Decrease in the number of bookstores: Protect important cultural centers

Bookstores are important cultural centers where people meet books. A book that happens to be picked up by chance can expand one’s perspectives. It is important to preserve the virtue of bookstores even as times change.

The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry has established a project team for bookstore promotion under the direct supervision of the minister to support bookstores, which continue to decrease. The team underlines the importance of bookstores in local communities as centers of knowledge and it will study promotion measures to maintain them.

The number of bookstores has decreased from about 20,000 in fiscal 2004 to about 11,000 in fiscal 2023. It is believed that bookstores’ performance has deteriorated due to the spread of online book sales and e-books. It also seems that many suffer from a lack of business successors.

A quarter of all municipalities in Japan are home to not one single bookstore. If the situation is left unattended, the number of municipalities bereft of bookstores could increase further. The situation is serious.

Industry minister Ken Saito has expressed a strong sense of urgency, saying, “It is not just a problem for one small or medium-sized enterprise, but the foundation for enhancing the education of the Japanese people has been drastically reduced throughout the country.” This view will probably be shared by many people.

At a meeting with Saito, representatives from bookstores voiced their concerns about the increasing number of cashless payments, and how the fees for the payments are putting pressure on store profits. The minister is urged to sincerely listen to their requests and the various issues that bookstores are facing and search for effective measures.

Regarding support for bookstores, the Liberal Democratic Party’s parliamentary association compiled a proposal last year. It called for helping bookstores adopt digital technology, including the introduction of integrated circuit tags that would improve the efficiency of book distribution and prevent shoplifting.

In a nationwide poll conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun last year, 75% of respondents said that it would be better if there were bookstores convenient to their homes. The most common reason for choosing a book was “seeing it in a bookstore.”

To keep bookstores’ lights on, not only the industry ministry but also the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry and local governments will need to provide support. Schools and other institutions are encouraged to convey to children the joy of reading and the appeal of bookstores with their large selection of books.

Management efforts on the part of the stores are also essential. Measures to attract customers will be necessary, such as by adding cafes and general merchandise sections or holding events. It will also be important for each store to have its own unique points, such as featuring regional characteristics or enhancing the selection of books in a particular genre.

Books are essential to increase knowledge and education as well as for human growth. It is important for children to experience reading from an early age. For parents and children, visiting bookstores and searching for books together will certainly provide joy for them.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 20, 2024)