Editorials

Readers, the next generation

The launch of the iPad in Japan on May 28 was a highly anticipated event, greeted by extensive media attention and long lines of customers eager to buy Apple’s latest digital gadget. While Amazon’s Kindle and Sony’s Reader have both been lauded as next-generation reading devices, the iPad does that and more, by allowing users to also browse the Web, send e-mail, and view and store multimedia content.

In the United States, iPad sales soared to more than 2 million units only two months after the product hit the market. Well before its arrival, businesses specializing in creating content — from games and videos to magazines and e-books — were excited not only about tapping into the device’s technological capabilities but also about making use of iPad’s profitable link to Apple’s successful online store.

Major tech players, however, aren’t going to let Apple dominate the market so easily. On June 1, it was announced that Sony Corp., Toppan Printing Co., Ltd., KDDI Corp. and Asahi Shimbun would collaborate on a distribution system for digital content. Similarly, hardware makers, such as NEC, will be releasing computer tabletlike devices this year aimed at breaking iPad’s market foothold.

The spread of e-book reading devices will undoubtedly have a large impact on Japan’s publishing industry. If publishers don’t get on the train soon, they’ll be left stranded at the station. iPad users already have access to a variety of content from more than 30 magazines and newspapers, and a group of 31 publishing companies have formed an association to explore the business potential in the e-book market. At Apple’s conference for developers this week, Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced that 5 million e-books had been downloaded in eight weeks.

E-books naturally appeal to publishers because they can remove the cost of paper and transportation. In turn, these savings could be passed on to consumers and help stimulate the industry. The other side of the coin, though, is the fact that authors can now bypass publishers and sell their books directly to readers through new distribution channels.

As there will always be people who prefer reading the printed page rather than screen text, publishing firms — if they’re clever enough — might be able to capitalize on the growth in digital media while preserving the print market as well.