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Yoroku: Encountering good books made easy

Neither the book title nor the theme of the story was initially revealed. The only information available was that the novel would be 2,000 sheets of 400-character manuscript paper long, and that it would have two volumes. Nevertheless, book stores have had signs up since the end of last year, saying they were accepting orders -- something unthinkable for other writers.

    This author, who gets such unparalleled special treatment, is Haruki Murakami, and his latest novel "Kishidancho Goroshi" (Killing Commendatore) will be published on Feb. 24 by Shinchosha Publishing Co. There is no doubt that Murakami's first novel in four years will be a bestseller, but at the same time local bookstores are having a tough time doing business.

    It would be desirable if more people bought other books with Murakami's new novel, but it's not that simple. Meanwhile, there are many people who buy books online. Amazon has a vast collection of books. When you search for a title on Amazon, the website recommends other books similar to the searched title under "frequently bought together" -- boosting online book sales even further.

    Despite this situation, there is a book store in the city of Sunagawa in Hokkaido that has seen sales increase with the use of a unique marketing method. Toru Iwata, the owner of the Iwata Shoten bookshop, chooses around 10,000 yen worth of books for a customer and sends them to that person. He asks customers to write a "chart" about themselves to let Iwata know what kind of people they are, such as what they have read, their occupation and how they view their lives. Iwata then checks those charts and sends the customers books that they would never pick themselves, hoping his choice of material will allow them to encounter good books. It's a recommendation system done by a live person. He says orders come in from across the country.

    Haruki Murakami once told the Mainichi Shimbun that he chooses to write long novels to expand the cycle of a story to appeal to as many people as possible. We wonder what kind of books Iwata would send along with Murakami's new novel. ("Yoroku," a front-page column in the Mainichi Shimbun)

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