Amazon Kindle tops yearly Japan e-reader sales in five months

A research firm in Japan said the Kindle outsold the Kobo from Rakuten and Sony's Reader last year despite their head start

By Jay Alabaster, IDG News Service |  

Amazon.com's Kindle e-reader has dominated the competition in Japan since its launch last year, according to new research, showing the company's low pricing and powerful brand may have overcome its late entrance into the market.

The Kindle accounted for 38.3 percent of the e-reader market in Japan in the 12-month period through March, market data firm MM Research said. That compared to a 33 percent share for Rakuten's Kobo and a 25.5 percent share for Sony's Reader device.

The Kindle was officially launched in November of last year, meaning the figures represent only its first five months of sales. By contrast, Rakuten acquired Kobo and launched in Japan from July, while Sony launched its first model in 2004.

The Kindle launch was seen in Japan as the official start of the long-stagnant electronic book market in the country. Amazon is a household name among consumers in Japan, especially for books, and negotiations with publishers before the launch were closely followed.

Amazon cut the price of its Kindles just two weeks after its initial announcement, before they started shipping, to match those of the Kobo. The company's basic Kindle Paperwhite device currently costs ¥7,980 (US$80) in Japan, while the cheapest model costs $119 in the U.S. Some have speculated that anticipation for the Kindle launch and its popularity overseas gave it an initial sales boost, the effects of which will wear off as time goes on.

MM Research said that the total e-reader market in Japan was 470,000 units during the period, and it expects the market to grow to 520,000 units during the current year through March 2014. The figures for Japan from MM Research do not include tablets or other multi-function devices, such as Amazon's Fire or Sony's tablet lineup.

Japan is still a small market compared to other countries. The global e-reader market in 2012 was estimated to be 19.9 million units by market research firm IDC, with the bulk of those in the U.S. IDC has said that number is falling as other mobile devices like tablets gain in popularity.

MM Research said they include devices with screens from 5 to 7 inches that use e-paper and serve as dedicated e-readers. The company said it computed the numbers from interviews with companies and user surveys.

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