BOOKS FROM THE SKY:
Satellites to Transmit Works Digitally
September 28, 1998
Japan's sky is going to start raining books in fall 1998 as a new experiment in digital publishing gets underway. Books are to be transmitted via communications satellite for sale to readers in electronic form. The new channel will bypass the traditional system of physical distribution and promises tremendous savings in paper and publishing expenses. In addition, digital transmittal will reduce publishers' and book retailers' worries about large overstocks and shipping delays.
Data Sent Via Satellite to Convenience Stores
The data display device will be roughly the size and shape of a standard hardcover book. Opening the "book" will reveal a liquid crystal display about the size of a paperback page, and simple-to-use buttons will allow the reader to "turn" the pages. While other electronic book formats, such as CD-ROMs, are already out on the market, due to poor display quality, sales have failed to take off. But this new display device will offer crisp definition that captures even detailed graphics and extra-fine print. The target price per unit is in the range of 50,000 to 60,000 yen (370 to 444 U.S. dollars at 135 yen to the dollar).
Books Circulation In for an Overhaul
This new medium may fundamentally alter the way books are published and distributed. More than 60,000 new titles are coming out every year now, approximately double the number of the early 1980s. But at the retail level the book market has become saturated. Around 40% of the books distributed to retailers are being returned unsold; most of these accumulate in publishers' warehouses and eventually end up as waste matter. Electronic publishing would help avoid these problems, and it would also allow readers to get the books they want faster, eliminating the lag in deliveries to retailers in the provinces.
The emergence of digital books is likely to send repercussions throughout the current distribution system. Distribution agencies will to some extent be cut out of the picture, and books will become readily available at outlets other than bookstores. The pricing of books will also undergo substantial changes, and the used-book trade may be in jeopardy. Paper will probably retain its position as the main medium for book publishing for some time to come, but as this new technology advances, it is sure to make its impact felt both on the book business and other industries.
Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.