A booming literary flea market  Akio Nakamata (writer/editor)|電経新聞

A booming literary flea market  Akio Nakamata (writer/editor)

In my previous column, I wrote that the current situation where bookstores can only survive as “unmanned bookstores” even in train stations in the city center means that “the foundations of publishing distribution are fundamentally collapsing.” Paper publishing is facing increasingly difficult times due to rising paper and logistics costs. On the other hand, the e-book business is only taking off smoothly for manga, and if things continue like this, the future of books is bleak.

One area that is exceptionally booming is spot sales. Led by the long-established Comic Market (Comiket), this is a spot sale event that started with doujinshi related to manga and other subcultures, but the “Literary Flea Market” that started in 2002 has rapidly grown during the coronavirus pandemic, and this At “Literary Flea Market Tokyo 36” held in the spring, the number of visitors exceeded 10,000 for the first time.

“Literary Flea Market” is a response to critic Eiji Otsuka’s suggestion that literature should have its own independent market, even if it is small, questioning the way literature has relied on profits from manga. It is a valuable place that has been maintained for over 20 years by the people of the past. “Literary Flea Market” that started in Tokyo has spread to local cities by sharing the know-how of holding events.
This column will be published immediately after “Literary Flea Market Tokyo 37” is held. I myself have been visiting Literary Flea Markets for fixed-point observation since it first started in 2002, but it’s only in the last few years that I’ve started opening my own stalls. Not only has the number of exhibitors and spectators expanded in quantity, but the genres of exhibits have diversified, and the number of participants has grown from young to senior, from Akutagawa Prize-winning authors to amateurs.

Traditional literary fanzines are not the only ones participating in “Literary Flea Market.” There are individuals who sell booklets called zines and little presses, and there are also “one-person publishers” and mid-sized full-fledged publishing businesses. The boundaries between professionals and amateurs are blurred, with some people discovering their work at literary flea markets and making their debut as writers, and professional writers sometimes publishing doujinshi at literary flea markets.
This situation has been brought about by the evolution of information and communications. Tools for desktop publishing have become available, and computers have become more powerful and inexpensive. Companies that specialize in doujinshi printing can submit manuscripts online, allowing them to produce books and magazines even in remote locations. SNS is effectively used for sales promotion, and there are several sites that sell products online.

The rise of paper book sales is not limited to “literary flea markets.” “TOKYO ART BOOK FAIR” is a gathering place for art-related publishers, and there is active international exchange between authors and publishers. On the other hand, there are also challenges associated with rapid scale expansion. “Literary Flea Market Tokyo,” which is held every spring and fall, will start collecting admission fees starting next spring. TOKYO ART BOOK FAIR has already started charging fees to limit the number of visitors. How will the Literary Flea Market, which has grown so large that it will move its venue to Tokyo Big Sight next fall, change in the future? When thinking about the future of books, here are some areas that we need to keep an eye on.