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Editorial: Why Japanese publishing company president's tweet hit all the wrong nerves

Toru Kenjo, president of publishing house Gentosha Inc., violated a common practice in the publishing industry and revealed the number of copies of a book by one of its authors, Yasumi Tsuhara, that had been sold.

It was a bid to show the world that the book had not sold too well.

Tsuhara had criticized the best-seller "Nihon Kokuki" by Naoki Hyakuta, also published by Gentosha, as "a book praising one's own country filled with copy-and-pasted excerpts from the web." Tsuhara alleges that his criticism of Hyakuta's book led to the publisher rescinding plans to publish the paperback edition of his novel, "Hicky Hicky Shake," which was already out in hardcover.

It was in the midst of a clash between Tsuhara and his editor at Gentosha over what happened in the lead-up to the cancellation of the publication of the paperback edition that Kenjo's tweet entered the fray.

After authors Genichiro Takahashi and Keiichiro Hirano, among others, expressed their ire with Kenjo revealing the number of copies of Tsuhara's novel that had been sold, Kenjo tweeted the following day that "it was information that should not have been put out," erased the tweet, and apologized.

The number of actual copies of a book that have been sold is an extremely sensitive topic for authors that can affect one's writing career. It's not surprising that revealing such figures without the consent of the author is seen as heavy-handed and lacking in respect toward the author.

Furthermore, selling a published book is the responsibility not only of the author, but of the publishing company as well.

Either way, the reason the situation grew into such a fiasco is because the publisher tried to degrade an author it saw as an annoyance by suppressing his criticism toward one of the company's best-sellers.

Kenjo was someone who managed to bring a breath of fresh air to the publishing industry. But he failed to answer the questions posed toward the book that sparked the scandal in the first place, and tried to muzzle dissent by using a no-holds-barred tactic. This brings into question Kenjo's posture as a supporter of free speech.

Every year, at least 70,000 new books are published in Japan. But the ongoing slump in the publishing industry has clearly polarized books into those that sell and those that do not.

One example of this phenomenon: as public speech veers toward the right, hate-filled books have become best-sellers. And because such books sell well, companies publish more of these types of books.

As corporations, it is only natural that publishing companies seek profits. At the same time, it is the role of publishing firms to secure and make available a diversity of voices. If the tendency to evaluate books and authors based only on whether they are selling like hotcakes were to spread, the publishing industry will only deteriorate further.

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