Distribution in Japan
Distribution means getting your products into stores where consumers can buy them.
In 2011, the flagship HMV store in Shibuya, Tokyo closed its doors forever as the vast majority of music consumers in Japan now purchase digital music online or via mobile carriers. In today's music business, distribution means getting your digital products into the main digital stores in Japan, such as iTunes Japan and Amazon Japan.
According to the data published by the Recording Industry Association of Japan (RIAJ), almost 44 billion YEN's worth (about US$385 million) of digital music sales were made in Japan in 2014.
Songs and albums sold on iTunes Japan and Amazon Japan usually sell at a higher price than they do on iTunes USA (UK, Canada, etc.) because the Japanese YEN is stronger and market prices in Japan for music (and other things) are often higher than in other countries.
For example, a song on iTunes Japan sells for 200 Japanese YEN which is equivalent to about US$1.75. The same song on iTunes USA sells for US$0.99. So you get about 75% more for the sale of the same song in Japan than you would in the USA. This is another reason not to ignore the Japanese market. See example below:
Song 200 JPY = US$1.75
Album 1500 JPY = US$13.00
To check if your album/song is on iTunes Japan, just replace the country code for "jp" in the iTunes link (as in the above example). To check if your music is on Amazon Japan, click here to search. If not available, ask your digital distributor to add your music to iTunes Japan and Amazon Japan. Then make sure to add the links to your Japanese web/mobile site to start getting sales from Japan.
Of course there are other digital music stores in Japan. If you really want your music in all the digital music stores in Japan, you can contract with a Japanese indie record label or use a Japanese digital music distributor. In either case, the label or distributor will take 35-50% of your sales plus charge you distribution fees, translation fees, administration fees, and taxes. For foreign indies, iTunes Japan and Amazon Japan are sufficient.
Please note that in addition to MP3 downloads and iTunes, there is another digital music format for mobile phones in Japan known as Chaku-Uta / Chaku-Uta Full.
These are proprietary music file formats compatible with traditional mobile phones (known as keitai in Japanese). They are typically purchased and downloaded via the mobile carrier network. A Chaku-Uta can only be used (technically and legally speaking) on the mobile phone to which it was downloaded. Chaku-Uta is a registered trademark of Sony Music Entertainment. The sales, technology and distribution of Chaku-Uta is highly regulated in Japan by the major phone carriers, record labels and rights administrators.
Chaku-Uta are ringtones (and ringback tones). They retail for 80 to 120 YEN each.
Chaku-Uta Full are full songs in "CD" quality. They retail for 210 to 410 YEN each.
The first Chaku-Uta service was introduced in 2002 by KDDI (one of the big 3 mobile carriers in Japan). Between 2004 and 2006, all the carriers started introducing Chaku-Uta Full as mobile technology advanced.
Recochoku (formerly Label Mobile) is the main Chaku-Uta content provider operated by a group of many of Japan's largest and most influential record labels. In general, to sell your music as a Chaku-Uta, you need a deal with a Japanese record label.
In 2014, Chaku-Uta (ringtones and full songs) accounted for about 33% of all digital music sales in Japan as compared to 90% in 2008. This decrease was expected with the introduction and rise in popularity in Japan of smartphones, tablets and other portable devices with built-in WIFI and music players. Chaku-Uta sales have been dropping for the past few years. We expect this format to become insigificant in the near future.
To distribute your music in Chaku-Uta format, you can contract with a Japanese indie record label or use a Japanese digital music distributor. In either case, the label or distributor will take 35-50% of your sales plus charge you distribution fees, translation fees, administration fees, and taxes. Unless you will be doing thousands of dollars of promotion in Japan and expect to sell thousands of Chaku-Uta, we feel it is not necessary for indie artists/labels to initially invest in this music format.
The sales of CD's in Japan is virtually non-existent except for consumers age 40 and over. Nowadays, it is not necessary for foreign artists/labels to contract with a Japanese record label or distributor to sell CD's in Japan. Music sales are primarily digital and made online or via mobile carrier.
If you do have physical products such as CD's, vinyl records, and other merchandise such as T-shirts, you can sell them directly to Japanese consumers from your Japanese web/mobile site.