Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

Amazon’s ebook initiatives in Japan face resistance

When it came to my attention that Japanese publishers trust Amazon just as much as their American counterparts do (in other words, barely…if at all) I had to hide a smirk behind my cup of morning coffee.

Amazon had planned on launching a Japanese-language ebook service before the end of 2011, but the initiative immediately faced resistance. Japanese publishers in negotiation with the American online retail company immediately rejected a pricing scheme which would give Amazon the power to determine prices. The launch date has been postponed to spring of this year.

Perhaps I’m simply the kind of person who roots for the underdog, but lately I find myself scanning the horizon for new challengers with enough gumption and techno-power to face Amazon in the ereader arena.

As it stands, it looks like the fight for the Japanese ebook market is going to be a bloody one.

In his June 2011 report, “Waiting for a Push: the Japanese eBook market in 2011,” Robin Birtle offers an in-depth analysis of the situation. Birtle is the CEO of Sakkam KK, a Tokyo-based technology company.

“What is the push that will move [the] Japanese eBook marketplace into the mainstream?” Birtle says. “Six companies are capable of giving Japan this push. The three Japanese companies in this group are Sony, Rakuten and Yahoo! Japan […] On June 13th, Sony and Rakuten announced, as part of a four company group, that they would investigate enabling interoperability between their services and devices. The other two companies in the group are Panasonic and Kinokuniya, a major bookseller with physical stores and online sales.”

The other three companies are (we all saw this coming, right?) Amazon, Apple, and Google.

This is, of course, assuming that video game companies like Nintendo and Sega won’t fight for their own slice of the digital pie. And one of them is already positioning itself to do so. Perhaps. Rumor has it that in addition to introducing an online app store alongside its forthcoming console (the Wii U), Nintendo will begin an ebook download service.

“Inconceivable!” you might think…until you take a look at the Wii U controller.


While I probably don’t need to say it, I will: it really does look like a tablet.

Then, the plot thickens.

Five months after Birtle’s report, a mysterious transaction occurs: Rakuten purchases Kobo Inc. Here we have Japan’s largest online shopping mall acquiring the IP assets of a global digital book retailer. Let’s not forget that in October 2011, Kobo had come out with its Vox ereader. What about the Sony ereader? I can imagine a messy divorce happening behind the scenes. Maybe Rakuten wanted something younger, prettier, and more social. I don’t know.

Now Amazon is playing its cards…or at least trying to.

Slowly but surely, the lines of battle are being drawn. Here’s hoping for a good fight.


This entry was posted on January 17, 2012 by in Industry Research, Opinion, Technology and tagged , , .

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