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Japan primed for e-book rise

Japan is set to fully enter the e-book age with four high-profile device launches in the next few months, including the long-awaited introduction of the Kindle.

On 19th July—as first reported by The Bookseller in April—the Rakuten-owned Kobo Touch will have its Japanese launch in tandem with an e-book service touting 30,000 Japanese titles and more than one million English e-books. The device will retail at around ¥8,000 (£65). 

Last week Toppan, the Tokyo-based printing and packaging giant, displayed its proprietary six-inch electronic paper-based e-reader at e-Book Expo Tokyo. Also last week, Amazon.jp débuted a Kindle page announcing the device, orginally rumoured to be launched in April, would be "coming soon". Sony, meanwhile, has just carried out multi-product price revisions to its e-readers and presented the PRS-T2 next generation Sony reader.

Digital books have been slow to take off in Japan. "So far the Japanese have failed to be moved by e-readers from home or abroad, mostly owing to a paucity of content," said Japanese e-books market expert Hiroki Kamata.

Sony, for example, in the market for more than six years, has sold only 500,000 e-readers in Japan. Kamata expects this flurry of device launches to constitute a "Black Ships" moment. He refers to the "black" American steam warships that were sent to Japan in 1853 to persuade the isolationist country to open to trade.

Tokyo-based Yano Research Institute said the Japanese e-book market is entering a phase of major change. According to Yano, the Japanese e-book market recorded sales of ¥72.3bn in 2011—which represented just 3% of the entire Japanese book trade revenues. Yet Yano says e-books sales are set to more than double by 2015.  

The Toppan device, like the Kobo, is expected sell at around ¥8,000, while reports in the Japanese press put the new Sony device at around ¥10,000. Toppan will make 80,000 Japanese and English titles available through its  "BookLive!" store, while the Sony store has nearly 60,000 Japanese-language titles. Both Toppan and Sony's devices e-readers are expected to début in the autumn.