Amazon.com Inc. has struck deals with a number of Japanese publishing houses on terms of e-book distribution of the Japanese version of its Kindle service, sources said.
The key players are Gakken Holdings Co., a major publisher, and midmarket players Shufunotomo Co. and PHP Inc.
They are the first significant publishers in Japan to reach agreements concerning Amazon's Kindle e-book service.
However, about 40 smaller companies in Japan are thought to have reached similar agreements with Amazon, the world's leading online retailer, sources said.
Amazon has commissioned a number of publishing-related companies to act as e-book agents as part of efforts to grab more e-book content by approaching small-sized publishers.
Kadokawa Group Holdings Inc. is keen to enter into a contract with Amazon. Whether it and other major publishers decide to do so will hold a key to future developments.
Based in the United States, Amazon has one of the top shares in sales of hard-copy books in Japan and has robust records in e-book sales in Western nations. Many industry watchers predict that Amazon will be the key player in the Japanese e-book market.
Jeffrey Bezos, Amazon's chief executive officer, said last week that the release date of the Japanese version of Kindle will be announced by the end of this year.
Gakken ranked fifth last year in annual sales of paper books on Amazon.com. Gakken, which operates its own e-book retailing website, possesses e-book data for about 1,000 titles and releases books in paper and electronic forms simultaneously.
Shufunotomo has been releasing e-magazines from early on. PHP mostly deals with business books.
Amazon has been negotiating with Japanese publishers since spring last year. But the Japanese parties have raised objections to provisions in the prototype contract forms, presented by Amazon, which said Amazon holds the right to determine retail prices and can continue to distribute e-books even after the expiration of contracts between the authors, the publishers and Amazon.
Negotiations had come to an impasse over the differences in traditional business practices in Japan and the United States.
But the situation began to shift in November, as Amazon started to comply with modifications in the contract forms.
"A number of provisions in the initial draft, including distribution for an indefinite period, disappeared en masse," said a source at a leading publishing house.
Japanese publishers also began to make their own concessions. Some companies have agreed to grant Amazon the right to determine prices.
(This article was written by Naoki Takehata and Yu Yamada.)
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