Tuesday July 17, 2012
Tapping into Japan
IN highly-literate and gadget-loving Japan, e-books are curiously rare – but battle for the untapped and potentially hugely lucrative market is about to commence.
When e-commerce giant Rakuten unleashes its Kobo e-reader onto Japan on Thursday, it will fire the opening shots in the scrap for literary territory, hoping for a slice of the US$23.5bil (RM75.2bil) Japanese spend on books annually.
The Kobo is set to be joined later this year by a Japanese version of the Kindle, Amazon.com’s world-leading e-reader, pitting two of the planet’s biggest names in e-books against each other.
“I want to start the reading revolution in Japan and in the world with Kobo,” Rakuten chief executive Hiroshi Mikitani said last Monday as he announced the Thursday launch.
Material in Japanese will initially be limited to about 30,000 titles but Rakuten said it was aiming to grow that figure to about 1.5 million over the coming years.
Japan’s existing e-book market is largely a niche segment, mostly comprising comic books for mobile phone users. Only a limited number of novels and non-fiction titles have been digitised in Japan, where the unique language protects publishers from foreign competition.
The situation has long frustrated IT-ready Japanese bookworms, some of whom have made their own e-books by dissecting printed works and scanning the pages for their tablet computers.
But that is about to change. Late last month, Amazon.com broke years of strategic silence and said it would soon announce Kindle’s launch in Japan. Sony is also trying to cultivate the market with a slick “Reader” device, supported by its own e-book store with nearly 60,000 Japanese language titles. That is more than enough to cover bestsellers, but still woefully incapable of keeping up with the 80,000 new books published in Japan every year.
Publishers, already facing falling paper book sales, have so far been reluctant to digitise their books for fear that e-books could kill physical sales. But with the coming of behemoths such as Amazon.com, they have been galvanised by fears that a market-rejuvenating platform might slip from their grasp, said Yashio Uemura, communications professor at Senshu University.
“The industry is feeling a sense of crisis that, if they do nothing and stay passive ... huge foreign IT firms could take the e-book market,” said Prof Uemura.
Prof Uemura is a key member of a new firm, created in April by a group of top publishers and a Japanese Government-backed investment body, tasked with helping Japanese publishing houses digitise one million book titles in five years. That means making e-versions of all books that can be purchased in Japan, plus a selection of out-of-print titles.
“In this country, where people love new gadgets, it’s inconceivable that digital content won’t enjoy strong sales,” he said. – AFP Relaxnews