Books and Bookstores in Indonesia
Many expatriates continue to enjoy life-long habits of reading books while residing in Indonesia. While there are several options in Jakarta; but finding a good bookstore with an excellent selection of reasonably priced books becomes more challenging outside Jakarta.
Local Bookstores and Stationers
There are two national book store chains that have branches in most of the larger cities in Indonesia, Gramedia and Gunung Agung. These bookstores carry a limited stock of books in English. They cater primarily to Indonesian nationals, with a majority of their titles in Bahasa Indonesia. They also stock many titles used in schools throughout Indonesia. They do, however, provide the best selection of office supplies in addition to the books they sell. From paper clips to file folders to pens to desks and safes - these two chains will be your best source of stationery items and office supplies.
International Bookstore Chains
Several international book store chains, from Singapore and Japan, stock a good supply of books in English or Japanese and have several locations throughout Jakarta. Kinokuniya (located at Grand Indonesia) is one of the largest English bookstores in Indonesia. Periplus, although not as big as Kinokuniya, also caters to English readers in Jakarta and has numerous locations in the city. Books and Beyond is also another book store that stocks English titles. They have locations throughout Jakarta and carry a selection of popular titles and magazines.
These stores cater to expats and offer a selection of bestsellers and have sections on business, computers, health, travel, cooking, fiction, non-fiction, graphics, interior design and other subjects. The selection of titles may seem limited compared to the great bookstores in the west. They also offer a selection of international magazines, however magazines are more expensive than what you would pay in the country it was published in. Normally the issues are 2 to 4 weeks behind the date of the magazine.
Prices may be inflated because of the shipping costs, however it is generally not to much more than the foreign dollar amount preprinted on the book cover. Some stores have a better selection of certain types of books than others. The smaller branches of these chains do not always have as wide a selection of all topics as the main store. If you are having trouble finding a certain title, most are very open to special ordering it for you. Normally this will take two weeks, depending on where the book is coming from.
In Bali, there is a Periplus Bookstore in Ubud and WH Smith at the domestic airport in Denpasar offers imported books in English.
In Jakarta, there are several small specialty book stores catering to specific clientele - including, graphic design, computer books, Christian books, Muslim books and scientific titles. They may be able to assist you in finding particular titles within their area of expertise.
In many of the larger cities in Indonesia you can also find used book stores. Many avid readers tend to exchange titles as soon as they are done reading so many titles currently on the “best sellers” list can be picked up at a very reduced cost! Some expatriate community groups and book clubs also organize libraries for their members to borrow books.
In Bali, a good source of books is Bali MarketPlace on Facebook.
Orders from Amazon or other international sources incur custom's duties if their declared value is over $50. You can purchase books online in Indonesia from Tokopedia, Blibli, or iLotte's Kinokuniya. Tokopedia sells eBooks.
There is a very small public library system in Indonesia. In Jakarta, there is the National Library, as well as one public library each in each of the capital city's five districts.
The Indonesian Heritage Society has the best library of books on Indonesian culture and history, open only to their members. The international schools, USIS and other organizations also have libraries, for checkout by members and students.
Some expat are members of libraries in their home countries and have continued access to the libraries digital selections, even from overseas. This gives non-English speakers continued access to books in their native language for their families while they are overseas.
A selection of foreign magazines are available in Indonesia, through newsstand sales, international chain bookstores or subscription. Most publications now have a digital version so if you know you will be moving abroad it might be best to subscribe to the digital version.
Mailing hard copies of magazines to Indonesia is expensive, so the digital version is the better option during your stay in Indonesia.
In the past, censorship was more of an issue than it is in the 'era of reformation' that is found in Indonesia today. There are, however, certain types of books that are still forbidden in Indonesia, mainly pornography and those that are politically sensitive or contain sensitive religious material. Historically, the government has had a long list of banned titles which you will not be able to purchase in Indonesia. In theory, if discovered by the customs officer in the airport, the magazines and books on the list will be taken from you if you attempt to bring them in your luggage. However, you rarely hear of this happening nowadays.
In the past, censorship was blatant and pervasive. Any issue of a major international news magazine that reported unfavorably on the Indonesian government had those passages inked over, or the entire issue was banned. The Indonesian government has historically been extremely sensitive about negative coverage. In some instances the publishing house or newspaper would be closed down and not allowed to print again. This is no longer the case, however. With the reform governments in power, the censorship of the press and books has been revised. If a book contains sensitive materials now, it just will be banned from being sold.
Often these banned titles may be available in Singapore or Australia or through a small publishing house in the west. The can often also be obtained by ordering them online. The fact that these books or magazine issues have been banned makes them a “hot item” and many people finds ways of bringing them into the country anyway.
Within the expatriate community, there are several book clubs for serious readers who enjoy discussing literary works. If you are interested in participating in serious book discussions, check with your national women's organization to see if they have a book club. These groups are informal and usually meet once every month. Members propose books for discussion in upcoming meetings, and photocopy or obtain original copies of the books for the members of the discussion group.
Books on Indonesia
For books on Indonesian cultural topics, the best selection can be found at the international bookstore chains in Jakarta. A big publisher of books on Indonesia is Periplus with a wide variety of interesting titles on Indonesian culture, history, flora and fauna, textiles, music and many other subjects. See also the Recommended Books listed on this site.
Prices on books tend to be the same in most bookstores, with retail outlets charging the publishers suggested retail price. You will find that distribution of books is not certain and not every title may be available in every bookstore. You may have to call/visit several stores to find a particular title you want, even if it is available in Indonesia. At this time, new paperback novels star at around Rp 200,000. Imported reference books, photography, cookbooks or special interest books can cost up to Rp, 1,500.000. Western magazines are around Rp. 90,000-450,000. Prices are often more than double the price in the country it was published. Compared to locally published books, imported books are more expensive.
Some people buy hard to find books online via Amazon or other online sources. Be aware however that you may be asked to pay duty charges when the hardcopy book arrives at your house and this willadd considerably to the cost of the book. Whenever possible buying books on line, it is better to purchase the digital version to avoid these extra charges. (Prices 10/2020)
Books for Expatriates
Community organizations self-publish specialty books for expatriates in Indonesia. See AWA Publications for a listing of some of these. The Indonesian Heritage Society publishes several titles on Indonesian culture.
Hotel Book Shops
Some of the 5-star hotels also have good book shops on the premises, though the selection is very limited due to the small facilities.
Send Books in your Household Shipment or Stock Up on Home Leave
Many expats weigh the unavailability of books at a reasonable cost in Indonesia and choose to bring a good selection with their household shipment or when they come back from trips abroad or annual home leave.
Preserving Books in a Tropical Climate
Indonesia's high humidity can wreak havoc on your books as molds and mildews tend to grow on books that are not kept in air conditioned rooms. An ideal temperature for book storage is 21 degrees Celsius. If you cannot manage that then manage at least to have them aired as much as possible (light fan) and avoid putting books in a place which will see temperature swings daily as humidity in Indonesia is high and wood pulp starts deteriorating faster at 55% or more. Basically if your books aren't in an air-conditioned room, you are in trouble! They will deteriorate faster!
A few tips for preventing mold on your books:
- Don't shelve books directly against an outside wall. Due to temperature and humidity differences between inside and outside environments, moisture may develop along walls. Allowing air to circulate against the walls will enable the moisture to evaporate.
- Avoid putting your books in direct sunlight.
- Waterproof basements and walls below ground level. Use water-sealant paint on floors and walls.
- Regularly inspect your book collection for mold or mildew. This will allow you to catch any infestation before it becomes large. And continue to monitor potentially hazardous areas until the environment can be stabilized in an appropriate state.
- Put the silica bags from pill bottles, sweets, etc. in the cabinet that stores your books to absorb excess moisture.
- A traditional remedy to this problem is to put whole peppers on the shelves with the books as they help absorb humidity and prevent those 'book-eater' insects from infesting your books.
- Or ... don't bring your favorite books to Indonesia..?!
Rest assured that you will be able to find reading material during your stay in Indonesia. Check out the many bookstores and discover your favorite!
Our thanks to Trippy Jap, Footsie, and other Expat Forum visitors for contributing these tips!
Last updated November 16, 2021