Japan’s Bookstore Industry Strikes Back at Amazon

By Kristen Hauck

Contrary to many predictions, physical books and brick-and-mortar bookstores have not vanished in the years since the rise of e-books and online retailers. And Amazon, seemingly secure in its position as the world’s undisputed media sales champion, has begun to encounter formidable resistance from the traditional book selling and book publishing worlds.

With stores in Asia, the U.S., and Australia, Japanese chain Kinokuniya may be the biggest bookstore you’ve never heard of. The company is making moves to shake up the book world in a way that may have far-reaching implications. The Guardian reports that Kinokuniya has purchased 90% of the print run of Novelist As a Vocation, the latest collection of writings from Haruki Murakami, Japan’s most popular and prolific writer, in a bid to severely limit Amazon’s stock of what is guaranteed to be a hot seller. The book, which hit shelves on September 10, isn’t exclusively available at Kinokuniya—the company has distributed a substantial number of copies to other bookstores, as well. (Read the full article here: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/aug/25/bookshop-buys-up-90-of-new-haruki-murakami-print-run-to-limit-web-sales.)

Without the advantage of the massive selling power of Amazon and other online retailers, this could spell bad news for the publisher, but the genius of the plot is in the guaranteed selling power of this particular title. Readers are certain to seek it out any way they can. If applied selectively and shrewdly, all players stand to gain from such a strategy (except, of course, Amazon). We may not be likely to see this exact scenario play out in the U.S.; a bookstore needs to have the resources to make such a move, and I’m not sure our equivalent, Barnes & Noble, is currently up to the task. And as the article mentions, there is no single author who dominates sales in America the way Murakami does in Japan. U.S. booksellers will likely need to take a different approach (or be on the lookout for the next big thing—a book release that will beyond a shadow of a doubt generate the kind of hype here in the States that Murakami does in Japan), but bold, creative moves like this will surely be needed if traditional bookstores are to remain competitive.

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