How the Tokyo Book Fair Helps Rights Seekers

In Feature Articles by Edward Nawotka

By Edward Nawotka

“Japanese publishers don’t have a lot of experience selling rights, so we did what we could to make it easier,” said Eiko Han, spokesperson for the Tokyo International Book Fair, which opens tomorrow and runs through Sunday. “We’ve made it so exhibitors and visitors can put their rights information online. Businesses can search and, if they are interested, can click to make appointments. It’s not so different from what other fairs do, but this is our third year doing it and we’ve found it really helps, especially new exhibitors.”

Dubbed the “Rights Trade Support Service,” the web enabled appointment engine is available in English, the lingua-franca of business, thereby helping non-Japanese speaking visitors overcome the language barrier.

As befits the word “international” in the Fair’s name, in 2008 it attracted over 61,000 visitors from 41 countries. This year, despite the global economic crisis, organizers are expecting a strong Fair, and possibly even better attendance. At the very least nearly 800 exhibitors are registered, representing a  bump from the 763 registered last year.

Of those coming from abroad, Koreans are the largest contingent and the most active in the rights market. Taiwanese publishers represent the second biggest block, while “in recent years,” said Han, “the Chinese have also been increasing their numbers little by little.”

The rights action at the fair tends to focus on manga titles and, increasingly, children’s books. The children’s book exhibition area is among the most popular destinations for buyers and has nearly doubled in size in the past five years.  The proof of the growing importance of kid’s books can be seen in the marketplace where bookstores are expanding their sections; Japan’s largest chain, Kinokuniya, estimates there are 26% more books for children available in Japan than there were five years ago.

“We’re also starting to see more rights interest in craft and lifestyle books, ” said Han. “Business books are also becoming more popular, particularly with other Asian countries.”

Nevertheless, these days the main attraction for most overseas visitors isn’t in print, it’s digital. For years no the Tokyo International Book Fair has offered a showcase for the latest in e-book and digital publishing technology. This year, companies exhibiting include top names like Voyager Japan, Celsys, Sharp, Dai Nippon Printing and Toppan Printing.

In Japan, the market for digital publishing continues to grow at a rate of 200% per year since 2003 and in 2007 is estimated to have hit $335 million in annual sales. (Still, this represents just a fraction of the overall annual market, estimated to be approximately $20 billion.) “Compared with other Asian countries, even other countries in the world, we are the most developed in this area, particularly in e-content for mobile phones,” confirmed Han.

Asked if she could offer a tip as to what might be the biggest headlining event of the show, Han demurred. “You’ll just have to come and see for yourself,” she said.

VISIT: the English-language Web Site for the Tokyo Book Fair.

TRY: the Rights Trade Support Service (limited service for non-registered users).

CONTACT: The show’s organizers.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.