Japan's biggest cellular services provider NTT Docomo and the Dai Nippon Printing Co. have launched a partnership to bring e-book content to Docomo's handsets to compete with Sony and others. Due to debut this fall, the service will combine Docomo’s existing content-distribution and payment systems with DNP’s planned hybrid digital/physical bookstores.

“The domestic e-book market is expected to grow as much as 7 times its current size to over JPY300billion) $3.5 billion) in the next 5 years, so it is natural a big player like Docomo will want be in the race,” said mobile industry consultant Mr. Kei Shimada of Tokyo-based Infinita. The service will be initially targeted at Docomo’s 56 million customers. E-books will be available via a mobile bookstore that users will access with Docomo wireless devices, including mobile phones, smartphones, tablet computers and e-book readers. The store will launch with more than 100,000 titles, including electronic books, manga comics, magazines and newspapers, according to Docomo.

Japanese publishers, which on the whole had been slow to capitalize on the e-book revolution, seem to welcome the deal. “We expect this alliance, which encompasses a vast number of physical bookstores as well as Japan’s largest mobile operator in terms of customers, will play a major role in the development of Japan’s e-book market.” said Yoshinobu Noma, vice president at Kodansha Ltd.

DNP says it will use Japan’s top bookseller Maruzen (part of the DNPg roup) and other bookshops to increase dramatically the number of books for sale in the digitized form.

DNP, one of Japan’s largest comprehensive printing companies, revealed last month its plan for a hybrid digital/physical bookstore system, which will combine the newly announced mobile store for e-books, the DNP group’s existing online store for printed books and physical bookstore chains in the DNP group, including Maruzen, Junkudo and Bunkyodo.

Docomo will first offer the Dai Nippon e-book service through its smartphones before releasing a dedicated e-book reader sometime this year.

The two are now pitting themselves against the country’s second biggest mobile provider KDDI Corp which teamed up with Sony in May to distribute e-books and Google which plans to launch an e-book service in Japan early next year. Sony/KDDI are to start offering its service through a new Sony e- reader to be released in Japan this year.