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Comic Book Downloads Drive eBook Market in Japan

Comic books have long been a big deal in Japanese publishing, and in recent years the ability to download comics to cellphones has driven sales upward, especially by readers who like to access their comics while riding the country's commute trains.

eBook Japan, the industry leader in the island nation, lists some 26,000 comics among its 33,000 titles that can be downloaded via the company's free app.

Users can store up to 50 eBooks for free at the site's "trunk room," which is also where they can download titles to their cellphones. For a fee, they can store additional titles there. The site also offers a similar kind of pre-paid gift card that have been such a boon for iTunes in the U.S. market.

The eBook market generally is exploding in Japan, with $464 million in sales in 2008, a 131 percent growth over the previous year. The overwhelming portion -- 86 percent -- are read on cellphones, as opposed to computers or specific eReader platforms. (The Kindle is not available in Japanese.)

In a recent survey, 32.7 percent of cellphone users said they have read eBooks on their phones, with an astounding 80 percent of those comic books. When eBook Japan launched its iPod/iPhone distribution in June, the average comic book fan spent an estimated $100 on purchases the first ten days they were available, according to a company press release.

The books available at the site, including comics, sell for about $3-4 apiece. This, then, is yet another example of rapid early adoption of eBooks by niche categories.

Thanks to Junko Sasaki for help on this post.

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