A war against Amazon in Japan
July 12, 2012 | 10:16 am
By Paul Biba
TOKYO: The keynote panel discussion at Tokyo’s E-Book Expo, as part of the Tokyo Book Fair last week, wasn’t expected to get the pulses racing despite the presence of Mikitani-san, whose company Rakuten has acquired Kobo, and Noma-san, the leader of the giant publisher Kodansha. We feared that the dot-com arriviste and the bastion of traditional Japanese publishing would do little more than exchange platitudes. Such an exchange would signal that the publishing establishment had pigeon holed Kobo alongside the much reviled Amazon and that the prospect for the whole industry getting out its digital limbo was slim.
At the local train station, the poster reads: “A reading revolution. Whole new ways to enjoy books. (From) Rakuten Kobo”
That’s what we expected. Instead, we got a Rakuten Kodansha love-in, which heralds a sea change in Japanese publishing.
Before the panelists even had a chance to shuffle their pencils and open their bottles of mineral water, a delighted Noma-san held up a t-shirt, apparently just received as a present from Mikitani-san. Printed on the urban camouflage design were the words datou amazon(Destroy Amazon!). Jaws dropped. Any interloping Amazon executives could be excused for texting home, “Seattle, we have a problem”. This party was on.
What followed in the next hour could form the basis for a case study in how to disrupt a slow moving industry steeped in tradition. Aspiring MBAs should note three points in particular.