Amazon takes Kindle to Japan

22 October 2009

TOKYO: Amazon, the online retail giant, has launched the Kindle, its electronic book reading device, in Japan, but faces a number of challenges as it seeks to enhance its position in the country.

The Asian nation is one of the most technologically-advanced in the world, and a number of mobile phone operators already offer similar services to that now being provided by the US firm.

Around 1,500 titles can currently be downloaded to the Kindle, which uses wireless networks to transmit materials purchased by readers, and also allows owners to access email services and the web.

It is on sale for ¥25,000 ($279; €183; £165) in Japan, and Charlie Tritschler, Amazon's director in charge of the product, said one target audience was people travelling to and from work.

"Commuting is such a bigger part of Japanese lifestyle. I think that would be a big win for Japanese commuters," he said.

Amazon has also developed applications allowing users of Apple'siPhone and iPod Touch to access Kindle books via these tools.

"We are committed to bring Kindle experiences to a number of different platforms," said Tritschler.

Another obstacle facing Amazon is that of collecting together a sufficient amount of content, particularly as the Japanese publishing industry is more fragmented than its US counterpart.

Mikio Amaya, chief executive of Papyless, which specialises in providing eBooks, estimated that there are around 50 major publishing houses in Japan, as opposed to five or six big players in the US.

He also argued that digitising text originally written in Japanese can be highly complex, as the "optical character-reader can read English better."

Impress R&D, the research firm, reported that total eBook sales in Japan reached ¥46.4 billion last year, up 31% on an annual basis, and from ¥4.5bn in 2004.

It further stated that 86% of titles purchased in this format were delivered to mobile phones in the 2008 fiscal year, with the vast majority of the rest being sent to personal computers.

Sony, the electronics giant, launched an eBook platform in Japan in 2004, but withdrew it in 2007 after poor sales. The company has since developed the Sony Reader, and may introduce it in the country in the future.

Data sourced from The Japan Times; additional content by Warc staff