Pricing and availability of titles are not at all attractive and will not make big in the near future. Nevertheless, with the large customer base of Amazon.co.jp, the landing of Kindle platform in Japan will bring about fundamental change of the market because people get to know that it is not a Galapagos separated from the digital continent. (Hiroki Kamata, Editor)
The Late Coming of the Forerunner
Amazon announced Wednesday the launch of Kindle business in Japan and the shipment dates of four of reading devices now supporting Japanese language. The devices include Kindle Paperwhite Wi-Fi (JPY*8,400) and 3G (JPY12,800) , 7″ tablets Kindle Fire (JPY12,800) and HD (JPY15,800), to be on sale on November 19th and December 19th respectively. As for the availability of Japanese titles, the company mentions just “tens of thousands of wide varieties of books including newly published best selling titles and comics” and “more than ten thousand free books including Japanese literature classics.” (*JPY1≒1.25¢)
In Japan the launch date has long been expected, anxious about, and even dreaded as marking the “first in an era of open, digitized publishing.” It has been rumored repeatedly since 2008, reported by major newspapers since early 2010 with changing dates, Q4 2010, Q1 2011, year end, spring of 2012, etc.
And finally the date came on October 24th perhaps not accidentally coincided with Apple’s announcement of 7″ iPad mini and Japanese enabled iBooks 3.0 which had been much rumored too. The timing implied that 1) testing of Wi-Fi/3G connection with the new Kindles completed, 2) Japanese language functionalities with Mobi/KF-8 verified, and 3) availability of a certain numbers of paid Japanese titles assured. They might have learned a lesson from Rakuten/Kobo’s launch a few months ago, disappointing the users with technical troubles as well as poor availability of titles both in quality and quantity. Network connection has never been a problem even with Kindle 3 and all the Japanese specific functionalities are already defined clearly by the W3C and the IDPF (as HTML5/CSS3 and EPUB3 standards respectively) and implemented as WebKit which is available for use by Amazon in need of a consistent translator from EPUB. The only uncertainty might be the availability of certain amount of titles. They have nothing to do but wait for the titles provided by the publishers who still have digital rights issues with the authors and also believe that the digitization is the biggest challenge.
Since publishers hold their existing titles in XMDF and/or Dotbook formats, they thought they have to convert existing titles into EPUB3 for Kobo and for Kindle conversion. The complicated and confusing process takes additional costs and should be streamlined consistent with print book making. The question here is who control the production. That’s another story.
As of October 25th, Kindle books Japanese titles listed in the store numbers 71,403 with 10,146 coming in the past 7 days. Those numbers are close to those of Sony Reader Store and Kobo. The great difference is the user experience in the store. It’s the same with Kindle worldwide, such as multi device support, simultaneous checking of availability in different formats (print, digital, used), much accustomed search engine, integration with Amazon.com, etc. That will definitely impress the people reminding the absence of the vast titles of any value that should be there.
The availability problem will take much time to resolve. It is not probable that Kindle titles outnumbers the rivals any time soon enough to bring them much profit. So, why now? I guess following reasons:
- The key thing is the launch of the Kindle ecosystem built on Kindle Fire that provides access to globalize content (eBooks, manga, apps, games, videos) as well as other goods. They can not delay any longer.
- Unlike it’s rivals, Amazon sells paper books and secondhand books and already is the largest book store of all formats. Naturally they care more their customers’ satisfaction to their suppliers. With the coming of a global service Kobo, their customers demand Kindle.
- Without Kindle or the like, the reluctant publishers will precede digitization at a snail’s pace. In the “the chicken or the egg” situation, the chicken must come first in Japan. The existence of the world-class content store will prompt the content business of the publishers.
- Structurally, the book market is different here. Manga is the mass products making most of the profit and commercial and academic books have very long tails. Amazon has better view of the market, than local competitors and must be developing specialized approaches optimized for each segment. That’s why they needed to open the store first.
- Some of the corporate services such as Whispercast for business and schools require the publishing infrastructure become global soon regardless of the marketability and profitability of each country.
- The publishers overseas likewise need global platform that enables alternative approach to the difficult market, combining such elements as multi-language publishing, digital first, and print-on-demand, etc. The may need Amazon as globalization partner.
I believe the timing is decided on both local and global considerations. As John Donne said about “man”, “No BOOK is an island, Entire of itself. Each is a piece of the continent, A part of the main.” (Hiroki Kamata, Editor, 2012-10-26)
You can contact the author directly by mail: hiroki_kamata (atmark) otij.org