers who live down in the country, that they wished they had something available to them "down south". Knowing that the major Korean booksellers basically ignore the non-native Korean market when building their websites (they sell English books but only have their sites in Korean), Chris decided to offer his goods for sale on the internet. The site you are looking at now is built by foreigners in Korea, for foreigners in Korea.


Charles Montgomery said...

I'm sure you're also aware that if you walk through Itaewon towards Noksapyeong Station and turn right towards Namsan tunnels 1 and 2 you quickly come across the "Foreigners Bookstore."

It can be overpriced (sometimes wildly so) but it also has a ton of older titles (I find a bunch of translated Korean lit every time I go) and a much more traditional used bookstore feel.

I've searched again and again for a bookstore called "Abby's" that the web lists in two different locations in Itaewon, but it seems long gone?

Jason said...

Hi Charles,

Yep, been there, took pics, and blogged about it.

See the link here,

I'm slowly getting my blog more organized. Check out the link to English Bookstores in Korea.

I really liked the Foreigners Bookstore. It had the authentic used books smell . .