Oshigami: Newspapers sales practises supporting high newspapers circulations in Japan



The mass media industries in Japan are undergoing the same processes of adjustment to the world of new electronic media as other advanced countries. However the reactions and paths chosen by various industries depend to a degree on the nature of the local industry structures and their position as social, economic and political actors.

The Japanese newspaper industry has been studied extensively, yet one aspect has gone more or less unremarked, the importance of the sales infrastructure developed by newspaper to deliver their product to readers. This paper elucidates a little understood and complex, if not obscure, aspect of one of the world’s largest newspaper industries.

Fig 1 Fall in total national newspaper circulations in the UK and Japan, Oct 2001=1. Data from NSK website and UK ABCs (Guardian Newspaper http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/abcs)



The Japanese newspaper is synonymous with high circulation figures, and, as AFP reporter Ito Shingo has pointed out(Ito, 2012, Jan 17), ’[p]rinted newspapers may be in crisis in the West but circulations remain enormous in high-tech Japan’. By comparison to newspapers in ’the West’ - particularly it seems the US - Japanese publishers would seem to have relatively little to trouble them. Yet, in March 2009, FACTA magazine carried an article entitled ‘Newspaper industry shudders at stricter ABC report’.1 The ABC in question is the (Japan) Audit Bureau of Circulation (I will refer to it throughout as JABC in order to distinguish it from the United States’ ABC), the body responsible for collecting, auditing and reporting newspaper and magazine circulation figures in Japan. Why would the Japanese newspaper industry, blessed with circulations that are legend, shudder at gaining a more accurate picture of its readership levels, especially if, as 28 Valaskivi (2007) suggests, the ‘Japanese are among the most eager readers of newspapers in the world’?

A sine qua non of any mention of the Japanese national daily newspaper is reference to their vast circulations (e.g. Sugiyama 2000:193, Freeman 2000:18, Cooper-Chen 1997:52, Feldman 1993:11). The figures shown in table are indeed the envy of newspaper publishers in Europe and the US; Germany’s Bild claims the largest circulation (apx 3.3 million)2 of any non-Japanese paper, followed by the UK’s The Sun (apx 3 million),3 USA Today sells just under 2 million copies daily4 in a country with r