Trevari is different from most people’s idea of a conventional book club. Instead of a single group of people who enjoy books, Trevari does things on a much bigger scale.
The company does all the “annoying administration” of running and managing 111 separate reading groups so people can just enjoy being members.
“For a regular meeting to occur with a group of people, it is important that someone manages the schedule and reminds members of the topics. And a lot of people don’t realize that it is quite a lot of work,” Yoon Soo-young the 29-year-old CEO of Trevari, told The Korea Herald at one of his company’s meeting rooms in Apgujeong, Seoul.
Trevari CEO Yoon Soo-young (Trevari)
That is why the company charges a fee of 190,000 won ($170) for a four-month membership. Not including books, as members are supposed to bear the costs of buying books.
While some people might doubt the demand for membership at such a fee, subscriptions have gone from strength to strength. Trevari kicked off with 80 members two years ago in 2015 and now has more than 1,600.
With its 20 employees, Trevari has set an effective system to take care of meeting places and offer diversity in reading groups for people to join. It comes up with detailed plans and intriguing topics to set for each reading groups, ranging from psychology and culture to technology and marketing.
But paying the fee will not keep your membership safe. Members have to turn in a book review two days before their regular monthly meetings.
“The point here is not to force people to write the reviews, but to have them ready for a good discussion at the Trevari meetings,” Yoon explained.
“I believe writing out your own thoughts is more important than reading. By writing a book review, you are practicing building your own opinion on all the bits and pieces you take in.”
Trevari staff members pose for pictures in the company's office in Apgujeong-dong, Seoul. (Trevari)
The word “Trevari” is a Korean word that refers to a person or the act of liking logical discussions, and Yoon feels strongly that this is an important part of the groups. Yoon argues that people nowadays are exposed to more information than they can process, and that input becomes nothing in the end without careful thought. Thinking other people’s thoughts does not help you live your own life, he added.
In Trevari, all members are at different stages in life and are from different backgrounds. From those in their early 20s to mid-50s, they get an opportunity to “say hello” to a new world, says Yoon.
“The fact that they are all different makes the discussions richer. In the book discussions they share different interpretations of the same book and learn what they would never have imagined on their own.”
It also has special reading groups led by professional mentors. The fee is higher for such groups, set at 290,000 won. Yoon, who came up with the idea, explained how it is important to have a role model in life.
“The term ‘mentoring’ has become bromidic, but it is very important to have an inspiring mentor. I believe there are questions that have definite answers and we do not have to waste time thinking about them,” Yoon said. “That is why mentors are important -- to tell us the answers. Another aspect is that we all need a role model who can inspire us to work and achieve whatever it is that is defined as ‘success’ for us.”
Trevari’s strength lies in its impressive mentor lineup. Among the 30 who lead reading groups as mentors are the former CEO of Naver, Kim Sang-hun, Kakao Makers’ CEO Hong Eun-tae and Seoul Science Center chief Yi Jeong-mo -- all at the top of their fields.
While fewer people are reading books nowadays, Yoon said the key to boosting people’s interest in reading is in the hands of the distributors.
“We often hear that Koreans do not read books any more, but I think the distributors can change that. The book industry limits itself to just selling the books. But it should expand, just like how restaurant businesses are providing more pleasure than just their food.”
Book publishers should consider ways to influence readers from the very beginning -- what books readers pick, how they read the books and apply what they have learnt in their lives.
According to data released by the Culture Ministry, 65 percent of adults read just one book in the entire 2015, which means a third of people over 19 in South Korea did not read a single book that year. The figure has fallen from 86.8 percent in 1994.
When asked how to read books well, Yoon said he agrees with former US President Barack Obama, who said reading books slowed him down and gave him perspective at a time when events move so quickly and so much information is transmitted.
“When the world changes quickly, it is very important to take a moment to think and focus on the core of everything,” Yoon said.
By Jo He-rim (firstname.lastname@example.org)