contador Skip to content

Japan fears iPad's 'black ship'

iPad in Japan scares: publishers, associations, booksellers and even ministers. Someone arrived to compare the Apple tablet to the black ships, as they were called with very effective symbolism, capable of going to the heart as well as the mind of a country that also lives on symbols, the 4 vessels that the commodore Matthew Perry, port of Tokyo bay marking the beginning of the end of feudal Japan, hitherto self-referential and totally different from the West.

black ship

In 21st century Japan at risk of extinction there are no Shogun and Samurai, a caste system and the Daimio, and there is not even a backward society perched on its traditions other than in the West, but an editorial industry capable of exploiting as few other technological tools in the world (the level of reading novels and manga on mobile phones is very high) but which, also due to the issue of alphabet and language, is terribly closed and traditional and which provides 450 publishers with a very solid ecosystem favored not only by the rate of reading, one of the highest in the world and more than quadruple compared to the United States (for Italy it is necessary to count it, made one hundred inhabitants, twelve times more), but also for an economic mechanism that is able to turn behind it like a Swiss watch. And that could jump.

Today, reports in a detailed Bloomberg investigation, even small bookstores survive well not only for the high volumes of sales but also because they do not practice discounts of any kind. In fact, unlike what happens in the rest of the world, they have an unlimited right to "returns". That is to say, if a book is not sold, they return it to the publisher without losing a yen. In this way, there is very little incentive for competition and selection, given that, together with the high "natural" sales volumes, there is this second artificial factor that prevents risk.

The communication minister, Kazuhiro Haraguchi, and the Electronic Book Publishers Association of Japan (more ebooks are sold in the land of the Rising Sun than in any other country in the world) have instead sounded the alarm bell. The iPad could force the $ 21 billion market to review its fundamentals and "open up" to the logic of other Western economies. Just as happened with Commodore Matthew Perry's "black ship", which 157 years ago opened Japan forcibly by trade.

"There is a great possibility – explains the Daiwa Securities analyst, Jun Hasebe – that a device such as the iPad allows authors to cut out the role of intermediary that the publisher. The Japanese printing, publishing and distribution industries are all strongly interconnected, very rich and all three today face this danger ".

Sony and Panasonic are the two main companies that have invested in the creation of ebook readers, conceptually similar to Kindle (Sony was actually one of the first in the world and its devices are also distributed in Italy). But in the end they had to withdraw their products from the country, while Amazon itself has not yet brought its Kindle to Japan.

the American example to frighten the Japanese more: Amazon and then Barnes & Noble (with the little successful reader Nook) immediately suffered from Apple's competition and had to change their relationship with the publishers whose books they distribute. Currently, the control over what is the price of books in virtual stores, of publishers who can establish a figure, while previously – when it was practically only Amazon to control the market with Kindle – the price was "locked" to a ceiling of 9 99

The peculiarity of the Japanese market, until now, has been that not only the link with the bookstores (which are given the possibility of returning unsold books) allows you to always practice a full price in retail, but also in the electronic sector the links between the actors are so strong that the prices are basically the same. Instead, many now believe that things can change with iPad. This is also stated by Mitsuyoshi Hosojima, director of the association of the 31 major eBook producers in Japan, which also includes large publishers. And, adds Toshihiro Takagi, Impress R&D researcher, "The iPad that comes from the US brings with it a new set of rules, including economic ones".

The structure of the traditional Japanese book market is dissimilar from the point of view of the "collusion" between the players in the field, but not so different as regards the division of earnings. On a book that is sold for a thousand yen (about 8 euros), the publisher receives 630 yen, the author 70 yen, the distributor 80 yen and the bookstore that sold it for about 220 yen. The data are the official projection for the Tokyo neighborhoods made by the Ministry of Economy, Commerce and Industry.

A final note on why Sony and Panasonic (but also Amazon itself) are no longer present with their devices with eInk technology for reading books. Note that Sony stopped selling its in 2007, while Panasonic stopped a few months later, in early 2008. According to the spokesmen of the two Japanese companies, the inhabitants of the Japanese archipelago prefer to read books in electronic format – a thriving market – on mobile phones, and they are reluctant to bring a second device that can do just one thing.

During 2009, the sale of books and magazines in Japan dropped by 4.1 percent, the lowest point in 21 years, falling overall by 27 percent compared to the peak in 1996. Even worse, advertising expenditure for magazines fell by 26 percent and that for newspapers by 19 percent, according to Dentsu, the largest Japanese media center.

"We are interested in joining the iPad platform – Fumiyuki Kakizawa, spokesman for Kadokawa, the largest listed publisher in Japan, explains to Bloomberg – but not at the cost of ruining the price of our products." Actually, analysts from Daiwa observe, iPad the first device capable of combining text, video and audio and to do more complex things than an eInk reader can do. "In this sense, what makes the iPad different from a dedicated eBook reader – explains Juan Hasabe – that many people will buy it for the other features and then end up also reading the books on it".

iPad will be marketed in Japan together with the group of other "first countries", including Italy, by the end of April.