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Amazon Finally Signing Japanese Publishers? Maybe Not

While Barnes & Noble is busy in London sweet talking publishers, Amazon is rumored to be in Japan. The 2-year-old rumors about the Japanese Kindle Store got another polish this week with the rumor that Amazon has finally managed to sign Japanese publishers.

The Asahi Shimbum reported yesterday that the Publisher’s Bane has signed contracts with a number of publishers, including Gakken Holdings Co., a major publisher, and midmarket players Shufunotomo Co. and PHP Institute.  That last is a rather curious detail; previous rumors indicated that Amazon had already signed that publisher months ago.

The rumor goes on to include mentions that 40 or more smaller publishers have also signed with Amazon, but no more names have been given. There’s also a new name being thrown around as an interested partner, though the source doesn’t offer any firm details on whether Kadokawa will sign with Amazon.

The last rumor on this topic said that Amazon would launch the Kindle in Japan this month. (The Kindle Touch had already been shipping around the world since early February, and the K4 since it launched in November.) We’re rather late in the month now so it doesn’t seem that that rumor is going to come true.

Call me pessimistic, but I watched that rumor go around last time and I noticed that nearly everyone who repeated it missed an important detail: the basic fact that the rumor post-dated the event it predicted. That has led me to place  "Kindle in Japan" rumors firmly in the unicorn category until proven otherwise.

One other detail that makes me doubt the basis for all these rumors comes from Bowker’s recent worldwide ebook consumer survey. They found that 72% of Japanese respondents disliked the idea of ebooks, and a mere 13% would consider buying them. That’s a rather hostile market, and Amazon would be better off investing their time elsewhere.


image by Marc Veraart

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Phil Knall April 21, 2012 um 6:42 am

While I completely agree that the current rumors (right now Nikkei is trying to revise their prediction to July) are just as devoid of fact as the previous ones, there’s a handful factors that still have me hopeful Amazon will make it into our market after all. (I say hopeful because I am a very happy Kindle owner who reads japanese, and right now my only option is to scan the books myself)

Firstly, Jeff Bezos himself recently did a round of interviews in Tokyo (probably in conjunction with Amazon JP’s launch of their clothing/fashion division) and, asked about Kindle services, gave a smug grin and told us to look forward to an announcement later this year.

Secondly, while it is absolutely true that the average Japanese citizen has little interest in e-books right now, that doesn’t say anything about Amazon’s chances in my eyes. Contrary to popular belief, the Japanese are always wary about new technology and hesitant to switch to something radically different. Until the media start pushing it for real, and they get the impression that "everyone is doing it," at which point the market completely explodes. Look at Smartphones, for example. Two years ago, Apple had a really hard time selling their iphones, and everyone was completely convinced that Japanese clamshell cellphones were all that would ever sell over here. This year, you’d be hard pressed to find more than two non-smartphone models in any of our providers' line-ups.
The Japanese traditionally read a LOT. There’s so much new on the shelves of bookstores every week it’s mindboggling, and not a day goes by I don’t see people reading books on their commuter trains. So I don’t share your pessimism about the market prospects, if it does blow up it will be huge for Amazon and japanese publishers.

And thirdly, there is definitely a lot going on with e-books outside of the Kindle debate. Manga are actually doing pretty well in electronic form. Rakuten bought Kobo and their CEO Mikitani said flat out he was planning for a domestic launch of their readers this spring in a recent interview with Nikkei Business. And there’s a government-sponsored initiative helping publishers digitize existing content (because as hard as it is to believe, they don’t even have digital data of books published only years back).

sources (all japanese, sorry):
Mikitani CEO on Amazon & Kobo
Bezos interview in Nikkei:
Article on the "Pubridge" digitizing service start

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