A dinner held August 16 at the New York City residence of Reiichiro Takahashi, the ambassador and consulate general of Japan in New York, marked the beginning of what Japanese publishers hope is a new dialogue between Japan and the U.S. that will lead to increased book business.
The event was the brainchild of Takahashi and Masashi Takai, chairman and CEO of Kinokuniya. The two met for dinner in July 2015 and discussed what could be done to improve the cultural exchange between Japan and the U.S., and the ambassador suggested that he could host a dinner. The New York gathering was part of a swing through the U.S. by Japanese publishing and bookselling executives, who were in Columbus, Ohio, earlier in the week to attend the International Federation of Library Associations’ annual congress.
In comments to open the dinner, Takai explained: “We are eager to grasp the dynamics of U.S. publishing and bookselling, and to learn from the visions and experiences of U.S. executives. At the same time, we want to share with you our own business ideas and our excellent publishing content. It is our hope that our conversations here will result in exciting joint initiatives by two countries.”
The August 16 dinner drew 20 Japanese executives from 17 companies and 12 members of the American publishing community, including Penguin Random House CEO Markus Dohle, HarperCollins CEO Brian Murray, and Macmillan CEO John Sargent. In his remarks, Takai acknowledged that the Japanese book market has been in decline for 20 years, but he said the country still has many authors whose works should find a more global audience.
Though Japanese authors such as Haruki Murakami and Marie Kondo have done very well in the U.S., Takai said “simply selling translation rights to overseas partners is not sufficient.” He added, “Japanese publishing houses must work closely with international partners to develop promotional plans and commit themselves to directing sales activities at each target country.”
One Japanese-American partnership took place earlier this year when Kadokawa, a major Japanese publisher of manga, prose, and digital content (and whose chairman, Tsuguhiko Kadokawa, and director Toshiyuki Yoshihara were at the dinner), took a 51% stake in Yen Press, the Hachette Book Group’s manga and graphic novel imprint.
At the time of the deal, Masaki Matsubara, representative director and president of Kadokawa, said the agreement was driven by the fact that the U.S. market remains incredibly important to Japanese manga publishers. He cited both the rebound in manga sales in North America and the continuing popularity of Japanese pop culture in general. Another impetus for the agreement is the growing popularity in North America of light novels, illustrated prose works based on manga and anime properties.
HC’s Murray called the dinner “a good first step in making better connections between American and Japanese publishers.” He noted that HC’s Harlequin group has been selling romance works in Japan for a number of decades, and that since HC’s purchase of Harlequin the office has been converted into the HarperCollins Japan office. In addition to continuing to sell romance books, HC is now looking to publish local authors in Japan in such areas as business, as well as to publish commercial international bestsellers that would succeed in the country. Murray said the HC Japan office is now releasing about 165 tittles annually and has sales of approximately $35 million.
Murray also said he believes there is potential to increase sales of Japanese manga and comics in the U.S. Other areas where there could be interest are business and self-help, Murray said.
A PRH spokesperson observed that the company publishes Japanese authors around the world (in the U.S. it is the publisher of Murakami and Kondo). The spokesperson also pointed to the strong demand for manga and graphic novels in the U.S. and noted that the company has had “great success with Japanese-culture books,” as the distributor for Vertical and Kodansha USA. Sales of the latter have tripled since PRH took over distribution in 2010.
Executives from both countries indicated that they are interested in following up with their counterparts, and the Japanese publishers say a second trip to the U.S. is a possibility.