In an article that showed up complete in my RSS reader but turned out to be behind a paywall when I tried to click through, The Bookseller reports that a group of 180 Japanese publishers are joining forces under an initiative with a goal of creating 1 million e-books. This may be just a bit optimistic, given how slow the Japanese market has been to develop so far:

“Digitising one million books would revolutionise the market here but it is difficult to take that number seriously given that it has taken the Japanese publishers nine years to reach their current total of well under 100,000 mainstream books,”  said Robin Birtle, c.e.o. of digital publishers specialising in Japan, Sakkam Press.

“However, Shuppan Digital Kikou’s success in gaining support from over 180 publishers puts them in a position of strength in their negotiations with Amazon and other overseas players.”

And whether it actually does reach a million titles will depend on agreements over rights.

Still, the lack of e-book titles has been one element of the “chicken or the egg” problem that dogs any place where e-books have been slow to launch: no one will buy e-books without a reader, and no one will buy a reader without a good selection of e-books. With this initiative taken together with the expected Japanese launch of the Kindle in the spring, it looks like Japan may finally be attacking both sides of that problem.

Of course, many Japanese consumers have tired of waiting and have already been scanning their own paper books into e-book format, with the help of “jisui” companies that have sprung up to do that very thing. (Not surprisingly, Japanese publishers and authors have not been pleased.)


  1. Japan uses two main eBook formats (dot Book from Voyager Japan and XMDF from Sharp). Both are proprietary and costly to use though Sharp last year did open up access to XMDF somewhat.

    EPUB3 is certainly good for foreign retailers entering the market since they can extend their existing reader technologies rather than having to implement dot Book or XMDF. (No doubt they will doing a lot of conversion to ePub on acquisition of content but the reader side of things should be just EPUB).

    All of the major Japanese retailers already have the bulk of their content in dot Book or XMDF and are unlikely to move from that for quite a while. Domestic market participants publishing/working with narrative text will probably not use EPUB since right now there is little benefit in making the change. Producers of enhanced/ illustrated/ picture books will be tempted especially for the capabilities available in Apple’s iBooks if / when it launches in Japan.

  2. A brief update. On the very day you posted this article, Kadokawa, a major publisher, signed a deal with Amazon, and announced that the company would sell its ebooks on the Kindle platform. They did this in total disregard of the Shuppan Dijitaru Kiko consortium. Watch out for the fur that will fly. More on this news at this site (in Japanese):

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