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Kodansha Ltd. and U.S.-based Random House Inc. announced Thursday they have agreed to forge a joint venture aimed at publishing books in Japanese.

Describing the enterprise as a “historic alliance,” the firms said in a statement that the tieup marks the first time that publishers from Japan and the United States will set up a publishing house in Japan for general-interest books.

The company will be called Random House Kodansha.

It will publish fiction and nonfiction books written by both Japanese and international authors in hardcover and paperback form, with the first titles expected to be issued either late this year or in early 2004.

It will be based in Tokyo and launched sometime between April and June, the firms said, adding that its chief executive officer will be announced soon.

The joint venture will be capitalized on a 50-50 basis.

No other financial terms relating to the agreement are being made public.

Random House Kodansha will acquire titles in all languages for Japanese-language publication. It will publish translations of works by Random House’s English-, Spanish- and German-language authors, as well as works published by other houses, the statement says.

It will offer works by Japanese authors for translation and publication to Random House partners in English-, German- and Spanish-speaking countries.

Random House, the world’s largest publisher of general trade books in English, is a division of Bertelsmann AG, a leading international media company based in Germany.

Random House operates more than 100 publishing groups.

Kodansha is the biggest trade book publisher in Japan, with an estimated 6 percent share of the domestic market.

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