NTT DoCoMo Inc.'s Galaxy S tablet is one of the platforms for the 2Dfacto electronic bookstore service that opened Wednesday. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
A battle for supremacy in an already crowded electronic book market is set to begin with the start of distribution services by the fifth major alliance, which involves Japan's telecom and printing giants.
The 2Dfacto e-bookstore service, which opened Wednesday, comprises a cross-sector grouping led by NTT DoCoMo Inc. and Dai Nippon Printing Co. It is the last of five e-book service groupings that have been launched.
With 2Dfacto's arrival, competition is expected to boil down to the versatility and user-friendliness of handheld reader devices and the ease of services such as title searches, industry watchers say.
The 2Dfacto online bookstore, which currently boasts about 20,000 titles--books, comics and periodicals--can be accessed by downloading software from the DoCoMo Market online application store. The store can be accessed via cellphone or wireless communication devices.
The major advantage for the newest service is ready access to a large pool of prospective customers, namely DoCoMo's 57 million subscribers.
By linking to existing online book order services offered by brick-and-mortar bookstores under Dai Nippon such as Maruzen Co. and Bunkyodo Co., 2Dfacto hopes to attract users with perks such as bonus point services.
Takehiko Ogi, president of 2Dfacto, said he intends to discuss with publishers a plan to give readers a bonus for purchasing printed books after they read the first few chapters in electronic format.
The e-bookstore hopes to expand the number of titles available to 100,000 by this spring, and is looking to provide the service through other telecom companies.
For telecommunications businesses, the e-book market is a lucrative one as they can reap data transmission fees for the content being supplied through their services.
KDDI Corp. opened its e-bookstore service late last year and is looking to increase its collection to 100,000 titles by the end of fiscal 2011.
Softbank Corp. has also branched out to offer e-book distribution using terminals equipped with Google Inc.'s Android operating system.
Softbank has also started a separate service designed for Apple Inc.'s iPad that allows users to peruse through 40 newspapers and periodicals. Dubbed Viewn, the subscription fee is a mere 450 yen (about $5.40) a month.
Hardware makers hoping to boost sales are also jumping into the fold. Sony Corp. set up its own website for distributing e-books in December, timed with the launch of its new Reader tablets featuring "electronic paper" displays.
The Reader Store site has more than 20,000 titles. Because the Reader has no communications functions, the titles must be first downloaded on a personal computer before being uploaded to the tablet.
Sharp Corp. has joined hands with video rental and bookstore chain giant Culture Convenience Club Co. to provide content distribution services for its color liquid crystal display tablet Galapagos. The Tsutaya Galapagos service, with about 24,000 titles, also started services in December.
With five major groups competing for market share, industry sources say the successful players will be ones who offer the best utility functions to users. In addition to easy-to-use devices, handy services such as timely title recommendations will be crucial.
"There will be little difference in the number of titles and pricing" among competitors, acknowledged Kiyoyuki Tsujimura, senior executive vice president at NTT DoCoMo, as publishers will likely try to maximize their exposure through as many distributors as possible.
(This article was written by Shinya Wake and Kenichi Goromaru.)