Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

Mobile novels all the rage in Japan


Although it hasn’t been widely reported in Western media, the fact that novels for mobile phones outsold print books in Japan in the past year did briefly hit the news this past summer… the fact that people in Japan regularly read books on their cell phones is a story in itself though.

After Wired (still the usual outlet for tech stories to break into the mainstream) wrote it up early in 2007, there was a similar story a few months later in the Economist, and finally just a month or two ago, The Wall Street Journal did a small piece on it. However, surely the fact that the country showing us where mobile technology is headed shunning print books for e-books deserves a bit more media attention.

While there’s no similar trend to speak of in North America yet (do Americans even read novels anymore?), platforms like the iPhone seem ripe for mobile reading so it may only be a matter of time before there’s some shift to the handheld platform for reading.

The angle that I find the most interesting is that the content providers are often just teens and 20-somethings (one young author of a tale of teenage prostitution even hit the mainstream with a movie and book deal) who are actually entering their stories serially on their own cell phones and uploading them. Entering Japanese text on a computer keyboard is actually counterintuitive and may explain why the Japanese have never been big fans of the computer. The way the language is organised (five sets of vowel endings paired with ten consonant sounds) makes entering it on a phone keypad very natural, and with most young people in Japan having used text messaging for a decade or so now, it’s a no-brainer to type on the phone…

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