In Japan, Kobo E-Reader Takes On Paper Books — And Amazon
The standard gripe among old-media romantics these days is that nobody reads real books anymore, but perhaps those folks just haven’t been to Japan.
Despite the Land of the Rising Sun’s avowed tech-loving ethos, Japanese consumers have been slow to jump on the e-book bandwagon embraced by Europe and the United States, where Amazon’s (Nasdaq: AMZN) Kindle has permeated every bus, train and subway on both continents. Japan, conversely, stands as an oasis of ink and paper — a place where, against all odds, people still overwhelmingly prefer traditional books.
But they may not prefer them for long.
The Tokyo-based e-commerce giant Rakuten (4755: JASDAQ) introduced its Kobo Touch e-reader on Thursday, and early reports suggest that the device is already a hit. The Kobo jumped almost instantly to the top spot on Rakuten’s website of more than 100,000,000 products since it became available for pre-order on July 2. Kobo CEO Mike Serbinis said in a statement that the company was “thrilled to see this response from the Japanese people.”
Other electronics companies have tried amid little fanfare to ignite an e-book boom in the world’s second-largest publishing market. Sony (NYSE: ADR), whose LIBRIe electronic reading device practically kicked off the e-book industry in 2004, has been unable to create much interest, even on its home turf.
With the arrival of the Kobo Touch, however, Amazon’s Japanese debut — whenever it happens — may be too little, too late. The Kobo Touch uses the EPUB 3.0 format, the industry standard, which supports Japanese-language layout and vertical text and ruby characters. It also supports Manga titles, which have already proven popular among younger Japanese consumers who read them via cellphones.
At Tokyo’s E-Book Expo earlier this month, Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Mikitani touted his soon-to-be-released Kobo Touch by passing out T-shirts inscribed with the words, “Datou Amazon” or “Destroy Amazon.” Some publishers at the expo applauded Mikitani’s message. Still reluctant to do business with the notorious American giant, they are hopeful that the inevitable foray into e-publishing doesn’t have to involve selling out.
That may not bode well for the future of paper books in Japan, but at least the book industry there will live to see its next chapter.
First Edition Design Publishing is the world’s largest eBook and POD (Print On Demand) distributor. Ranked first in the industry, First Edition Design Publishing converts, formats and submits Fiction, Non-Fiction, Academic and Children’s Books to Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, Sony, Google, Kobo, Diesel, 3M, Ingram, Baker and Taylor, Nielsen, EBSCO, and scores of additional on-line retailers, libraries, schools, colleges and universities. The company also has a POD division, which creates printed books and makes them available worldwide through their distribution network. The company is a licensed and approved Aggregator and holds licenses with Apple and Microsoft.