Dispatches from the Digital Revolution
After taking a semester-long hiatus while I wrote my master’s thesis, I now return to the East Asian side of the digital revolution where, in the blink of an eye, Amazon’s Kindle line seems to have turned the tables on Rakuten’s Kobo ereader. On October 24 of last year, Amazon Japan announced the official launch of the Kindle Paperwhite and Kindle Fire, with sales beginning on November 19 and December 19, respectively.
In one of last year’s posts, I remarked on how the Kobo Touch ereader was one of the hottest items in Rakuten’s online shopping mall, with preorders outselling water in the middle of summer. Of course, while Japanese-owned Rakuten stepped into the game with a home-field advantage, Amazon managed to push forward with a tried and true maneuver: reliable user experience.
Similar to the United States, Amazon has become a household name in Japan. Some years ago, as a foreigner living just outside of Tokyo, it was my go-to marketplace for all things literary. Convenience–not to mention the comfortably familiar format of the website–made me smitten with Amazon until the spatial restrictions of a cramped apartment forced me to curb my purchases. This was, however, before the mass-digitization of books crept into the scene and it was only a matter of time before tech-savvy, paper-loving Japan took up (albeit reluctantly) the ereader concept.
According to a Publishing Perspectives article, “Features such as multi-device support, simultaneous checking of availability in different formats (print, digital, used), an effective search engine and integration with Amazon.com will likely impress people enough for them to forgive the glaring absence of a vast number of valuable titles that should be there.”
The Japanese Kindle purports an offering of over 50,000 Japanese-language titles, 10,000 of which are free. Also available are 15,000 manga (Japanese comic) titles. Since these comics are often published as serials, we can assume that a more streamlined digitization of graphic narratives is also on the horizon.
And what of Kobo? How is it fairing in its struggle against Amazon?
In a January article by IT World, which cites data from Impress R&D, the research division of a Japanese publishing house, “a full 40 percent of those polled are actively buying books via the Kindle e-book store[…]That is three times the 13.4 percent who said they buy books from BookWeb, the online bookstore run by national book chain Kinokuniya. Sony’s Reader Store was next at 10.1 percent, followed by the e-book offering from online shopping mall Rakuten at 7.4 percent.”