War of Words

Takashi Sakamoto might be the most hated man in the Japanese publishing business. The founder and president of Japan's largest used-book store chain, Bookoff, is routinely accused of everything from unfair competition to cheating authors out of their royalties to corrupting Japan's youth. One newspaper recently suggested that his company was a threat to Japanese culture itself, while others charge that he is single-handedly destroying the nation's book industry.

In reality Sakamoto's only sin may be that he's smarter than his rivals. By exploiting a loophole in Japan's anachronistic, anticompetitive business rules, the 62-year-old former piano salesman has...

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