Online content migrates offline into book sales

by Mayumi Saito

In the era of the Internet, self-publishing online is easy. Yet for those who still want the added legitimacy (and legacy) of hard copies, there is good news.

Weblishers Corp., which started up last month, picks interesting Web sites and turns them into books. Its publications are, however, not just bound Web pages. Web masters are requested to write their books from scratch based on their online content.

“We choose a Web site with a book quality and the potential to sell. A site with an impressive access record alone doesn’t necessarily mean it will be a best seller as a book,” says spokesman Nobuhiro Imigi. The company takes the responsibility of printing and distributing costs. Nearly 10 percent of sales go to the Web master, depending on the degree of the editorial help.

Regular publishing houses rarely buy the work of amateurs. If writers wish to publish books at their own expense, printing costs run 5,000-10,000 yen per page in Japan, according to “Self-Publishing Q&A” (Tokyo Keizai) by Masatoshi Watanabe. Keeping that in mind, the Weblishers’ service is considered a big bargain for beginner writers.

The Weblishers’ initial releases are a guidebook to Hawaii called “More Hawaii.com” (1,400 yen) and an omnibus of short stories titled “From the Islands of Rainbow Colors” (1,200 yen). The Weblishers’ promotional page is linked to each book’s original site, so visitors can check out the contents. The company takes orders through its site and ships the books directly to customers, therefore bypassing bookstores.

Although customers can’t preview the actual book’s contents online, Weblishers allows dissatisfied customers the option of returning the book within two weeks of purchase.

lishers displays the daily order records for each book in a bar graph. Although exact numbers are unclear, accumulating orders are on display for both books. “More Hawaii.com” received 300 pre-orders before its distribution started on July 21, according to Imigi.

Upcoming publications include “English Tea Speciality Shops,” “Crazy about Casinos and Resorts” and “Dog Styles.com” They plan to sell 100,000 copies of 20 titles this year.

Due to the nature of its business, Weblishers also solicits book ideas for all genres on its site, not only from the Web masters but also from visitors to the site. They are seeking designated editors via the same method. Within the first month, more than 30 sites were brought to Weblishers’ attention. Ten people applied for editorial positions as well, some offering to edit site of their own choice, according to Imigi.

Weblishers was formed by four venture firms in Osaka, two of them from public relations and the others firms involved in Internet-technology development. President Masaaki Eto, 36, had long been interested in book publishing, an industry that has traditionally focused on famous writers and provocative topics. However, the individual’s ability to self-publish is taken for granted on the Internet.

“We thought of reversing the current trend, in which everything is going virtual,” explains Imigi. Despite the publishing industry’s staggering recession, bookstores still exist, and new magazines spawn one after another.

“If we keep putting out something interesting and minimize the number of copies just to meet the demand, we can probably make ends meet,” Imigi says.

Weblishers’ current difficulty as a startup publishing house is the process of developing the cheapest flow between the printing company and the customers, while other online bookstores are cutting their shipping costs amid the fierce competition. Although Weblishers now distributes its products directly from its site, the company is contemplating a move to brick-and-mortar bookstores in the near future.

Weblishers’ new-born business is getting positive feedback from various sectors, according to Imigi. Ultimately, according to the mission statement, Weblishers wants to provide book-publishing opportunities to the general public as well as bring a wider audience to a number of great information sources buried on the Web.