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 only 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, primarily from Singapore and Japan, stock a good supply of books in English or Japanese and have opened several locations throughout Jakarta. Kinokuniya (located at Sogo Plaza Senayan, Sogo Plaza Indonesia, Pondok Indah Mall, and Grand Indonesia) is one of the largest English bookstores in Indonesia. Aksara have also added a new store to their chain with their opening of a large store in Plaza Indonesia and one at Cilandak Town Square. Periplus, although not as big as Kinokuniya, also caters to English readers in Jakarta and has numerous locations in the city. Times Book Store is also another book store that stocks English titles. The flagship store is located in Lippo Karawaci next to the university, however they have other locations throughout Jakarta and carry a very good selection of books.
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.
Previously it may have been hard to find a good selection of foreign books, however with the opening of numerous new stores over the last couple of years the selection is now much improved. 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.
For more information on bookstores recommended by expatriates in Indonesia, check out community's posts on the Living in Indonesia Expat Forum.
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.
Outside the tourist centers of Bali and Yogyakarta, where used books are sold in small shops, the best source of used books is through community organizations. In Jakarta, ANZA House, the AWA Center, BWA Center, and other community groups offer novels, children's books and magazines at reduced prices for their members. Some of the titles are quite old, with some circulating through the expat community for decades. 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.
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.
A small selection of foreign magazines are available in Indonesia, through newsstand sales, international chain bookstores or subscription. You can, however, subscribe to most magazines from home and have them mailed to Indonesia. Some magazine publishers, however, will NOT post overseas. If you find airmail prohibitive, have the publisher send the magazine via sea mail. It may take two months, but the additional charges for postage will be reasonable.
If you have any problems receiving magazines addressed for delivery to your home, you may choose to change the mailing address to your company or a post office box address, rather than a street address. It always helps to develop a good 'relationship' with the postman, tipping at holiday times, to ensure that your magazines and other mail get to you safely.
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. The books discussed in these clubs are rarely available in Indonesia.
Books on Indonesia
For books on Indonesian cultural topics, the best selection can be found at the international bookstore chains in Jakarta. The biggest publishers of books on Indonesia are Periplus and Times books of Singapore, with a wide variety of interesting titles on Indonesian culture, history, flora and fauna, textiles, music and many other subjects. We have some 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 150,000 . 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. (Prices 6/2012)
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.
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..?!
em>Our thanks to Trippy Jap, Footsie, and other Expat Forum visitors for contributing these tips!
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!