Japanese publishers may not be too familiar to English-speaking readers (except for manga fans of course!), but Japanese bookseller Kinokuniya has done a very good job of entering new English-language markets with its multilingual bookshops over the last 20+ years. The importance and relevance of this effort to the Japanese publishing industry was brought home to me in the attendance at the party for Kinokuniya's 30th anniversary in Singapore hosted by Masashi Takai, President of Kinokuniya. CEOs of the biggest Japanese publishers and media companies turned up in force. It was a fabulous event, very relaxed and enjoyable, a mix of Japanese business leaders in Singapore, Kinokuniya staff and Singapore book people. Ambassador Tommy Koh––long associated with institutions of public knowledge, and motivator of next week's International Summit of the Book––was guest of honour. One particular highlight was being able to congratulate Tsutaya CEO Muneaki Masuda on his new Daikanyama store (He promises another big opening later this year...)
(Picture above includes head of Kinokuniya's international efforts, Regional Managing Director Keijiro Mori, Lee Chor Lin of the Singapore Arts Festival, Tan Kay Ngee and Hiroshi Sogo, Group MD of Kinokuniya in Pacific Asia. You can see the side of my head in the background... ; - )
As it turns out, Singapore has been quite central to Kinokuniya's effort, with the multilingual model being pioneered here. (The older US stores are mostly to serve Japanese readers, and later on to serve those particularly interested in Japan.) Singapore architect Tan Kay Ngee has become one of the key designers of Kino's shops, not just internationally but also now in Japan. The real turning point came when Kinokuniya decided to respond to the challenge of Borders by consolidating their shops and opening a new superstore further down Orchard Road. That "main store" thrives to this day, with books in Chinese, English, Japanese, French and German. 100,000 titles of literature in English (not including non-fiction, business, science, computers, illustrated general non-fiction, etc).
I was asked to give a short speech during dinner, to present some of the challenges of the digital transition for the retail book business, focusing on showrooming in the Singapore context in particular. The content will be familiar to those of you who have stopped into this (not very active) blog from time to time. The Japanese CEOs responded very well (to the Japanese translation flashed on the screens behind me, no doubt improved in the translation!), and I'm told the speech will be circulated to the Japanese publishing association. Kino has had web-based ordering for some time, quite an efficient operation if not as aggressive on price as the local and foreign competition. Moves are now afoot to deal with the e-book market: a few days before the dinner, Kinokuniya announced the formation of a new joint venture with Infocity, to enter the e-book business in Southeast Asia. The venture will be supported with a ¥ 2b investment from public-private fund Innovation Network Corp.