JEPA News, December 1997 Issue
Electronic Publishing in Japan

Mr. Hasegawa (Chairman of JEPA), Mr. Sekido of Kenkyusha and I had some discussion through email when I went abroad for COMDEX/Fall 1997, which is a major computer trade show in the US. We discussed about differences between electronic publishing in the US and in Japan.

Depending on the definition of electronic publishing though, the situation of the US is roughly as follows: as regards dictionaries, Book Shelf of Microsoft Corporation has a near-monopoly of the market. As to multimedia encyclopaedias, Microsoft's Encarta also has a large lead over the others and Compton's Encyclopaedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica and IBM Multimedia Encyclopaedia are following two laps behind.

As to electronic books, Voyager surely acts outstandingly producing high-quality electronic publishing materials ranging from pictures of Van Gogh and Vermeer to music performances of Laurie Anderson, for example.

The reason that Book Shelf has successfully dominated the dictionary market seems clear. Microsoft has been supplying Book Shelf since the age of MS-DOS and in the Windows era Book Shelf is given as something extra to those who buy Microsoft Word, Office, or Works. Since Microsoft Office comes preinstalled on personal computers, if you buy a PC, you will get Book Shelf as well. Consequently, Book Shelf has overwhelmed the market for electronic dictionaries in the US.

Microsoft might merely consider Book Shelf as a software product similar to Microsoft Word or Excel rather than "an open data-formatted dictionary" and as a result, Microsoft didn't add troublesome functionality in that by using Book Shelf the user may look up various dictionaries that use this open data format.

As to how matters stand in Japan, as for English-Japanese dictionaries for instance, you can choose from an extensive range of electronic dictionaries of Kenkyusha, Sanseido, Gakken, Obunsha, Shogakukan, Taishukan, and of others, although not as numerous as paper-based ones available on the shelf of a bookstore. As far as EBXA (for SONY DataDiskman) and EPWING titles are concerned, almost 300 products have come into the market.

I'm involved in the computer industry and one of the major concerns in this industry is how to apply US technologies in Japan. Doing what the US does will do in most cases in Japan though, Japan, however, may well be running at the forefront of the electronic publishing industry.

I think there are three reasons for this success of Japanese electronic publishing. First, the activities by the Japanese Electronic Publishing Association (JEPA), the EPWING Consortium, and the Electronic Book (EBXA) Committee to promote electronic publishing in Japan in the last decade. JEPA has bound together electronic-publishing-related industries such as the publishing, printing, computer and software industries and the EPWING Consortium has provided them with the necessary technologies, while the Electronic Publishing Committee has tried to popularize electronic publishing. Secondly, the existence of huge printing companies in Japan. The world's first and second largest printing companies Dai Nippon Printing (DNP) and Toppan Printing and other major companies such as Kyodo Printing and Tosho Printing have propped up the foundation of electronic publishing through active research and development and by enlightening publishing companies in Japan. Lastly, there wasn't the afore-mentioned dictionary "Book Shelf" in Japan until a few years ago.

Well then, what should JEPA do for the future of electronic publishing in Japan? In addition to the CD-ROM medium, an incredible medium called the Internet has appeared, and a phrase "Web Publishing" is being firmly established. JEPA feel the need of a firmer framework as an information provider and an organization that provides opportunities for people from various industries to meet and exchange ideas. The time has come for the EPWING Consortium to provide new technologies adapted to meet the demands of the Internet age. EBXA Players, such as DataDiskman, are expected to evolve towards novel hardware such as of the VAIO concept.

I'd like to conclude here by quoting a modified excerpt of my email sent to Hasagawa-san and Sekido-san. "The future of electronic publishing in Japan rests on the shoulders of each individual members of JEPA. Nobody is before us. We are running at the forefront."

Kazuo Shimokawa / Translated by N. Imade [EAST Co., Ltd.]