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Sunday, Nov. 21, 2010


Year One for e-books

The Japanese media is calling this year Year One for e-book publishing in Japan, although only half a year has passed since the arrival of the iPad in May. Perhaps it would be better to call it the Age of Warring States or the Wild West as manufacturers rush to put out e-book reading devices; major bookstores and other players vie to set up online stores; cell-phone service providers contract for more e-content; and pirated versions of print books and manga pop up on the Web one after another.

Some authors have also joined the fray. On Nov. 4 novelist Ryu Murakami, with Banana Yoshimoto standing beside him, held a press conference to announce the formation of a company for authors to directly publish and sell e-books without going through traditional publishers. The new enterprise, set up in cooperation with Griot Co., plans to release 20 titles a year. He said that, rather than focusing on how to divide up the pie among authors and publishers, he finds it exciting to explore the possibilities of this new format, such as being able to add music or pictures.

Yoshimoto commented at the same press conference that authors were being left out in the whirlwind surrounding e-publishing. But book consumers also seem to be watching bemusedly from the sidelines. In recent surveys on reading by the Mainichi (Oct. 26) and the Yomiuri (Oct. 24) newspapers, 77 percent and 65 percent, respectively, of those questioned replied that they were not interested in reading e-books. However, 45 percent of the Yomiuri respondents were optimistic that e-books would increase the reading population.

In the end, no doubt the fate of e-books will be determined more by content than by reading devices or distribution systems. Although, as Murakami notes, e-books open up new possibilities of added content, it is less clear who will screen and edit the flood of writing on behalf of readers, or who will discover and groom new authors. Will it be like satellite TV, offering new access to niche content but simultaneously flooding the consumer with too much choice — in the words of the Bruce Springsteen song, "57 channels and nothing on"?

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