Hiroki Kamata, the Editor of E-Book 2.0 Magazine, explains on Publishing Perspectives why, despite being a leader in technology and consumer electronics, Japan only has 30,000 Japanese language ebook titles available:

Simply put, publishers continue to remain reluctant to convert their books into digital formats due to cost, as well as their own ongoing fears about digitization.

Why are publishers so suspicious when it comes to e-books? First, they believe e-books will eventually cannibalize their print book business. Second, they suspect the book market will continue to decline and, ultimately, become less lucrative. Third, they think international e-book businesses, especially Amazon’s Kindle e-bookstore, will destroy the Japanese distribution system dominated by two companies, Tohan and Nippan, whose shareholders include a dozen of Japan’s major publishers.

This may sound like an irresponsible and self-destructive approach to outside market forces, but the Japanese publishing industry, argues Kamata, operates “more like a society to which the privileged members have belonged for generations.” He notes that last year, “a major business magazine had to cancel its cover story about distribution in the publishing industry” because it was too critical about what publishers consider sensitive private topics.

To fight off the Amazon menace, the publishers are working with those two distribution companies mentioned above to sell ebooks directly to consumers, but because they’re keeping ebook prices at 70-80% of print price, consumers are ignoring them—and the ebook market remains stunted.

Read the full article at Publishing Perspectives.

(Photo: TAKA@P.P.R.S.)


  1. In fact, that doesn’t sound much different than the U.S. publishers. The only real difference is that the U.S. publishers were pulled (kicking and screaming) into the ebook market by Amazon.

  2. Since English was mandated to be taught in Japanese schools by MacArthur, one does not need Japanese Language books in Japan to be a success. There is no mention in this article on the number of e-books available in English in Japan.

  3. I remember way back when the Japanese bucked the Microsoft Windows trend and embraced NEC OS instead – guess who lost out? That put Japanese software companies years behind, they never really recovered from that. The whole world has embraced Facebook, with the notable exception of Japan. But guess what? Although they’re behind (as usual), it’s finally starting to take off in Japan. EBooks eventually WILL destroy the Japanese distribution system. I suggest they get with the program soon because there is no turning back on this.

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