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Apple makes inroads in Japan with updated iBooks store

Apple today launched an updated version of iBooks, which added hundreds of thousands of Japanese titles.

Japan, which boasts a 99 per cent literacy rate – one of the highest in the world – has been locked out of the electronic bookstore since its launch more than three years ago.

But the Cupertino firm finally opened the doors to Japanese users, today releasing version 3.1 of iBooks, with support for local content and "a number of improvements for reading Asian language books," the iTunes app description said.

Reports of an iBookstore in Japan first emerged in January. At the time, the Nikkei said iBooks in Japan would launch within the month, and feature partnerships with leading Japanese publishers like Kadokawa, Shogakukan, and Kodansha.

Despite what seems like a worldwide acceptance of eBooks, Japanese publishers have largely favoured paper newspapers, magazines, and books. But as tablets and e-readers begin to monopolise the market for reading, Japanese publishers have begun reconsidering their stance.

Still, the country's hesitancy is likely a product of not giving up control to Apple and other foreign firms, more than an unwillingness to embrace changing technology. Still, in the waning months of 2012, Amazon and Google announced new Japanese e-book initiatives, an early sign that the absence of Japanese-language bestsellers on Apple's iBooks store might finally be coming to an end.

If Samsung had its way, though, there may have been no need for Apple to launch its iBooks service in Japan. Last week, the Korean company failed in its bid to have Apple products pulled from Japan.

The updated version of iBooks is currently available for free in the Apple iTunes Store.