Recently, Ambassador Reiichiro Takahashi, Consul General of Japan in New York, hosted a dinner between American and Japanese publishers to explore ways of improving cultural and business exchange between the publishers of both countries. (You can read PW’s report on the event here: http://www.digitalpw.com/digitalpwrefurl/20160829/pm=2&u1=friend&pg=10#pg10 )
This sounds a worthwhile and laudable aspiration, though it should be noted that this is not a new idea, and earlier collaborations have sometimes met with mixed results. Random House discontinued its joint venture with Kodansha in late 2009, and in April 2011 Kodansha International, Kodansha’s English-language publishing house, closed down, although Kodansha USA, Inc remains in existence. Most of the success stories have come from joint distribution arrangements.
Some of the industry’s biggest players were involved in this discussion, and a couple of Japan’s well-known authors were mentioned, but manga seems to be the main market for Japanese publications in the US. Further talks and trips to the USA are now on the agenda, and this may lead to new and interesting developments between the two countries’ publishers. This may well take time, and will require mindful maneuvering by all parties, as the ways of doing business vary greatly between the two countries. Patience and insight will be valuable attributes for the participating publishers.
However, away from the spotlight of these top-level dialogues, there has for the past 12 years been a steady flow of translation rights licensing of Japanese novels to US publishers, as well as to publishers in the UK, France, Germany, Russia and a couple of other countries. These licensing deals came about as a result of the Japanese Literature Publishing Project (JLPP), which was an initiative of the Japanese Government’s Agency for Cultural Affairs, launched in 2002. The JLPP scheme was initially managed by the J-Lit Center, and subsequently by the JLPP Office, which was presided over by Toppan Printing Co. Ltd. A total of 186 Japanese novels have been successfully translated and licensed to overseas publishers under the JLPP scheme.
Similar programmes can be seen in many countries and are running continuously. It is shame that JLPP’s program ended earlier this year since continuity is required to drive momentum and growth (Rome wasn’t built in a day!).
Rights World Agency’s partners, Oki Murata and Chris Braham, were actively involved in the JLPP foreign rights programme. The translation rights were licensed to major publishers such as Penguin and St. Martin’s Press, to leading University Presses, as well as to a diverse range of smaller, specialist and independent publishing houses, including Dalkey Archive Press, Alma Books, Peter Owen publishers, Viz Media amongst others.
During the course of running this extensive licensing programme, we acquired a deep understanding of the business cultures and requirements on both sides of the licensing process. At Rights World Agency we apply our acquired knowledge and insight to the evolution of new publishing relationships between English-speaking and Japanese companies.
We believe that there are two key points to consider about Japanese book contents for foreign book markets
1) How can you get access to the potential contents in terms of rights arrangements, and how can you successfully produce (translate) them in your languages whether English, French or German, etc? We have to say that Japan’s publishing business culture is a bit different from the so called international standard, and you’ll need to take that into account, both in the negotiation and contractual stages, and often when it comes to production too, in particular for illustrated books.
2) What kinds of publishing genre might present the best potential for your market? Fiction? We’re sure that you know Haruki Murakami and a few other Japanese writers names, but how about many others who don’t get the same level of exposure? Finding the next bestselling author has a similar hit ratio as acquiring Harry Potter. You have to count on the ratio. We believe that potential genres could be: comics, graphic novels, light novels, edutainment (reference books) for children, especially those using Japanese characters, and trade subjects like cooking and craft.
So if you are aiming to deepen your business relationships with Japanese publishing houses, we can help your access to this complex market.