The Three Keys to Japan’s Future E-book Growth

In Digital by Hiroki Kamata

The Big Three — Google, Apple and Amazon — are expected to jump start the market, but others have an opportunity as well.

By Hiroki Kamata, Editor, E-Book 2.0 Magazine

Kinoppy e-book app

Kinokuniya's e-book app for the iPad, Kinoppy

As discussed yesterday, the growth of Japan’s e-book market has been stymied by its publishers. To cope, frustrated consumers are creating their own digital copies of books from printed books. The practice is called “Jisui,” (“cooking one’s own meals”). New book scanning services have emerged to meet the growing demand from the tablet and PC readers. These services charge 100 yen for the first 300 pages and additional 100 yen for every 200 pages after that.

Electronics manufacturers and IT companies are disappointed and frustrated with the decade-long partnerships with the publishers. They have lost both time and money waiting for Japan’s slow-growing digital book market to speed up. They are now expecting global players like Google, Apple, and even Amazon to jumpstart the market and change the situation. Among the three global players, Google is regarded more favorable for its “friendliness” to the Japanese as compared to Apple (strictly anti-pornography) and Amazon (monopolistic).

In asking who will innovate the Japanese e-book market and what could impede that innovation, Robin Birtle, CEO at Sakkam Press in Tokyo, identified five potential innovators:

  1. Self publishers
  2. Solo superstar like J.K. Rowling
  3. E-book spammers
  4. Discovery specialists
  5. ”Cross-media” publishers

Basically I agree with him. The publishers’ guild needs pressure from outsiders to adapt to the 21st century realities of the media business. However, it may some time, possibly another generation, for this to happen. However, I am worried that the publishers’ base of readers might desert them in the meantime.

I think we need to rely on the following three key players to change the e-book market in Japan:

  1. Self and small publishers
  2. Self publishers include prominent authors and corporate publishers, as well as amateur authors. In order to survive, the small and medium-sized publishers, those with large backlists and rights to out-of-print titles, need an alternative to the current rigid system.

  3. Overseas publishers
  4. Foreign publishers have unprecedented opportunity to do business in this market, where translated titles constitute more than 8% of the more than $12 billion worth of books sold (one of the highest percentages of any of the top five markets). With e-books, foreign publishers have direct access to these consumers.

  5. Non-publishers
  6. Non-publishers include digital content providers from other industries (gaming, video, music, etc.) and information services industries (education, IT, business, etc.). They need e-books with streamlined distribution and possibly direct access to the consumers. And in some cases, they are better prepared to create this digital content.

If those players enter the e-book market, and come close to capturing the emerging channel of digital content distribution, the major publishers will scramble to adapt and change.

DISCUSS: What Is Your Ideal E-Reading Device?

About the Author

Hiroki Kamata

Hiroki Kamata is the editor and publisher of E-book 2.0 magazine.