Bookerie

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Sunday Survey: Bookstores In Jakarta

Intro: What is the Sunday Survey?

I’ve explained all about Sunday Survey in my first ever Sunday Survey report. Click here to read the complete explanation. Basically it’s a book discussion I conduct on my Twitter account, @GeekInc18, that starts off with a basic book-related (or not so related) question such as “What’s your favorite book?” or “What do you think of book translations?” The result of our discussion goes up here to Bookerie.

SUNDAY SURVEY, 19 May 2012: Bookstores In Jakarta

When we talk about bookstores, particularly import bookstores, in Jakarta (or Indonesia), a few regular names come up. The usual suspects are Kinokuniya, Aksara, Periplus, Gramedia and Times. This is not to say they’re the only ones – one bookstore, TGA, a.k.a. Toko Gunung Agung, for example, is still considered a player in the market. And there were some bookstores that used to be popular but are now  either defunct (QB Books) or have downsized to the point of being hard to find/contact (Rubino, Limma).

Anyway, two weeks ago I was bookstore-hopping in my quest to buy Rick Riordan’s The Serpent’s Shadow, and in doing so I managed to make comparisons between the bookstores around me. This got me thinking: after working for one bookstore for so long, I find that I haven’t been able to judge the quality of bookstores around me neutrally. Now that I’m purely a customer with no employment ties to any of these bookstores, I could draw these comparisons without guilt or loyalty for a particular bookstore based on the one question of: how good are these bookstores for us, as a customer?

Naturally, I made some observations and outlined them. After making them, I decided that judging on a bookstore’s quality is quite hard. I can’t simply say that “this bookstore is the best because of this and this reason”. Nor can I say “this bookstore is bad because of that reason”. Each bookstore I visited – or have visited in the past – have its own pros and cons. And they are heavily based on what I like as a reader, what I like to read and how I like to find my books.

So instead of making an observation leading to a judgment of “which bookstore in the best in Jakarta”, I compare and contrast the bookstores that I frequented based on my likes and dislikes. As such, the following observations are not meant as a guide for anyone to follow. I’m also not including the bookstores that I don’t frequently visit (TGA, for example) because I don’t feel I have a right to like or dislike anything I haven’t visited more than once in three years. In the end, feel free to choose any bookstore that suits your needs and purposes. I sincerely hope you can find the books that you like in one or more bookstores in this town.

Kinokuniya

Likes: The layout, the range, reliable book ordering service

Kinokuniya is the only bookstore in Jakarta, and probably in the entire world, who knows how to properly catalogue their books. I like how they don’t lump Teen Fiction and Adult Fiction together so I don’t have to deal with Twilight in the place where I look for my Guillermo Del Toro and Charlaine Harris. Although they’re still pretty clueless about where some books should be placed, in my opinion, which is probably due to their merchandiser or staff’s ignorance in the proper categorizing of books, Kinokuniya is still by far the most organized bookstore I’ve ever set foot into in Jakarta. It’s very convenient for browsing.

And although this Jakarta branch has never really been able to hold a candle to their Singaporean counterpart, their range is nothing to scoff at. You just do not find books like the ones they have in other bookstores. Even at its emptiest, the Jakarta Store in Plaza Senayan still carries more titles than its competitors, and they have absolutely anything and everything. Some people may argue that you don’t actually need obscure titles that only one or two people might need, but providing a wide range of books is the reason why Kinokuniya can compete with its rivals. To date, Kinokuniya is the only bookstore in Jakarta that carries more than 5 titles of proper Fantasy & Sci-fi titles and is also the only one here that provides a wide range of comic books despite not being a specialty store.

I also often rely to Kinokuniya’s book order service to get the books that I want. Their Customer Service staffs take book orders very seriously. They might take a while to respond to our inquiries but that’s only because they properly check the availability of their books. If it’s not available, they don’t lie to you and say, “It can be ordered.” Although the ordering time can get up to 6 weeks, which is ridiculously long, and their protocols are somewhat rigid, they rarely disappoint customers because the customers can be assured of their book orders.

Dislikes: No membership/customer privilege program, the speed

On the flip side, Kinokuniya is probably the only bookstore in Jakarta that doesn’t offer any discount or membership programs. I don’t mind their price – yes, it is more expensive than other bookstores, but as long as they have the titles I’m looking for, the price is worth it. Unfortunately, they seem to have this attitude for not caring about the customers’ loyalty. They don’t have any collaboration with any credit card company. They don’t have a membership or privilege program. They just don’t have a way to build customer loyalty because they seem to ASSUME that we’ll keep going there just for the range.

The speed with which their books come is also somewhat baffling. Their new titles usually come later than Periplus and this is what makes everyone still can’t rely on Kinokuniya to get the hot new titles that are relevant to pop culture today. And although I complimented their book service reliability, I have to admit that 6 weeks is rather too long. (I should know; I put in an order for a number of books in late March and they have not arrived now in mid-May. Shocking.) Sure, I can pester the Customer Service staff to give me progress updates but, honestly, couldn’t something be done about this? It’s also very disconcerting when books like Riordan’s The Serpent’s Shadow is not available there while Periplus and Times have started selling it weeks earlier!

Periplus

Likes: Price, location, speed

Periplus has the holy trinity of being a popular bookstore: price, location, speed. Their books are cheap, their stores are available in practically every mall in the city (and they can be found in airports and outside Jakarta), and their new arrivals are super duper fast. Their price is so insanely competitive that their hardcovers can be cheaper than any other bookstore in Jakarta. (Of course, this might also be their way to shut down their competition through sneaky price fixing strategy, but I doubt customers care about that.)

Periplus also has a membership program and a discount program for BNI credit cardholders. I find this immensely helpful for my wallet. I’m always keen to be a member of any loyalty programs in any bookstore so naturally I joined the program. I don’t have the card they’re collaborating with but it’s great to know that I have an option to buy books at a lower price. Even without the discount, I can save a lot of money by buying a lot of new titles in Periplus as they’re priced lower than everybody else.

Dislikes: Range, ambience

Having said that, the new arrivals are the only thing that Periplus can provide for me as a reader. As I said, I like range because my reading taste is very specific and some of them even belong to a series. Periplus is very good at bringing in the newly published titles and the ‘trendy’ titles but they just don’t have those obscure titles that make the super!geek in me sing in joy and happiness. If I could say anything about their range, it’s “popular and for-the-masses”. And the fact that they’re cheaply priced doesn’t bring them any prestige either. I always feel like I’m buying disposable books whenever I buy anything from there.

The ambience is also very bland. That is to say, it has no ambience at all. Their stores do not invite me to stick around and browse. Other than not having anything to browse – it’s more like a stop-and-go store – it’s also very cramped and lit in a bright way that makes my eyes hurt.

Also, related to their range, I take issue with their inability to properly categorize books. Recently I saw E.L. James Fifty Shades erotica series being put in the same display next to Rick Riordan’s books, which are meant for teens. What does this mean? This means that a 10-year-old kid may be exposed to badly written mommy porn. Enough said.

Aksara

Likes: The display, their non-book merchandise, their restaurants

For many Aksara is a niche bookstore. From the in-store background music selection alone, their stores scream “come hither, hipsters! I am the bookstore for you!” This has much to do with the way they display their books and merchandise. They have such a neat display – plenty of them table displays – that make a product appear more desirable than it really is. They’re very design conscious and I sometimes think of Aksara as “the boutique bookstore” because it really is genius the way they carefully place their books on the shelves and tables. They’re also very good at ‘connecting’ titles and genres on their display, making me think that they really understand the products and books that they are selling. Even if you don’t find the books that you want, you can spend hours in the store just browsing because there will always something quirky that you can look at.

They’re also genius when it comes to coming up with miscellaneous non-book items. These days, when I need to get gift ideas for a friend or a relative, the first place I go to is Aksara. Their birthday cards are unusual, their wrapping papers are gorgeous and their gift items are plenty. They’re displayed very beautifully so it’s very easy to be attracted to them at first sight. It’s like I can’t help but want to buy all these useless knick-knacks on their display for no other reason than they look really good. They can be very hazardous to my wallet as I have low impulse-buying control but thankfully they’re not cheap so I can always refrain from buying as long as I remind myself of just how expensive they are.

Aksara is also usually attached to wonderful restaurants, such as Casa in Kemang and Canteen in Plaza Indonesia and Pacific Place. So once you’re done with your book, you can grab a delicious meal at these places. They’re not your average coffee shops, but they are delicious and I’ve never eaten unappetizing meals at these places when I can afford them.

Displikes: Their current lack of books, their service

The problem is, I’m not sure if Aksara can still be called a bookstore these days. They don’t have that many books as they did in the past. Compared to 3 years ago, Aksara these days are more concerned with those non-book merchandises. One store even has an entire wall of Moleskines and just one itty bitty wall for Fiction. I don’t know what happened to all the great books they used to have but this is perplexing. (It could simply be that they’ve changed their business direction but it’s such a pity that there are fewer books there now.)

And for all the inspiration Aksara has given me throughout the years, I’ve never had a great time interacting with their staff. They all have an air of snobbery about them. I’ve had bad experiences in Akasara Cilandak Town Square in the past where the staff greeted me with informal language, failed to greet me as I come up to the counter because they were too busy YM-ing and/or talking to their friends, and generally being unhelpful whenever I ask for information on books. I avoid talking to the staff almost all the time unless I’m really desperate. Yeah, they speak English better than most employees in other bookstores, but their attitudes usually just rub me the wrong way.

Times

No likes or dislikes for this one because I haven’t been their customer long enough to decide what to like or dislike.

To be very honest, I don’t often go to Times Bookstore. I went to Times a long time ago, in the ’90s, long before the franchise is handled by the present company that now manages it. I liked Times back then for the same reason I like Kinokuniya now, but the new Times Bookstore that emerged in the last several years is only appealing to me as an alternative bookstore where I can get easy reads for when I feel like it. It’s great that it exists as a bookstore, and therefore adding one more source of book buying for the book lovers in Jakarta, but since I’m not a frequent customer at all, I can’t really say what I like about it.

I know Times has a (annual fee-based) membership program, though, and this should be taken into consideration for everyone who’s concerned about discounts. Some of their paperbacks may be cheaper than other bookstores but do be careful when you buy because sometimes even Kinokuniya that has a reputation of being the most expensive bookstore in Jakarta can have cheaper books than Times.

And I don’t dig their layout. Too much, too random. But it’s still more organized than Periplus.

Gramedia

Likes: Local books range, stationery selection, price

Nothing beats Gramedia, the first and biggest bookstore chain in Indonesia, when it comes to Indonesian books. Other than practically monopolizing the retail market on Indonesian boooks, Gramedia also has their own publishing house. They’re virtually unbeatable in this regard. Although the occasion is rare, I sometimes do need books in Indonesian and I always go to Gramedia to get them. Back when I still read them, I bought my Japanese manga (translated) in Gramedia and the great thing about it is that we can actually stick around and read.

Gramedia also has plenty of stationery items available. Office supplies, fancy gift items, globes and whatnot – you name it, they have it. I remember them selling musical instruments as well, a long time ago, but I can’t be too sure now. Their Grand Indonesia store – biggest in Jakarta, I think – also has DVDs. It’s a one-stop shopping for stationery, basically, and their price is, of course, very competitive.

Gramedia is also the one bookstore who regularly does discount events. It’s quite shocking how often they can afford to do this but I am quite sure they are financially secure enough to be able to do this on a regular basis. I think they also have a program with the BCA credit card – which is the most widely used credit card/debit card in Indonesia – so this is another advantage for the customers.

Dislikes: Import books range, crowd

A few years back, Gramedia decided to open some stores in which they provide import books (English language). I thought this was going to be awesome… until I saw their collection. Which was crappy. It had the most random English books ever on their shelves that were clearly products sold at remainders market (that’s why they were cheap) and they couldn’t categorize properly to save their lives. They were pretty much trying to copy Kinokuniya but failed and now they don’t even have the import books range anymore because every time I visit their store, there’s never anything new and their shelves are empty. What is the point?

This bookstore is also usually very crowded. Everywhere. It’s everyone’s favorite bookstore – and obviously bookstores carrying Indonesian books will have more foot traffic than import bookstores as the import market is a niche one – so it’s never empty. Sure their stores are big but I can’t stand the crowdedness of the place. This also gives me hell when I queue at the cashier. The number of people in Gramedia PIM, for example, always makes me want to get out of there as soon as I step inside of it. In the end, I only go there when I absolutely need to.

And let’s not even talk about when there are discount events. It’s nightmare!

Survey Results

Some friends of mine chipped in on their own likes and dislikes of the bookstores in Jakarta (and even Bali).

I’d also like to point out that this discussion was so amazingly engaging that my replies to my friends’ tweets and my retweeting of their replies got me reaching my “daily tweet limit”. So for about an hour and a half, I couldn’t carry on the discussion and had to say goodbye to people from my other Twitter account. This has only happened once before in my old bookstore’s Twitter account and it had more number of people during the discussion. I’m both annoyed and happy that this happened. Annoyed because Twitter, why do must you have “daily tweet limits”?! And happy because, OH WOW! People are discussing things and this is very good and fun and awesome indeed! :)

@anitadiah

Gramedia is always an obvious choice. Imported books,my fave bookstore is Periplus, small comfy and reminds me of airports too

Kinokuniya and Times are on par. Aksara is pricey and trying too hard to maintain the “artsy” feeling, come accross as “hi-end”

I do go to Kino and Times, and love that I could order other books I want. but Aksara, really…even the shopkeepers are annoying

while I’m at it, the book choice at Aksara was not even THAT good. Elitists don’t belong with books! simply put: I hate Aksara!

so my list of fave bookstores would be: Periplus, Kinokuniya, Times, Gramedia and Gunung Agung for good measures =)

For the record, I don’t think she’s badmouthing Aksara. Her words might come across a little strong, but it’s important to be honest in assessing something.  And it’s not like what she’s saying is untrue – Aksara’s staff can come across a lot snobbish!

@kepikbadut

Gramedia, for the price,not for the books.Kino &Aksara,for the books,not for the price.Periplus,for the price, not for the store.

but I really enjoyed to go to Kino. Esp the one in GI and PS. Sometimes (oh I know I feel stupid), I feel home. Hahahaha

A pretty good and succinct assessment of the bookstore situation! And I’m including the second tweet to show how much of a bookstore lover she is. :)

@Astrapios

Have to admit I go to Kino every week. Could spend hours there. Still, the cheapest imported books are still in Gramedia :p

Price over ambience? This works.

@SmurfGG

PIM’s Periplus has an atmosphere; there’s something about it that makes me linger and browse.

Kino PS has wider choices, of course, but unfortunately it’s way too cold for me to hang out too long.

I frequently go to Gramedia in TA, too. Some of their imported novels can be a steal. My copy of Beatrice and Virgil def. was.

Almost forgot; I love finding cheapos in Rubino, too. I got Irving’s Until I Find You for Rp55k

Take note, people! Very useful observations, these!

And on that note, I do agree that Kino is very cold. The AC could compete with a meat freezer.

@BrendaGracia

Kino PS for the stock. Found Lennon’s In His On Write Vintage ed there. I often choose Periplus too to please my geeky needs ;)

Here’s some of my Beatles books, purchased in Kino PS. Maybe it’s your picks. THANKS! http://pic.twitter.com/WIR8kz7N

Anyway, I like Aksara for the quirky items but the books are pricey and it seems for me they are trying too hard to be hipster

Now you know where the Beatles fans can buy their books!

@puspitangel

I like Aksara coz there are lot of rare items, but it’s so expensive. Kino is better, especially PS! They have great ambience

Gramedia is my only choice to browse any Indonesian books.

It should be worrisome that Gramedia is the only place we go to for Indonesian books but, in reality, they’re so strong (they practically have that monopoly!) that it’s okay to rely on just them. But I’m thinking, it wouldn’t hurt to have another place to buy Indonesian books from. You can get some in TGA, but I’m not sure if they’re as complete as Gramedia is.

@WHRauf

the store K has a better collection of books I want to get/read. P’s books aren’t as much as K but sometimes they’re cheaper.

P is slow in updating new books tho,but they like giving discounts. I rarely visit A cause there isn’t one near my home/office.

T is my least favorite shop because 1. meh collection 2. staff kept watching my every move & rearranged books that I just checked

store G is always crowded with customers;I rarely go there (except t’get pens) but sometimes I found a book I been lookin for.

there is also a cool used bookshop in pasfes (not sure if it’s still thr). but the books are pricier&u can’t haggle much.

oh I almost forgot. my favorite bookshop ever used to be the QB @ jln. sunda. such a shame they went out of business.

That’s very thorough. (And yes, this is codespeak! Or, you know, a simple space-saving technique. Those bookstores have quite long names that take up the tweet limit of 140 characters. ;) Can you guess which bookstore he’s talking about?)

Also, I miss QB Books, too. As does @anitadiah.

@TarunaD

I mostly frequent Kino PS, I can spend hours just browsing around, although I’d like for the US comics to be updated more often.

For a non-specialty store Kino’s collection is great, so no complaints from me on the TPBs & artbooks :)

Sometimes I go to Aksara too, just for the gifts & stuff, since most of them stopped selling comics, bit of a shame really.

Yes, other than specialty stores, I can only find proper US comic books and graphic novels in Kino. Their range is incredible. But, really, don’t expect to find single issues. Hardcovers, paperbacks, art books… yes. Although, you might cry at the price. ;)

@capcay_santun

Gramedia,cheap stuff, near my office but don’t have large collection. I only go there for manga supplies, sometimes children book

and they didn’t have nice collection of art supplies, unlike Gunung Agung, sadly they loose on the competition. I like GA more

i don’t have any favorite, since all of them have a good thing and bad thing, i just pick each good thing from every bookstore

Kinokuniya (PS) is cool, large collection, but Japan artbook price is made me dont want to look the price tag.

but Kino good at novel, also US comic is more reasonable price now. Aksara? eeh, i just go there for sightseeing lol, overpriced

“Random” THATS IT! that why if you try, you can spotted nice thing in TGA (also TGA in Senayan City, u should see *_*)

A defense of Toko Gunung Agung! I’m very curious now. I told her that I thought TGA was random but she thinks this is their strong point. So now I have resolved to check out TGA in Senayan City to see if it’s worth recommending!

@dtorini

I frequently go to either Kinokuniya, Periplus, Gramedia, or Aksara. Each collections complement each other to complete mine.

There was time when Rubino & QB were also among my favorite bookstores. Both brought quite a few to my book treasures. :)

Based on this, I think I can conclude that it doesn’t matter where you go as long as you can complete your collection. This is not a bad philosophy to follow – in fact, I’m probably going to be like that now!

@WinnaEffendi

I always check Periplus 1st,most books I’m looking for are available there. Next up is Kinokuniya, they usually have more choices

I never check Periplus first but, as I have said, I can almost always find new titles there first.

@nggarengga

Kino PS, the only book store with huge collection of comic books & graphic novel, esp after Aksara closed their comic section :(

yeeesss, THE PRICE can be really something hahaha… And I think they should update it more often

Here’s another reason to admire Kinokuniya’s range. But remember what I said about the price? Yeah. It’s a bit worrisome.

Also, three of their comic book experts have left the company now so I’m not sure whether they can keep up with the updates. I hope they can because obviously a lot of people like those comic books!

@kun6manuk

I used to visit the used bookstore(s) at Blok M Square basement. Plenty of gem right there. Got Murakami’s for only 30k

Once, I happen to found the thick, classic edition of War & Piece. Too bad at that time I didn’t brought sufficient cash on hand.

Never heard of this bookstore before. Then again I’ve never been to Blok M Square. I shall have to investigate further!

@aksamala

I’m reading your timeline and honestly I kinda miss QB and I visit Aksara a lot more than Periplus and Gramedia.

I guess I enjoyed Aksara a lot more, It doesn’t mean I’m a hipster right?

I believe in people varied taste so snob is not me.

– but I hate if someone act like they’re the coolest person on the planet just because they read a certain book. That’s annoying.

Here’s a defense for Aksara and their so-called ‘hipster’ reputation. I agree with everything she says. At the end of the way, no matter how annoying their staff is, or how snobbish their ambience is, you read what you like and if you like the books that Aksara has to offer, then there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

@PH7S

sorry for the late reply on #SundaySurvey. Here’s my two cents: my fave includes Kino PS for the selection, Gramedia for the price. Can I include foreign bookstores? I love Barnes N Nobles.

Barnes N Nobles because of the wide selection. I remember once going and overwhelmed that they had 100s of Nancy Drew titles.

I wish there were more assessment on foreign bookstores but considering not everyone has been to a foreign bookstore, well, I can understand. (Although, if you think about it, half of the import bookstores in Jakarta originates from overseas… so…) Anyway, it’s great to hear what B&N is like. I only know them by reputation and it sounds like a great place to be.

And here’s one from Bali!

@rizqkramadhani

Well, they’re alright, I suppose. Though I know what they’re selling like I know my own bookshelves, which is sad ‘cus it means—

—that they don’t update fast enough.

There’s this one that always give discounts but sadly they don’t sell many imported books. I’m in Baliiii :P

Hehe :P It’s Togamas. They’ve a branch near my home and another near my campus. A friend told me there’s this thrift bookshop—

—at Ubud but we still have yet to visit the place.

Oh and you know what I hate most about bookshops in here? They don’t sell western comics. At all. They used to—idk what happened

I’m so taking notes so that the next time I go to Bali, I can bookstore-hop there. (And I’ll probably drag her along to guide me. Haha.)

I also asked the question:  If you could have your own bookstore, what would it be like? (or, at least, what would you sell and what would its name be?)

And there are some very creative answers to this!

@Astrapios I’d sell only fiction/historical, graphic novels, and comics. Call it something alongside Foundation Books or 221Bookstore *lols*

Great idea. I mean, the name of 221Bookstore. *Sherlock fan alert*

@kepikbadut oh I really love to LOL. Sometimes I imagine myself as a bookstore owner,&the bookstore looks like Shakespeare & Co in Paris hehe

I’ve seen pics of Shakespeare & Co and it IS unbelievable. I want to have a bookstore like this, too!

@SmurfGG All romance, Fabio cutout at the front with a name like Hot Devil. (I heard romance sells best…?) XD

Anyway, I think I like the idea of secondhand bookstores. A bit messy, a bit disorganized but all accommodating :) #MyBookstore

As ridiculous as Shirley’s first tweet may sound, this would probably be succeed. Romance is a bestseller EVERYWHERE. Do not even think of opening a bookstore without trying to cater to the romance-reading customer base. Seriously. Take it from someone who’s been in the bookstore business for 8 years and handled fiction category in for 3 years. (But maybe don’t use Fabio as a way to advertise your store. He’s old school. People are more interested in someone who looks less like a douche these days.)

As for her second tweet, yes, I imagine that would be fun, too.

@anitadiah

have you ever been to @perpus_freedom? I’d like to have a bookstore with their layout and ambiance, but less pretensious

going to name it “Tournesol” Sunflower in french. I basically have the blue print in my head. Need investor badly!#mybookstore

would like to have a bookclub events, acoustic music, poetry reading and a weekly layar tantjep with pot lucks from patrons

overall, I want activities like in Salihara, but with populi audiences. I want to have relationship with my patrons! #mybookstore

If I open my own bookstore, I’m hiring her as a partner.

@PH7S my own bookstore? Probably concentrate on teen novels with sections on Three Investigators, Nancy Drew and Steven Sterk. :)

If this is in a mall, this could be somewhere you drop your kids/young charges to while you go about your business! Nice.

@WHRauf have you ever watched the sitcom black books? I imagine it’d be like that but I’ll be waaaay meaner than bernard.

Never heard, but I’m scared to find out. *laughs*

@karynakirana

I’d love to have a simple, small bookstore with several staffs that I know very well. I want the place not to be too spacious

with earth colored decoration and faint citrus-y fragrance mixed with the scent of new books. xD

I’d sell all genre of book except textbook, maybe I’d mostly sell fantasy/adventure/mystery/scifi/biography.

I want to handle the bookstore with my own hand, helping staffs carry the books, sorting them, etc.

As for the store’s name,I’d like to call it “Erwynn Powl’s.” Pretty sure I’m gonna bother you a lot to ask about book ordering xD

Very vivid! And I might hire her to if I ever open my own bookstore.

Or, basically, we can all join together and make our own bookstore together? What do you say?

What a fun, lively Sunday Survey session today. I am most pleased. Thank you for joining and see you again in the next one.

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