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Japanese publishers invest in e-book initiative

Over 180 Japanese publishers have joined forces to launch an initiative that promises to create 1 million e-books.

Debuting on 2nd April, Shuppan Digital Kikou (Digital Publishing Mechanism) has the backing of the Japanese government, two printing giants and some of the country’s major publishers including Kodansha Ltd and Shueisha Inc.

The publishers will invest ¥1.2bn in the venture, while the two printing firms, Dai Nippon Printing Co and Toppan Printing Co, are expected to provide ¥500m each according to Shuppan.

A lack of digitised titles has prevented Japan from establishing a substantial e-book market so far. Analysts have attributed the lag to a number of factors including poor interoperability between bookstores, high prices and the absence of a Japanese language-enabled Kindle.

Given the slowness of Japanese publishers to successfully address the question of digitisation so far despite initiatives similar to Shuppan's, some remain unconfident about the new scheme.

“Digitising one million books would revolutionise the market here but it is difficult to take that number seriously given that it has taken the Japanese publishers nine years to reach their current total of well under 100,000 mainstream books,”  said Robin Birtle, c.e.o. of digital publishers specialising in Japan, Sakkam Press.

“However, Shuppan Digital Kikou's success in gaining support from over 180 publishers puts them in a position of strength in their negotiations with Amazon and other overseas players.”

He does not believe, however, that the organisation will have any impact on the expected launch of a Japanese Kindle in the spring.

Nor is it yet clear how the new company will make good its promise to publishers to prevent a “price crash”  but a spokesman for Shuppan Digital Kikou said he expected market prices for Japanese e-books to be buoyant. He added that his organisation was not yet in talks with Amazon but would start negotiations soon.

“Our goal is a million, but of course we will be depending on agreements over rights to realise that figure. For the moment we have a substantial number of books ready to go into digital and and will digitise more as we finalise agreements,” the spokesman told The Bookseller.

Cost benefits will be achieved through digitisation on a grand scale thanks to the large number of publishers signed up said the spokesman.