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Interview with the Publisher: Kosei Takahira
Q: Who is Aspect? From a quick glance at your catalog, I assume you're one of Japan's biggest publishers?
Takahira: Aspect is still a medium-size house at the moment, but we're growing fast. The biggest players in Tokyo are giant publishing firms; their big business in magazines and comics, but they also publish books. Aspect has always been focused on book publishing. It's who we are and it's who we will always be. Now, having said that, I should note that we have also started publishing two magazines, and we may expand that business segment in the future. But the fact remains that we are a book publisher trying our hand at magazines, not the other way around.
Q: When you say "Medium-size" just what kind of scale are we talking about? Can you give us a quick snapshot of the company?
Takahira: Aspect publishes about 100 new titles every year, and that figure may rise in the coming year or two - I have some big plans for the firm. The company was established about 20 years ago, originally as an affiliate of ASCII, which is probably the world's oldest computer-related publisher. This explains why our backlist and some of our recent selections focus on software, hardware, and Internet-related themes. Later, the company was acquired by the game software maker SEGA Corporation. SEGA was a good owner, but I wanted complete independence in order to build a first-rate publishing house. So I arranged a buy-out of the firm, and today it is totally independent. That gives me the freedom to develop the business in any direction that I like.
Q: Such as?
Takahira: Translations, for one thing. Over the past several years we have been very successful in selecting interesting titles from the U.S. and Europe and presenting them to Japanese readers in high-quality translations. Until recently, we were acquiring about 20-25 titles per year from overseas, but I will increase that to between 30 and 35 titles annually in the next year or two.
Q: You mean that roughly one-third of your output will be translations of foreign books? That seems a rather high percentage for a Japanese publisher.
Takahira: Yes, it is very high. There are few thousand publishing companies in Japan, but I doubt any of the larger houses even come close to that ratio. Why do we buy rights to so many foreign titles? Because Aspect has already built a solid reputation among Japanese readers for offering good books from international authors, and we want to build on that reputation.
Q: So how do you choose foreign titles for Aspect? Do you have a specific set of criteria?
Takahira: How do I choose? With my nose (laughing). If I like a particular work・f I think it's got something interesting for Japanese readers, that's all that matters. I don't worry too much about whether it's a bestseller in its home market, or whether the writer is a world-famous author or just starting out. If it's a good book and I believe it will work well in translation - and that's perhaps the most critical point - Aspect is interested.
Q: Do you have an Editorial Committee or some organizational process to finalize which books you will acquire?
Takahira: Not really. In effect, I am the editorial committee for our foreign rights acquisitions. Of course, I don't choose all the books myself; I have some very talented people to assist me, including top Japanese editors, such as Yoichi Miyazaki, and award-winning foreign writers, such as David Russell. They all have a good sense for books that will appeal to Japanese readers. We also have a scout in the US to bring interesting prospects to our attention. All of these people look for exceptional books and make their recommendations, but in the end, I am the person who must decide what we will publish and what we won't.
Q: In what directions will Aspect be going in the coming year or so?
Takahira: First of all, more business titles. Japan is a fertile ground for business books and we have not really begun to take advantage of all the opportunities there. Secondly, fiction. To date, I have tried to stay away from fiction because it is such a huge category and also because a lot of Western fiction does not appeal to Japanese readers. And yet, when I found a terrific piece of science fiction by a then-unknown British writer a few years ago, I bought it on the spot. It's time to follow that up with more examples of quality fiction from both US and UK houses. And we are always looking for interesting, perhaps unusual, certainly well crafted books in every category. I am just as happy to find a small diamond in a mountain of unknown authors as to land a major best-seller. In the end, it's always about quality. Nothing else matters.
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