Another reason we’re not like the Japanese: e-book sales

During my last two visits to Japan I met a very interesting fellow who works for one of the country’s biggest publication distribution companies. His particular role is to manage the electronic distribution of a wide-range of publications. Manga are the biggest portion of what is sold in this form. Because the numbers he showed astonished me so much he was kind enough to share the relevant slides from his presentation.

The slides show the total sales volumes and the target platforms for the Japanese market over time. According to the International Digital Publishing Forum total wholesale e-book sales in the US for 2008 were $53.5 million. Japanese e-book sales for the same period were $464 million and that’s when there were 100 yen to the dollar (if you adjust it to today’s exchange rate it would be more like $533 million). The market thus looks to be 8 to 10 times as large as here.

What was even more interesting to me was that the vastly preferred target platform is a mobile phone (not an e-book reader – a phone. Despite lots of subway and train trips I never saw one of those). Eighty-six percent of e-book sales are for phones. That’s an enormous market of $400-430 million depending on the exchange rate.

Below I reproduce his two charts which were very helpfully translated by my colleague, Ms. Natsuko Furuya.

The commuter culture (lots of time and demand for easy, portable reading), manga (a genre whose frames are ideal for mobile phone story-telling) and the large numbers of young career woman (who often live at home and have sizable disposable income) certainly explain a lot of this phenomenon. I wonder whether there’s any comparable confluence of trends that will flip the e-book switch here in the US.

ありがとうございます Obata-san