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commuter mini books | by superlocal
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commuter mini books

of my fave things in japanese bookstores is the shelf with small books, designed i guess, for commuters.


have also noticed that the majority i've seen have been covered by their owners, so we never know what's been read. when i was in Shimokitazawa, saw that Delfonics do a range of fancy ones. nice!


Iwanami Shinsho pocket books


While there are a number of definitions of ‘shinsho’, or paperback pocket editions, in general these feature (1) a B40 format, which is smaller again than the B6 size; (2) an educational slant targeting the general public with an emphasis on reader-friendliness; and (3) a length of around 200 pages and a low price of around 700 yen.


The paperback pocket format was pioneered by Iwanami Shinsho back in 1938. Joined by Chuko Shinsho in 1962 and then by Kodansha Gendai Shinsho in 1964, for a long time paperback pocket editions were marketed on their lofty academic tone. This changed with the first edition put out by Bunshun Shinsho in 1998. Spurred by the shift to a light educational focus, company after company entered the paperback pocket market.


The catalyst for the current boom was Shincho Shinsho’s first offering in 2003. Baka no Kabe (The wall of fools) was a massive hit, selling more than four million copies. This momentum was sustained with Hito wa mita me ga 9 wari (People are judged 90 percent on their appearance) and other million-sellers.


Hit publications, according to one senior publishing executive, hinge on the ‘three Ts’: title, theme and timing.


Certainly, if you take a list of hit pocketbook editions, many of them have the kind of title that makes you want to take a closer look: Why don’t drying-pole sellers go bankrupt?, for example, or Introduction to the world’s most beautiful mathematics. The best seller in 2006 was The dignity of a state, which saw more than two million copies leave the shelves, while also succeeding in elevating the term ‘hinkaku’ (dignity) into popular use. The pocketbook which I have found most interesting recently, A life where you can comfortably despair, was something I began reading because the title grabbed me.


But books don’t sell just on the strength of their titles. You need to come up with a theme that accurately captures the mood of the times and serve it up at the right moment. The author of The dignity of a state, Masahiko Fujiwara, was too busy to write a book, so the publishing company basically put together a supplemented version of a series of lectures he gave. The success of pocketbook editions lies in handing readers a deeper level of content than they would find in a magazine, but at magazine speed.


Akira Nagae, a freelance writer familiar with the publishing world, says that pocketbook editions elegantly combine speed with a low price and interesting content, making them just right for a contemporary audience with increasingly segmented interests. The reader-friendly style also offers readers the visceral satisfaction of moving swiftly through the pages.


Noting the success of Shincho Shinsho and the other pocketbook firms, since last year many publishing and newspaper companies have been launching themselves into the pocketbook market. This has boosted the level of competition still further, to the extent that only one pocketbook in every 100 can now hope to sell over 100,000 copies. There are more books out there, but there is a huge disparity between hit publications and those that languish on the shelves, with the result that pocketbook sales as a whole have only risen fractionally on the previous year.


Success in the ‘pocketbook war’ will hinge on accurately interpreting the tastes of the white-collar workers and the middle-age-up population who comprise the bulk of readers.

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Taken on February 18, 2007