According to a study published by the Shuppan Kagaku Kenkyujo (Research Institute for Publications) on April 4, 2010, the sales of books and magazines in Japan decreased successively for the recent years and fell below 2 trillion yen in 2009 for the first time since 21 years.
The sales of books and magazines reached their peak in 1996 and 1997 respectively. The slump in book sales might be caused for example by the spread of internet services as well as e-books and the growing loss of interest among young people in reading books. However, people have not been able to identify the real causes of slump yet and much less the means to tackle the slump.
The slump is even worsening according to the Shuppan Kagaku Kenkyujo and the sales of books and magazines in the first half of 2011 fell 3.8% over the same period of the previous year and the decreasing rate is growing.
I am a heavy book reader and fond of visiting bookshops and strolling from a bookshop to another bookshop and from a bookshelf to another bookshelf (Please check also the page on Kanda). On the way of my stroll I encountered many interesting books which now find their places in my bookshelf. As a reader of books, I have at present many complaints to bookshops and publishers. Simply speaking, the books I can find in the majority of bookshops are so called "how-to" books with shallow contents and it is hard to find books decent in presentation and rich in contents. This makes book lovers like me away from bookshops.
It is true that Amazon and other internet book shops offer a convenient tool to buy books, if we know exactly what we will and possiblly the title of the book we need. However, it is almost impossible to accidentally discover interesting books on the internet. Though the sales through internet amounts to be well more than 10% for most publishers, it decreases the possible sales which might have been realized if accidental encounters were possible.
Despite this discouraging overall trend, there are of course publishers which continue to publish high quality books. Recently I got acquainted with a publisher Shin-hyoron (Website - Japanese only) and its director Takeichi-san. Shin-hyoron is a medium-scale publisher, which publishes some 30 new learned books every year.
It happened that Professor Nobuko Fukui of Tokai University, a friend of mine, published some time ago a translation of "The land of the living" written by Steven Borish through Shin-hyoron and I wrote a sort of testimonial to promote sales of the book. Fukui-sensei then recommended Takeichi-san to make a book from my earlier Japanese web site "Copenhagen dayori" (Copenhagen report), which I made during my stay in Denmark between 2006 and 2008 and included more than 200 articles on historical and cultural topics related to Denmark.
Takeichi-san accepted the proposal and since then I meet him regularly to make an attractive and if possible marketable book from too many and too rambling topics of the original web site. It takes time and the work is quite tiring, but it is a fun. When the communication with Takeichisan advanced, I became curious to know the working environment of Shin-hyoron and requested to have our next meeting in the office of Shin-hyoron.
Shin-hyoron is located in the vicinity of Waseda University. When it started in 1952, Shin-hyoron was near Kanda, the center of the Japanese publishing world. However, when it had a good business in the 1970s, it could buy a house and moved from a rent office into its own building. Takeichi-san says that it was a good decision of his predecessor. Now, Shinhyoron is financially much better positioned than most publishers which have to pay high rent for their office and warehouse for the storage of their books. This is surely one of the reasons for the flexibility of Shinhyoron in its business decision, because it can pursue the contents of books it wants to make while other publishers have to pay severer attention to the marketability of their books.
The house of Shin-hyoron was built originally as a studio of a theatre group and reformed to be an apartment house for students. Its upper floor has a high ceiling, reminiscence of the theatre studio. Bookshelves are installed to its walls and filled up with the books they have published in the last 60years. The largest room eradiates a sort of atmosphere of intellectual works being done in this room. A small room annexed to the main room is the office of director Takeichi-san and his assistant. Also looks quite comfortable for working. The ground floor seems to be used for delivery of books and other physical works. I found the surface of a desk there almost fully covered with books and papers - a typical scene we encounter in Japanese offices.
The neighborhood of Shin-hyoron has something I feel very at home. Here, we can feel the life of students and ordinary citizens in their traditional environments. Even small houses try to decorate them with greenery as you see on the photo below. Though, we do not have large parks in Tokyo like many Western cities, it is full of greens growing from tiny gardens and flower pots and those greens are not secluded within walls but enjoyed by all neighbors and even by passersby.