"The ramifications of a burgeoning e-book market for the Japanese publishing industry is not something that can be ignored," said Yoshinobu Noma, senior executive vice president of Kodansha and the head of EBPAJ, at a press conference at the organization's inaugural meeting in Tokyo in March.
A "Japanese-style" publishing business model is currently under review, and a report on such issues as the creation of e-book data standards is expected to be compiled by the end of June.
Major U.S. Internet search company Google's one-sided digitalization of published books is said to be what kick-started the frantic public- and private-sector discussion on e-books in Japan. But another motivating factor has been the popularity of U.S. online retail giant Amazon.com's Kindle e-reader, and the sense of impending crisis that its effects will spill over into the Japanese publishing industry.
In the U.S., more than 500,000 iPads were sold within the first week of its release, and its launch in Japan has been postponed by a month because production cannot keep up with demand. The mystique that inevitably surrounds a rare product has made the iPad even more popular.
According to Tokyo-based media research company Impress R&D, the e-book market has been expanding every year. A fiscal 2009 prediction said that it would increase by over 10 percent from the previous year, making it a 52 billion yen industry. Cell phones in particular have been a driving force in this growth, with comics read via cell phones accounting for 70 to 80 percent of the market.
"Achieving a balance between print and digital publications or the issue of copyrights are not things that can be dealt with by individual publishing companies anymore; they are problems that must be tackled with industry-wide efforts."
This reporter had a chance to play around with the Amazon's Kindle DX, which went on sale in Japan in January, at Amazon Japan in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward. The reader takes only a few seconds to boot up, a pleasant surprise for those of us who have no patience for the time it takes our computers to turn on. The black-and-white screen may be easy on the eyes, but makes the device look rather plain. At 26.4 centimeters by 18.2 centimeters, with a thickness of 0.96 centimeters and weighing in at 535.8 grams, it's compact but can hold approximately 3,500 books.
When, for example, selecting "Kafka on the Shore" one finds that the first chapter is available for browsing free of charge. There's also a plot summary and comments from those who've read it. Downloading the book costs $11.99, and there is no telecommunications charge.
"Kafka on the Shore" is probably not available at small neighborhood bookshops. You could easily buy it online, but it takes a few days for the book to be delivered. Only the English version is available on Kindle at the moment, but once Japanese books hit the market, being able to buy books in "under 60 seconds," as touted by Amazon will no doubt increase the device's appeal to Japanese readers. There's a read-aloud feature, which does just that, and six font sizes to choose from, increasing ease of use for older or disabled consumers. There's a convenient built-in dictionary, and if you turn the screen on its side, the words automatically do the same. Once you go Kindle, it'll be tough to go back.
Using e-readers means you no longer have to take the time to re-sell your books to used bookstores to clear out space in your room. But the thought of accidentally losing all my data frightens still. One never had to worry about losing all print books at once. (Mainichi Daily News)