Survey Objectives

Recent years have seen an increase in the quantity of “e-books” (electronic books) available, in the diversification in their content, and in their online distribution. According to the statistics, the size of the market is increasing year by year, and the e-book distribution industry is expanding steadily, with distribution by cellphone playing a significant role. One of the kinds of content involved in this trend is the “cellphone novel,” which has been enthusiastically received by the younger generation. Some of the more frequently-downloaded cellphone novels have been released in physical book format, and in 2007, several examples climbed high in Japan’s best-seller lists.

In view of this trend, a survey was conducted on the current state of distribution, use and preservation of e-books in Japan as of 2008. The engagement of libraries with e-books was included in the remit of the survey.

Survey Method

Using the questionnaire method, surveys of facts and attitudes of publishing companies toward the distribution, use and preservation of e-books were conducted. These were supplemented by interviews with people working in the e-book industry. Additionally, in place of a user survey, a questionnaire survey dealing with facts and attitudes regarding the use of e-books was conducted on members of staff at the National Diet Library.

Survey Results

It is difficult to arrive at a strict definition of an e-book based on various statistical and historical analyses. An attempt was therefore made to define the e-book, and to analyze the current state of its distribution, use and preservation, in terms of industrial realities.

In terms of distribution format, e-books seem to be shifting away from packaged digital publications, typically on CD-ROM, and towards online digital publications. In fiscal year 2006, its market for cellphones grew bigger than that for the personal computer which had until then been in the lead. In line with this trend, there has also been a steady increase in the numbers of vendors establishing alliances with communications companies serving the cellphone market, and using these alliances to supply premium cellphone content. While a marked feature of the cellphone-oriented e-book business is the fact that the registration of content menu, charging for contents and fee collection are administered by cellphone companies, this system is starting to change, because of the emergence of vendors supplying content without any alliance with a communications company, and the advent of multifunctional mobile data terminals.

On the hardware side, the most striking phenomena are the failure of dedicated reading terminals to catch on with the general public, and the accommodation of reading matter on general-purpose portable terminals typified by cellphones and game handsets. It seems to suggest that e-books have not yet gained widespread social acceptance as substitutes for books and other print media, and the facts of e-book usage by cellphones and other handheld devices do not imply a change from book to e-book.

As yet, no exhaustive data are available on e-book usage by private individuals. The institutional usage of e-books in libraries, meanwhile, can be divided into two categories: the digitization of local library holdings, and the introduction and offering of e-books that are in the public domain, provided by external suppliers.

As for the preservation of e-books, from the perspective of publishers and content providers, storage (i.e. backing up) revolves around ensuring that data is safe from loss and damage; the survey results show that in some cases, not even this much is done in the first place. In other words, general awareness of the importance of the long-term preservation of e-books seems at present to be extremely low.