Translation rights remain big business in Japan, especially when the translations are from English, even as the book trade continues its steady decline. Sales of books and magazines fell for the fifth consecutive year in 2001. But in the same year, half of the top 10 bestsellers were translations.
From 1997 through last year, every figure dropped from year to year: sales of new books, number of bookstores selling them (from 10,277 to 8,741) and number of copies sold (from 875.9 million to 748.7 million). The context is an industrial and banking recession now a decade old, which book traders point to as the chief explanation for buyer blues. But there is also increasingly worrisome competition from the latest in cell phone technology and video games.
Like their colleagues in the West, Japanese publishers have attempted to deal with the crisis by publishing more titles—some 70,000 in the latest business year—but this hasn't helped much. Meanwhile, according to the Japan Foundation's Japan Book News, the leading bestseller in the December 2000—November 2001 reporting year was Spencer Johnson's Who Moved My Cheese? The next three spots were held by the first three Harry Potter titles.