At the last Tokyo International Book Fair (one of the major publishing trade shows in Asia) the focus was heavily in e-books and digital media. The paper book area seemed much quieter, compared with the hustle and bustle in the digital zone. The number of Japanese language e-book titles has not grown significantly since the last book fair.
Publishers still remain reluctant to convert their books into digital formats due to cost, as well as their own ongoing fears about digitization, potential closure of bookstores and danger for entire publishing industry. Fixed pricing for print media is tolerated despite the country’s anti-trust policies, but not when it comes to digital content. Paper book distribution in Japan is suffering from a number of factors, including a 40% return rate – a situation almost similar to Germany.
Japan overflows with digital technology, mobile phones are constantly used, and ultra high-speed Internet is much faster than in North America. But despite all this, the e-book market in Japan remains small. Japans total book market for 2010 was valued at 18.6 billion, of which e-books comprised 806 million or 3.3% of the overall market. It is predicted that the Japanese e-book market will grow rapidly. Both the dropping price of e-readers and the wider adoption of smart phones in Japan could contribute to this growth.
Japan’s eBook stores are poorly placed to compete with Amazon. Even some respected, well-funded stores have wasted time in solving the wrong problem. The stores of Rakuten (a domestic eRetailing powerhouse), Kinokuniya (the largest bricks and mortar bookstore chain) and Sony have pooled resources to ensure that consumers buying eBooks from one of their three stores can read these books on devices or apps associated with one of the other stores.
However, to compete against Amazon, the Japanese eBook stores must improve their services in several areas. Japans industry is not well-prepared for Amazon’s market entry. Amazon will undoubtedly be successful in Japan’s eBook market, but who will rise to the Amazon challenge.