Grouchy Bestselling Authors Hamstring E-Book Market. In Other News, Dog Bites Man.

eien no zeroShiketa and I recently went to see a movie for the first time in … oooh, since Baby was born. It was so exciting! But who cares about that? You don’t. What you should care about is the following sequence of events:

1. The best of the trailers before the movie was Eien no Zero [Eternal Zero]. It’s based on a novel by Naoki Hyakuta (see right).

2. Shiketa decided to grab the novel for his Sony Reader.

3. Surprise, surprise! E-book unavailable!

None of Hyakuta’s other books are available as e-books, either, including Kaizoku to Yobareta Otoko [The Man They Called A Pirate], which is based on the true story of the Nissho Maru and won the 2013 Booksellers’ Prize. Apropos of that, the blog–an invaluable resource for Japanese e-book market news–has a theory: “This is pathetic, considering that Kaizoku is published by Kodansha, which is heavily into digital. I’m guessing that Naoki Hyakuta himself is resisting digitalization for some reason.”

Six of the Seven Stick-In-The-Muds

If so, he wouldn’t be alone. Bestselling mystery / thriller authors Keigo Higashino and Jiro Asada, with five other popular genre writers and mangaka, have been embroiled for the last three years in a complicated series of lawsuits against “jisui” scanning companies.  These jisui companies operate custom digitalization services: You send them a book, they scan it, they send you the file. Very handy in a market where the books you want are rarely available as e-books. And totally unfair to authors, who get zip. Higashino et al. are claiming copyright infringement and seeking damages. I hope they get massive awards and drive the surviving scanning companies out of business. However …

These scanning companies wouldn’t exist if the authors suing them, and their ilk, allowed e-books of their work to be sold in the first place!

Keigo Higashino: "I personally think that even if e-books were to be adopted widely, these illegal scanning outfits wouldn't go away."
Keigo Higashino: “I personally think that even if e-books were to be adopted widely, these illegal scanning outfits wouldn’t go away.”

Higashino has gone on the record opposing e-books, and his co-plaintiffs are thought to hold similar views. And this isn’t just a case of curmudgeonly Canutes railing against the tide. There was an article in the Asahi Shimbun recently about the dismal state of Japan’s e-book market. One of the main reasons for the comparatively slow start e-books have had here is the fact that in the Japanese publishing industry, authors can stop publication of e-books. It’s not like in the English-speaking world, where publishers invariably lock you into e-book sales as well (usually at crappy royalty rates, but that’s a different post). In Japan, if the author says no, the publisher can’t do squat about it. I wish I could prove this to you by sharing that Asahi Shimbun article … but I read it in the print edition. Surprise, surprise! It’s not available online!

And of course it’s the bestselling authors who do say no to e-books. The game’s treating them well. Why would they want to change the rules now?

It’s their loss. Every digital sale they don’t make is a sale going to some other author(1). After Shiketa found out that Eien no Zero wasn’t available as an e-book, he bought Jiro Asada’s new novel, Owarazaru Natsu [Unending Summer], which is(2).

Wait a minute, I hear you say. Wasn’t Jiro Asada one of the Seven Stick-In-The-Muds suing the jisui companies?

He was and is. But he recently dropped his “principled” opposition to e-books qua e-books. It is now widely assumed by his fans that he can not only write but do sums.


1. One fan who goes by the moniker of Danshokukei Danshi [The Homosexual] adopts a more nuanced stance. Asking, “Should Higashino & Co. Say Yes to E-Books?” he answers: “No. Not if they write books that I’d want to read in hardcover. Let them only write good books, and then it would be all right [even if they didn’t accept digitalization]. And, publishers? Back your authors up all the way, please.”

2. Only as an epub, though! Japanese publishers have exclusive tie-ups with e-book retailers. So you won’t always find the same content available for Kindles and Sony Readers, let alone other devices.

Gratuitous Happy-Bomb

Have a bit of gratuitous, completely tangential good news! The movie we went to see was Emperor, otherwise known in Japan as Shuusen no Emperor [Emperor of the Aftermath]. It’s based on a true story. The actor playing Fumimaro Konoe was allowed to articulate the Japanese justification for WWII without getting slapped down by a Hollywood sock puppet, Tommy Lee Jones was awesome as General MacArthur, there wasn’t a contrived happy ending, and I left the cinema feeling contented. Do see it. And don’t miss Teizaburo Sekiya’s recitation of the famous tanka:

The seas of the four directions—
all are born of one womb:
why, then, do the wind and waves rise in discord?

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