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20 2011

The Heat Haze & the Heap of Corpses

The white books with shiny blue cross logo in the picture is a novel titled "Kagerou (かげろう, the heat haze)" written by Hiro Mizushima (水嶋ヒロ), a 26-year-old actor. The celebrity’s first book was published on December 15th, 2010, and the copies apparently were sold like hot cakes in the beginning. However, the way I see it, they have already been dead stocks on a bookstore shelve.

heap of corpses1

I chose this topic because I saw a similar heap of corpses (屍累々) in a small bookstore in Azabu-juban the other day. I was really sorry for the store.

I’m not going to comment on its content because I haven’t read it (and I’ve no plan to do so). I’d like to discuss a business method the young actor and a publisher, Popla Publishing Company, used.

The facts are these.
September 20th, 2010: Mizushima’s agent announced that he left the agency to concentrate on writing, and that got a lot of media coverage.
October 31st, 2010: Media reported that the actor won the grand prize in the fifth Popla literary competition (*) and also won an award of 20 million yen (about $230,000).
November 1st, 2010: The publisher officially announced that he won the competition and that they had not known about the author until editors visited him to tell his novel was selected because he used his real name, Tomohiro Saito (齋藤 智裕).
On the same day: Mizushima held a press conference and said he would withdraw the 20 million yen. Including the news of the grand prize, the news got a lot of media coverage again.
On the same day: .
The publisher declared that they would close down Popla literary competition and establish a new award for newcomers from next year.
December 15th, 2010: The novel was published. The initial print run of the book was over 430,000 copies.
December 28th, 2010: It achieved over 1,000,000 copies.

(*) I have to say that the annual Popla literary competition was equivocal because unlike other quality literary awards, its screening process and selectors were not manifested. There was ample room for selecting in an arbitrary manner.

heap of cropese2

In Japan, there are two book and magazine distribution systems: one is a consignment system in which a bookstore can return books to wholesale booksellers if they are unsalable, and the other is a buy-out system in which a bookstore cannot return them. Under the former system, wholesale booksellers decide how many copies they would ship to each store, while under the latter, stores take a risk and can purchase them as many as they want.

Though many books and magazines are sold in the consignment system, Mizushima’s novels are in the buy-out system.

I’d say that Mizushima and the publisher played a mental game with bookstores.
It was like a fireworks display that the young actor and his novel got a lot, a lot of media exposure in a short period of time. The tag team who never overlook commercial opportunities launched the copies with a lighting speed while the effect of the fireworks remained. I can vividly imagine that small and medium-scale stores that usually cannot be shipped enough copies of salable books thought it was a big chance.

The result was the complete failure of retailers, which purchased too many copies.
An excess advance order of each store led to the ridiculous oversupply of 1,000,000 copies, and to make things worse, people lost interest in the novel surprisingly fast.

Poor bookstores have to sell the copies because they are unreturnable. Thus, an ironical phenomenon is occurring in bookstores all over Japan. The corpses are displayed in the best places of shops for selling: at the entrance or near a cash register.

The team Mizushima won the game by the gimmick, but I think it not be all good.
The retailers will never forget their costly mistakes and the team’s method, and people will witness the miserable end of the dead stocks.

I wonder if they will try to catch lightning in a bottle twice.


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