Amazon Opens Japanese Kindle Store

Amazon will open a Kindle Store in Japan tomorrow – October 25 – after months of speculation (and the summer entrance into the Japanese market of up-and-coming rivals  Kobo).

According the the press release from Amazon, customers in Japan can now pre-order the Paperwhite for an extremely competitive 8,480 yen ($106), with the 3G version costing 12,980 yen ($163) – although neither will ship until November 19. US customers will notice that makes the Paperwhite marginally cheaper in Japan than America.

The new Fire won’t ship to Japan until December 19, but it can be pre-ordered with similarly competitive pricing – 12,800 yen ($160) – with the HD version coming in at 15,800 yen ($198).

The Japanese Kindle Store will open tomorrow with over 50,000 local language e-books (including 15,000 manga titles) – an impressive number given Amazon’s reported difficulties in coming to agreements with publishers. That will be supplemented by over 1 million English language books, and a selection of titles in other languages.

Closing content deals wasn’t the only barrier Amazon faced in launching the Kindle in Japan. There had been issues rendering Japanese script on the devices, and it’s notable that the only devices available will be the Paperwhite and the Fire (something which probably contributed to the aggressive pricing).

Another factor in that, presumably, is the presence of Kobo, who launched the Touch at 7,980 yen ($100) in mid-July.

That launch, however, was plagued with difficulties and Kobo attracted criticism for removing negative customer reviews of the Touch (including some which stated customers were going to return the device and buy a Kindle instead).

Those missteps surprised many observers, given that Japan is the home market for e-commerce giant Rakuten - who purchased Kobo last year - and Amazon will certainly be hoping for a smoother start.

One thing in their favor is that this doesn’t appear to be a Kindle Store-lite, like we saw with the Indian launch in August. We will have to wait for tomorrow for confirmation (and I will update this post then), but given that there is a pre-existing Japanese site, it will likely have all the features missing from the Indian offering – including local bestseller lists and separate sales reports for self-publishers.

We will also have to wait to see if Amazon will be paying 70% on Japanese sales. When they launched the Indian Store, Amazon initially announced a 35% royalty rate. It subsequently increased that to 70%, but only for titles enrolled in KDP Select – a move that angered many in the self-publishing community, and caused some to wonder if this was a harbinger for all future royalties, or how Amazon would be approaching some foreign markets.

One thing should keep Amazon on their toes: competition. Despite Kobo’s unsteady start in Japan, Rakuten are determined to take advantage of a good deal of fear and skepticism among local publishers surrounding Amazon’s ambitions. And Japan isn’t the only market where Amazon faces a challenge.

Just last month, Kobo announced a move into Portugal – partnering again with FNAC, who have significant retail presence in the country. Two days ago, Apple announced the opening of iBookstores in New Zealand and 17 Latin American countries (although the latter are said to be a simple portal into the US store). But the laggards in the international sphere, as always, are Barnes & Noble – who can’t even keep to their own timetable for coming (very) late to the UK party.

The Nook UK launch – Barnes & Noble’s first attempt to expand beyond the US market – was earmarked for early October, formally announced for late October, then pushed back as the website was stuck in beta – with Barnes & Noble only informing their retail partners on the planned day of release.

The smart money is still on Amazon, however. While their rivals have been able to keep pace with their international roll-out and the technological arms-race in terms of the device wars (and, it must be said, nose in front of Amazon at times), none of those competitors come close to having a similar store experience.

Kobo’s search function is a subject of widespread mockery (and Barnes & Noble’s isn’t much better). The iBookstore is, quite frankly, awful. And, in all cases, many readers find the respective stores so frustrating to use that they often search for what they want on Amazon, then return to their retailer to make the purchase.

Given Amazon’s aggressive approach to both pricing, and locking down exclusive content, this is a dangerous game for the other retailers to be playing. While opening international stores or coming up with a cool new device features might make for a sexier headline, not throwing the same energy into the usability of their e-bookstores will lose them customers faster than anything else.

And if Amazon ever decide to start selling EPUBs, it will blow them out of the water.

UPDATE: You can now select separate pricing for Japan in the KDP interface, and there are separate sales reports in the dashboard. As feared, Amazon are only offering 35% on Japanese sales. It remains to be seen whether they roll out 70% to Select books, like they did with the Indian Kindle Store. Either way, it’s a negative development.

About davidgaughran

David Gaughran is an Irish writer, living in London, the author of "Mercenary" and "A Storm Hits Valparaiso" as well as "Let's Get Digital" and "Let's Get Visible."
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24 Responses to Amazon Opens Japanese Kindle Store

  1. Always can count on you to be on top of things; thanks David. I’m not too savvy but actually write yaoi e-books featuring Japanese. Am now wondering if I have to have my works translated into Japanese to take advantage of this new market. ; )
    Always a pleasure to read your blog.

  2. This is great news for self-published authors. New markets from which to sell our wares. : )

  3. Vividhunter says:

    Nice article, thanks!

  4. It will be interestinig to see where this goes. I’m on Amazon with my ebooks, and also Kobo and B&N and there is something funky up with the latter two when searching for my books.

  5. Well said. I hadn’t heard about Amazon opening up in Japan yet. The idea that they may go with the 35% royalty for anyone not in KDP Select like they did with India is frightning.

    I love the other bookstores like Kobo and B&N. You are absolutely right about them needing to fix their bookstores though. If each writer could have their own author pages and if the shopping experience were decent, they might stand a chance of competing.

    • The good news is that you can set up your own author page through Author Central. It’s crap that we’ll only get 35% though. :(

      • I suspect the reasoning is to offset the cost of opening up a store in an emerging market. Hopefully, they will raise the royalty later. Of course, they could just milk us. But look at the bright side, if someone from Japan bought our ebooks before from Amazon.com, we only got 35% then, too. Plus, our readers got stiffed with a $2 surcharge, making our books less likely to sell there. So some improvement…

  6. Matthew Iden says:

    Kobo has been an early disappointment. With Writing Life, they raised hopes, then have left them to sink again when they didn’t do anything for exposure. No Free lists, a relatively useless ability to go Free on command, and a search function which, as you say Dave, is ridiculous (for example, a “last name, first” author search nets you that exact author on the second page at best. “iden, matthew” has me showing up on the 2nd and 3rd results pages).

    For better or worse, back to putting all our eggs in Amazon’s basket…

    • I uploaded one of my novels to Kobo, hoping to get started there, 18 days ago. Have contacted customer service twice. The first time they even told me that it was live. Even though it was obviously not. So disappointed. They’re talking a good game, and they seem to want to compete (whereas B&N seems not to care at times), but they’re not delivering yet.

  7. As I am just exploring the self-publishing game, this info is very helpful. Thanks!

  8. As a former long-term resident of Tokyo, I’d be cautiously optimistic. Kobo will probably enjoy a certain goodwill from the simple fact that it is a Japanese-owned company.

    Note to self-publishers; your prospects will greatly depend on what genre and niche you’re in. Craft book writers and children’s book illustrators, rejoice. Romance and YA writers, don’t hold your breath.

    I’ll try to contain myself on the subject of book covers. Suffice to say, covers are culturally tailored to local tastes. If you want to sell well, please check out Japanese book covers for your genre. The designs use fundamentally different cues, shapes and colors. Take a peek over at Kinokuniya, the B&N of Japan: http://bookweb.kinokuniya.co.jp/

    • Thanks for that. Can you elaborate a little more on which genres tend to be more popular than others? That’s intriguing…

      The cover differences are interesting – and it’s not too dissimilar to the difference between US and Europe. Covers in France, for example, tend to be a lot more obscure, whereas US covers tend to be quite literal (outside of genres like literary fiction).

      In any event, it will only be relevant to those translating into Japanese. At present, you can’t present different covers/blurbs to different markets.

    • I write Asian-styled YA with illustrated covers in an almost anime style. I’d be interested in how it was perceived, but I won’t hold my breath because exposure in foreign markets is even harder to get than in native-language markets. Maybe it doesn’t appeal to them, maybe they just never see it in the first place.

  9. Just jumped back into KDP Select with some of my titles, in part because of your wise words here, Dave, and in part because I had such remarkably high sales after doing Select at the holidays last year. There’s no question that Amazon does some things very right — for readers as well as writers.

    Speaking of which, my husband’s brand new Kindle Fire is sitting in a box on the table in front of me. It just rang the doorbell (or the delivery guy did). I’ve got itchy fingers but am TRYING to leave it to him to open the brand new shiny purchase!

  10. Martin Lake says:

    Thanks for bringing us this news, Dave. And thanks to tinabimbolina for the advice about Japanese covers and the link.

  11. UPDATE: You can now select separate pricing for Japan in the KDP interface, and there are separate sales reports in the dashboard. As feared, Amazon are only offering 35% on Japanese sales. It remains to be seen whether they roll out 70% to Select books, like they did with the Indian Kindle Store. Either way, it’s a negative development.

  12. Dave, sorry to be ignorant, does it mean that any ebook on AmazonUK and US will auto be sold in Japan?

  13. jvgrant says:

    I live in South Korea as an English teacher, and have been across the sea to Japan many times. I’ve had many people ask me about my kindle when they see it, and given that both countries are so tech savvy, I know this product will do very well in Japan (and hopefully in the future, South Korea).

  14. Dan Harris says:

    Hmmm. The 35% royalty sucks, though it’s not unexpected after India.

    Thanks for posting this.

  15. Competition is a good thing. Maybe it’s the kick in the pants Kobo and B&N needs to improve their online store. I’ve waited days for books to go live on Kobo, too, even though I uploaded directly. Kindle is with 12 hours, often a lot less. I hate to sell only through Amazon, but…The other companies have to start proving they are worth the hassle.

    Thanks for the insight into this new market.

  16. Brit Darby says:

    Reblogged this on Brit Darby and commented:
    Update: This is happening today! Exciting news.

  17. acflory says:

    Thanks for keeping us up to date on developments. :)

  18. Pingback: Tuesday Tips: Wizard Cats & Busy-icity « Amy Shojai's Blog

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