Kinokuniya to buy up first editions of new Murakami book

by and

Staff Writers

Bookstores had mixed reactions to Kinokuniya Co.’s surprise announcement last week that it was purchasing 90 percent of the first edition of renowned writer Haruki Murakami’s upcoming book. Some said mom-and-pop bookstores are likely to benefit from the move, while others said it was simply a smart business strategy.

Kinokuniya, a major bookstore chain, said there are two main motives behind the announcement: to get a competitive edge over online bookstores, such as Amazon and Rakuten, and to energize smaller book shops.

“What’s most important is to change the current situation where the latest popular books don’t really go to real bookstores,” said an employee at Kinokuniya who asked not to be named.

Small-scale book shops are unable to sell best-sellers apparently because a large portion of the copies go to online shops.

Kinokuniya, which also sells books online, said while it makes sense that many copies go to the online shops because of demand, smaller brick-and-mortar bookshops should also be able to receive copies.

The latest book by Murakami, who is one of Japan’s most popular novelists, is titled “Shokugyo toshiteno shosetsuka” (“Novelist as an occupation”). In it, he writes about his career and other topics. The work is set to hit store shelves on Sept. 10.

In an unprecedented move, Kinokuniya will buy 90,000 of 100,000 copies of the book’s first edition. Kinokuniya will then sell some of the copies to other bookstores and distributors.

A source at a major book distributor said he had not heard about the details of what Kinokuniya is planning to do, but said that it “would be great” if the strategy will help bring the would-be best-seller to small retailers.

“Small bookshops have always had difficulty obtaining major releases. I’ve often heard about these shops buying books at selling prices just to bring them to their patrons,” said the source, who asked not to be identified.

But other bookstores see the move simply as a smart business strategy.

“They did what makes sense,” Tsuneo Matsushita, vice manager of Sanseido Bookstore Ltd.’s main outlet in Tokyo’s Jinbocho district said of Kinokuniya’s bold strategy. “They secured early what they can be sure of selling in large quantities. That was clever.”

The major bookstore chain has already reached an agreement to obtain Murakami’s new book from Kinokuniya at 70 percent off the list price, which is cheaper than buying from regular distributors. But Sanseido will pay the cost of distributing them to all its outlets nationwide.

“I don’t think we are particularly better off buying them from Kinokuniya,” Matsushita said.

Despite discount prices offered by Amazon, many shoppers still pay list prices at brick-and-motor book stores thanks to the price maintenance system the industry established long ago.

But “I have a feeling if such a strategy (by Kinokuniya) can work, the current system of selling books at list prices may finally have to change” by skipping over book wholesalers, Matsushita said.

Rakuten Inc., which runs a major online-only book shop, said it has no comment on the matter. Amazon said the firm is trying to get as many as copies as possible to cater to its customers’ needs.