Friday, August 1, 2008

Japan's Biggest Importer of Foreign Books Goes Bankrupt

Selling imported books in any country is a tough business: Yohan, largest importer of foreign-language books and magazines into Japan, has filed for bankruptcy in Tokyo District Court, according to a report from Jiji Press. The company, which operates the Aoyama Book Center chain of stores, has 5.4 billion yen in outstanding debt. It closed its corporate offices and let go an estimated 120 employees.

In 2005, the company also weathered serious financial difficulties and closed many of it's bookstores; at the moment, the remaining locations are still open.

It's a shame. Abroad, at least, the Kinokuniya bookstore chain seems to doing fine. Among their newest stores is a 70,000 sq.-ft. location set to open in Dubai later this year.

On a trip to New York recently, I visited the Kinokuniya bookstore, which last year moved from Rockefeller Center to next to Bryant Park. The new space is far more shopper-friendly -- and has what looks to be at least twice the number of volumes as the previous location. The stationary store has moved downstairs to the basement and also seems larger, with an even bigger selection of imported bags and sundries, just the sort of thing an organization tools junkie like myself routinely seeks out on the internet.

And they've clearly imported their standard of customer service form abroad. My purchase of a single Tombow Pfit pen -- a $5.25 purchase -- was encased in suitably small envelope and handed to me with subtle bow. It's this kind of attention to detail that makes shopping there that much more of a memorable experience.

I hear Korea's Lotte stores are even more meticulous.

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