Book alterations have taken on a new meaning for a certain paperback gaining popularity around Japan.

The mysterious book — featuring handwritten messages on a supplied cover obscuring the names of the author and publisher and only known as “Paperback X” — is reportedly flying off bookshelves.

An endeavor that began in late July at a bookstore in Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, has spread to other prefectures.

Takashi Nagae, 33, a sales clerk at Sawaya Shoten located in the Fesan building over JR Morioka Station, had been considering ideas to sell a particular paperback and decided to write a message to customers on a cover wrapped around the book before putting it on display in the store.

He made no reference to the contents of the book, which cannot be opened or browsed in the store, only relying on an abstract description.

The message starts, “I’m sorry, I did not know how to recommend this book.” It continues, “I firmly believe there is no person who will not be moved. I want you to read this book.”

What appears to be behind the book’s brisk sales is the trustworthy relationship that has been established over the years between the Fesan bookstore and its customers.

Other than the ¥810 price tag for the book, which is wrapped in a plastic sheet, the only other information provided is that it is over 500 pages and “not a novel.”

“I read the book and was moved, but I thought that some people wouldn’t pick it up if they saw the title. I had saved this idea about one day hiding the book cover,” says Nagae, adding that some customers told him they would not have “encountered” the book if not for his clerical enhancements.

The Fesan bookstore sold around 1,000 volumes of the book in a little over a month. That same book has been revealed to be “Paperback X.”

Using a bookstore network, the “Paperback X” project has spread to 11 other prefectures, including Hokkaido, Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. And since late July, the publisher has received orders for more than 7,000 copies of the book, with more to come.

Bookstores are not only using the inscribed cover created by Nagae as part of the gimmick but getting in on the action by producing their own unique cover versions.

Due to a slump in the publishing industry, sales of books have been sluggish, aside from a small number of bestsellers. In addition to this, the rising prominence of internet bookstores makes the situation for local bookstores even worse.

A book selling strongly based on the inspiration customers gain from a sales clerk’s message in an age when most people rely on internet book reviews when purchasing books is indeed remarkable.

“There are store clerks who feel earnestly about this book, and we are happy when there are readers who heed their advice. We are appreciative and impressed by this relationship of trust,” says a spokesperson for the publishing company.

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