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E-mail Opens New Possibilities for Old Medium (March 10, 2004)

novels on mobile phone
Nowadays the sight of people passing time on the train by sending e-mail with their mobile phones is an everyday occurrence in Japan. This technology has now led to the emergence of a new and unexpected phenomenon: people reading entire novels on their mobile phones. The growing population of readers consists mainly of young people in their late teens and early twenties, the first generation to have grown up with e-mail. One novel that achieved popularity through this new medium went on to be published in print and became a million-copy bestseller. The fact that the novel is now being made into a movie illustrates just how far this phenomenon has come.

A New Medium
The bestselling novel Deep Love was self-published in installments by the author on a website that offers content packaged for users of mobile phones. The story is about a 17-year-old girl named Ayu, who finds love through a chance encounter.

The author, who calls himself Yoshi, created a website providing content for mobile phones in May 2000 with an investment of just ¥100,000 ($909.09 at ¥110 to the dollar). Using a promotional campaign that consisted of passing out business cards to about 2,000 high-school girls in front of Tokyo's Shibuya Station (the center of Tokyo youth culture), Yoshi released The Story of Ayu, the first installment in the longer novel. News of the novel spread by word of mouth, and within three years the site had received a total of 20 million hits.

Mobile phones can receive e-mail of up to 1,600 characters. While this is more than adequate for most personal use, the limit presents unique challenges to the author of a novel. Yoshi, however, not only managed to overcome this challenge but even turned it to his advantage by keeping the prose concise and fast-paced. The novel maintains a straightforward, conversational style and avoids the use of difficult words. Thanks to this quality, the story has found favor even among people who do not typically read novels.

From the Mobile Phone to the Silver Screen
Yoshi used the unique nature of mobile phones and the Internet to make his story an interactive one. Readers e-mailed him with their feedback, and he incorporated some of their ideas into the story while it was in progress, so that new plot twists were constantly being added. This work was truly a collaboration between Yoshi and his readers.

Now Yoshi is making a film based on his novel and is directing it himself. He started filming Deep Love at the end of 2003, and rather than relying on a film distributor, Yoshi is approaching movie theaters directly, hoping to persuade theater operators by using his website to gather 1 million supportive e-mails from readers. Given that the mobile-phone users who make up his fan base did such a good job of spreading word of his novel, Yoshi hopes that harnessing their collective power will be a good way to get the film distributed as well.

Major Publishers Get Involved
The number of mobile phones currently in use in Japan is a staggering 78 million. About two out of three people have one. The potential of "mobile-phone novels" has captured the attention of major publishers, which have begun creating their own websites to provide content for mobile-phone users. Shinchosha Co.'s Shincho Keitai Bunko ("Shincho Mobile-Phone Collection"), Kadokawa Shoten Publishing's Bunko Yomihodai ("All-You-Can-Read Collection"), and Sharp Corp.'s Space Town Books are just a few examples. Users can download books from these sites to read at their leisure. A typical service plan offers unlimited use for a flat monthly fee of ¥100-¥300 ($0.91-$2.73) or charges around ¥400 ($3.64) per book. Users must also pay a download fee of anywhere from ¥100 ($.091) to ¥700 ($6.36) per book to the provider of their phone service.

Readers of these novels enjoy the medium for a variety of reasons, most having to do with the convenience and possibilities that mobile phones offer, such as not having to go to a bookstore, being able to read anywhere without carrying a book around, and being able to read in the dark.

Some of the websites providing content for mobile phones have been offering free downloads of famous works whose copyrights have expired. The major publishing houses are channeling resources into this area as well. Although the market for novels packaged for users of mobile phones has not yet reached ¥100 million ($909,090), some predict that three years from now it will be worth ¥10 billion ($90.9 million). For a number of years now, commentators have been lamenting the decline of reading among young people, but this new medium may have the potential to reverse this trend.

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Related Web Sites
Shincho Keitai Bunko (Japanese only)
Bunko Yomihodai (Japanese only)
Space Town Books (Japanese only)

Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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