Business

Electronic dictionaries selling well, at printed versions' expense

Makers of portable electronic dictionaries are diversifying their products to meet growing demand.

The sales market for the lightweight and convenient dictionaries is posting brisk growth.

One type that has emerged boasts of packing information equivalent to about 50 volumes, including a book on medical science.

Casio Computer Co. last month put on the market a Japanese-Chinese and Chinese-Japanese dictionary small enough to fit in a breast pocket.

There are five different kinds of Japanese-Chinese and Chinese-Japanese electronic dictionaries currently on the market, with the volume of shipments expected to more than double that of last year.

A Casio official said the main buyers of Japanese-Chinese and Chinese-Japanese dictionaries are men in their 40s and 50s, in the face of active economic interchanges between the two countries.

Casio also plans to put on sale a Japanese-Korean and Korean-Japanese electronic dictionary in September that will feature phrases from a South Korean television drama that has become a hit in Japan.

Since electronic dictionaries were marketed more than 10 years ago, their sales have been growing nonstop. Now, dictionary makers are going upmarket, with some products priced at around 30,000 yen apiece.

The market for electronic dictionaries has grown in size from 18 billion yen in fiscal 1998 to an expected 57 billion yen during the current fiscal year, according to Casio.

Competition among manufacturers for specialized dictionaries began in spring last year, with the appearance of units dealing with Japanese and French, chiefly for university students taking French as their second foreign language.

However, industry sources said sales are weighted toward Japanese-Chinese dictionaries for business use and makers are pitted against each other in this area.

Seiko Instruments Co. is eagerly developing a market for new customers, especially high school students, with dictionaries enabling them to simply press keys for words in Chinese and get their Japanese meaning.

Kazuhiko Kimura, chief of the company’s planning section, said the rate of dispersion of electronic dictionaries among high school students is half that of university students, or about 20 percent. Such dictionaries, he said, are still on their way to popularization.

Publishing companies that provide the basic material to electronic dictionary makers, on the other hand, hold mixed feelings about the vigorous competition.

Tamotsu Ueno, deputy chief of the editorial department of Iwanami Shoten Co., whose Kojien Japanese dictionary has become a standard feature of electronic dictionaries, said profits accrued from the electronic version of dictionaries are steadily rising.

Growth in the sale of the printed version of the Kojien has ceased. But in addition to increases in the sale of electronic dictionaries, the number of people utilizing the Kojien in cell phones has risen by 50 percent to about 200,000 from last year.

Sanseido Co. said electronic dictionaries and those of the electronic version on the Internet have not been able to make up for the declines in the sale of the printed versions.

It said its sales of printed dictionaries have been going down 5 percent to 10 percent annually, to about 8 million now.

Nobuyuki Arai, a member of Sanseido’s board of directors, said he hopes electronic dictionary makers will look for ways to coexist with publishing companies, such as allowing users to freely choose a variety of dictionaries.

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