There are approximately 3,700 publishing firms in Japan. One of these firms, Discover 21, Inc. (head office: Hirakawa-cho, Tokyo), is growing rapidly through the new idea of working directly with bookstores. Despite a decline in the publishing scene, the title Choyaku Niiche no Kotoba (Nietzsche’s Words) has sold more than 1,180,000 copies. Student reporter Mariko Yajima (4th-year student at the Faculty of Law) interviewed Masahiro Sato (33), sales manager at Discover 21 and a 2004 graduate of the Chuo University Faculty of Letters. They discussed Sato’s work and how a hit is being made.
Strategic display of books
Together with hit works
――I’m very interested in how books become major hits. Can you tell us about your work?
I’m currently in charge of sales for the Tokyo metropolitan area. I work face-to-face with about 450 to 500 bookstores in the Tokyo area. My duties include introducing books and making promotion proposals. I enjoy the challenge of trying to sell as many books as possible and trying to create hits.
――Discover 21 doesn’t sell books through agents. This is different from conventional publishing firms, right? Do you get any unusual reactions from bookstores?
Not really. In the past, dealing directly with bookstores was a little difficult. However, nowadays, bookstores contact us for new ideas. Our company works to create unique and realistic ideas for getting customers to pick up books. Each book is uniquely attractive, so our job is to elicit this appeal.
――How does one elicit the appeal of a book?
Bookstores have created a flow for books. Each bookstore concentrates on a different genre; for example, literature and novels, business books, small-sized paperbacks, language texts, study-aid books, medicals texts, comics, etc. This gives each bookstore its own unique flavor or context. However, there is no guarantee that displayed books will sell when displayed according to this context. One example is when I was conducting sales for Kinniku Yori Mo Hone wo Tsukae! (Use Bones Rather Than Muscles!, published by Discover 21, released in May 2014), a book co-written by martial artist Yoshinori Kono. In addition to displaying the book in the martial arts section, I convinced the bookstore to also display it in the health area, as well as places frequented by middle-aged and elderly customers. I took such measures based on confidence that readers would find the book appealing. When such unique ideas lead to increased sales, it’s a win-win situation for both bookstore and our company.
――So, you would change the place for displaying books in order to catch the eyes of more potential readers?
I view my work as setting the stage for an encounter between books and readers. The great thing about books is that they connect to other people. All it takes is one catalyst to set a book on the path to popularity. Working to create that catalyst is both fulfilling and difficult. At first, I never imagined that Nietzsche’s Words would become such a hit.
My goal is to produce five hit books (books selling at least 200 thousand copies) every year.
――Nietzsche’s Words became a bestseller in 2011. What was it like in the office?
To be honest, I can’t remember how it was in the office when we finally reached the goal. Once we set the goal of creating a bestseller, we worked frantically every day. Every time 100 thousand copies were sold, we changed the color of the cover title. For example, we sold a green and red version around Christmas time. We also sold limited editions with special colors. A large bookstore in Umeda of Osaka sold 300 copies in only half a day! Normally, selling 10 copies in one day is considered spectacular. In addition to bookstores, we incorporated many other businesses in our sales activities. We had the book displayed in movie theaters, had it distributed through convenience stores, and planned promotions in collaboration with other publishing companies.
――I saw it displayed at a theatrical venue the other day.
It’s amazing that it is still selling. I’ve heard that the book has been read by world-class athletes including professional boxer Ryota Murata and Makoto Hasabe, a member of the Japanese national soccer team. It makes me realize just how many people have read the book. However, I am a little frustrated that, for some unknown reason, the popularity of Nietzsche’s Words and all of Discover 21’s hits have started from Kansai or in the countryside. Personally, I want to create book which is ahead of the times by the refined taste of Tokyo. So…
――What did you do?
I raised my ideas at our company and asked for more focus on the Tokyo metropolitan area. Fortunately, my ideas were accepted and a dedicated Tokyo team was formed this year. As I already stated, my personal goal is to produce five hit books (books selling at least 200 thousand copies) every year. I work hard every day to achieve this goal.
――Your company certainly has a passionate spirit of challenging!
Our company motto is “Do it now, become it, and fully enjoy it.” The atmosphere makes it easy to take on new challenges. Actually, there are many cases in which books are born from proposals made by the sales team.
Dreaming of visiting bookstores throughout Japan
Sato (right) and student reporter Yajima (photograph taken at Discover 21 head office)
――Now, I’d like to talk about your time at university. Could you discuss your job-searching activities?
I was involved in a student group and served as captain until November of my third year. I started searching for employment after I stepped down as captain, so I started later than most students. Even then, I wanted to be involved in books when searching.
Around that time, I learned that the Mass Media Academy Pen-no-Mori is located in Jinbo-cho of Tokyo, and I started studying at the academy. Instruction was given by veteran newspaper reporters, and the academy was filled with people seeking a career in reporting or mass media. I guess you could call it a place of assemblage for the bold and ambitious!
I studied at the academy for about four or five months. At the same time, I would check the employment ads in the newspaper and send my resume to publishing firms which caught my eye. It was autumn when I received an employment offer from Discover 21.
――Why did you decide to join Discover 21?
I dreamed of visiting bookstores throughout Japan. I felt this way because bookstores near my parent’s home in Ibaraki Prefecture were closing one after another—you had to travel two kilometers to reach the nearest bookstore. I viewed publishing firms as manufacturing businesses, not as mass communication firms. My desire to create something new matched the company atmosphere at Discover 21.
――It’s been ten years since you started working. How have you changed from when you were a university student?
I am becoming a professional in the publishing industry. I now have a clear understanding of numerical data and am conscious of interpreting the meaning which lies behind numbers.
――Is there any part of you that hasn’t changed?
I still get attached to everything that I encounter. I suppose that my ability to act comes from curiosity. I try to focus on the best things which are even broad and shallow things. Unlike students, working professionals have both the emotional and physical means to go wherever they want, so I have had the opportunity to meet people from many different industries.
――Please give a message to current Chuo students.
Take more pride in being a Chuo student. Corporations view Chuo University as having many serious students. Many Chuo graduates have gone on to illustrious careers in various industries.
Today’s students may not be aware of the accomplishments of past graduates. Therefore, I hope that you will actively seek out encounters with successful working professional and receive new stimulation.
――I found our discussion today very stimulating! Thank you so much.