About Korean eBooks: Millie, SAM, Google Play Books, and more!

Gabriel Tan

Gabriel Tan

Aug 10 2021

·

6 min read

Have you ever thought of reading Korean eBooks on a Kindle? Well, sorry to burst your bubble. Even though you technically can, you'll quickly find that your selection of books are very limited. Have you tried searching for Korean books on Amazon?

Korean books search result

Yuck, you're telling me that only these kind of books are available? What about interesting books that real Korean people read, like these?

Yes24 Bestseller list

In this post, I'll be showing you what options you have for reading Korean eBooks, especially if you don't live within Korea and don't have a Korean credit card.

Some Background on Korean eBooks

When I reached the intermediate stage of learning Korean, I wanted to find interesting books to read to expand my vocabulary. I tried buying physical Korean books, but they took up my already diminishing bedroom space, and I didn't always know whether I would end up reading the books. So I turned to looking for eBooks. Being the technological giant that Korea was, it should be easy to find eBooks, right?

Nope.

It seems like the Korean book industry is dominated by a few big book companies like Kyobo and YES24, and they had made eBook reading inaccessible. Their eBooks are heavily DRM-protected, which means that you have to read the eBooks on their e-reader (which seem to be overpriced and underperformant). DRM removal is non-existent for these Korean eBooks because there is simply not enough demand for it. You most likely need to have a Korean CC or jump through some ridiculous hoops to buy the eBooks, and their propietary eBook reading software is horrible. Even my favorite of the lot, Millie, has subpar propietary reading software (as compared to something like Moon Reader+) but I overlooked it because of its greater selection of eBooks.

Maybe things will change down the line, but for now, the landscape is pretty limited and you'd do best to just adapt to it.

밀리의 서재 (Millie)

Price

9,900KRW / Month

Selection
Value for money
Ease of access

Millie App Screen

Millie App Books

Millie Story Screen

Millie is my current choice for having a wide selection of books I've made a pretty detailed post about 밀리의 서재 here and how you can make use of it to further your Korean learning journey.

If you just want a quick and dirty summary of it, my reasons for picking Millie is that:

  1. It's very affordable at about the same price of a Netflix subscription.
  2. It has a wide selection of Korean eBooks and audiobooks - similar to a bundled Kindle Unlimited and Audible. It's even more valuable when you consider that you probably don't really know what books you can or cannot understand yet.
  3. Their library is frequently updated, including recent bestsellers, as well as localized works like Factfulness and Atomic Habits. They currently boast over 100,000 Korean eBooks.
  4. Their books are DRM locked but you can access them on all major platforms. If you have an Android-based e-Reader like the Onyx Boox, they are compatible.

Google Play Books

Price

Variable

Selection
Value for money
Ease of access

Google Play Books

You might not think of Google Play books when buying English eBooks, but it is surprisingly a strong contender for Korean eBooks. Its selection is quite limited, and it's all mixed up with books of other languages. However, its strongest point is that it's DRM is easily removable. All you need to do is to use a certain Calibre plugin to remove the Adobe DRM from the book, and you can now read the book on any device. On top of that, the eBooks tend to be pretty cheap as compared to the other big book sites.

If you're trying to find new books to read, I suggest not starting that search on Google Play Books. The search is suboptimal at best and there's no way to filter your search properly. Instead, I recommend you to first find a book to read on one of the big Korean book sites like Kyobo, YES24, or Aladin, and then finally search Google Play Books to buy the book.

If you can buy an eBook on Google Play Books rather than the other eBook sites, you definitely should since you can easily remove the DRM from Google Play Books, making the book that you bought truly your own.

Kyobo SAM 무제한

Price

9,900KRW / Month

Selection
Ease of access

Kyobo SAM

Kyobo SAM 무제한 is Kyobo's take on Kindle Unlimited in Korea. From the picture above, they currently have ~66,500 eBooks available, a whopping 33,000 less than Millie.

They do seem to have expanded their selection of books from when I last visited them, but it still seems like they are lagging behind Millie from the numbers.

Kyobo SAM Books

I haven't personally used this service, before so I'll refrain from commenting on how good it actually is. However, one thing to take note is that you probably need to have a Korean CC for this, as it is subscription based. I remember trying to sign up for the free trial, but my card got promptly denied and I couldn't even try the service. Boo 👎

This service might be good if you have a specific book in mind that you want to read and it is only available here. Otherwise, you should look at the alternatives in this post.

Single eBooks from Kyobo, Yes24, Aladin, or other sites

Even with all these great "unlimited reading" subscriptions, there might be some books that you really want to read but are unavailable on these subscriptions. In that case, you can consider buying a single eBook from the big book shops. It can be quite troublesome to do so though, since some of their sites are quite archaic and have a terrible user experience. You might also find yourself unable to buy the eBook if their payment system only accepts Korean CCs (which is another common pain in many Korea-only sites). Do think carefully about which vendor you want to buy from, because you'll be locked into their reading platform when you want to read your book. I suggest downloading their application first before committing to a purchase.

On top of that, some of these big book shops don't support all platforms. If they only have applications for mobile devices, you will not be able to read your books on your computer without the use of an emulator.

Personally, I look at these things before committing to a purchase for an eBook:

  1. Cross-platform: Must at least support Android + Windows, or provide a cloud syncing service for notes and bookmarks
  2. Cloud-based notes and bookmarks so my notes are synced to and from each platform
  3. Quick dictionary-lookup is a major plus

If you're interested in how I rapidly expand my passive vocabulary with eBooks, I'll be making a post on it sometime in the future, so subscribe to the mailing list and get notified!

Libraries?

Although Korean libraries have a sizable number of Korean eBooks that you can loan, it seems impossible to access unless you have a Korean residency card or something. It's such a pity...

Conclusion

Hopefully this post has helped you to understand the options that you have when it comes to Korean eBooks. Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section below and let me know what are your thoughts on Korean eBooks!


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