Distribution in Japan
In 2011, the flagship HMV store in Shibuya, Tokyo closed its doors forever as the vast majority of music consumers in Japan now purchase and listen to digital music via mobile devices and computers. In today's music business, distribution means getting your digital music products into the main download and streaming services in Japan, such as Spotify Japan, iTunes/Apple Music Japan , Amazon Japan, Google Play Japan, AWA, Line Music, etc.
According to the data published by the Recording Industry Association of Japan (RIAJ), 64.5 billion YEN's worth (about US$580 million) in digital music sales were made in Japan in 2018.
As a foreign indie label or artist, you can easily get your music on Spotify Japan, Tunes/Apple Music Japan , Amazon Japan, Google Play Japan and other music providers by using a digital distributor such as CDBaby, TuneCore, Distrokid, SongCast, etc.
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 download on iTunes Japan sells for 200 Japanese YEN which is equivalent to about US$1.79. The same song on iTunes USA sells for US$0.99. So you get almost 80% 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$1.79
Album 1500 JPY = US$13.43
To check if your album/song is on iTunes/Apple Music Japan, just replace the country code for "jp" in the iTunes/Apple Music link (as in the above example). Search for your music at some other music providers in Japan below.
If not available at these places, ask your digital distributor if they can add your music to them. Then make sure to add the links to your Japanese web/mobile site to start making revenues from Japan. If you create a Japanese website at TopMusic.jp, they will search for your music at the main Japanese music providers and add the links for you.
Of course there are other digital music providers in Japan. If you really want your music available at all the digital music providers 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 and may also charge you distribution fees, translation fees, administration fees, and taxes. For foreign indies, Spotify Japan, iTunes/Apple Music Japan, Amazon Japan, and Google Play Japan are sufficient.
The sales of CD's in Japan has decreased steadily year by year. Most Japanese music consumers under age 40 do not purchase CD's or own a CD player. 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 and listening 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 (or Bandcamp which has a Japanese language interface, or CDBaby which can get your CD into Amazon Japan).