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Cellphone Comics Are Latest Commuter Pastime (May 30, 2006)

Salaryman Kintaro on a mobile phone (NTT Solmare Corp.)
In years gone by, books and magazines were about the only option for commuters on Japan's trains and subways looking to wile away time. Then came the mobile phone. Soon, people started using their tiny handsets to send and receive e-mail, play videogames, and surf the Internet while on the move. Now there is another diversion on the list - downloading and reading manga comics. Using cell phones to view manga is one of the newest and fastest-growing applications of mobile technology in Japan.

Cheaper Is Better
These downloadable comics are one of the major factors driving the explosive growth of Japan's market for digital books. This entire market was worth ¥4.5 billion ($41 million at ¥110 to the dollar) in fiscal 2004, more than double the previous year's figure of ¥1.8 billion ($16 million), according to a report by Impress Holdings, Inc. One of the fastest growing areas of this market was content for mobile phones, a sector valued at around ¥1.2 billion ($11 million) during fiscal 2004.

Hokuto no Ken is also popular. (NTT Solmare Corp.)

Helping drive this growth are the falling prices of such services for end users. Cell-phone providers have been introducing flat-rate data-transfer packages, allowing readers to download large amounts of content without having to worry about the cost.

Manga for mobile phones, which first became available a few years ago, are more than just electronic versions of the original paper-based comics. So as not to cause strain or confusion when viewed on handsets' small screens, the individual frames that make up the manga are separated so that they can be displayed like a slide show. Special features, such as making the handsets shake during action scenes, enhance the viewing experience.

In response to the comics' growing popularity, there has been a proliferation in the number of websites offering downloads and in the number of titles available. The first such sites were Comic-I and Comic C’MOA, operated by NTT Solmare Corp. The sites offer such manga favorites as Salaryman Kintaro, Hokuto no Ken(Fist of the North Star), and Lupin the Third. Since the services' introduction in 2004, more than 20 million paid downloads have been made as of mid-April 2006.

Popular titles of Sony Pictures Entertainment (Japan) Inc. from years past are constantly being added to the offerings. These include the works of Umezu Kazuo, creator of Hyouryu Kyoushitsu (Drifting Classroom), and Mizuki Shigeru of Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro fame. Original titles are also being rolled out exclusively for the handset medium.

The girls' mangaSekai no Chushin de, Ai o Sakebu (Crying for Love at the Heart of the World) is available on the Comic-I and Comic C'MOA websites operated by NTT Solmare. (NTT Solmare Corp.)

Secrets of Success
Apart from the ever-increasing range of titles, two main factors appear to be behind the comics' success. One is their low prices of around ¥40 to ¥60 (40¢ to 60¢) per story, which makes them quite a bargain. The other is convenience. Readers can download only those comics that they want to read, as opposed to paying for a whole magazine with numerous comic strips in it. Not only that, but readers of electronic comics need not deal with the burden of carrying around bulky magazines.

When the comics were first offered, most were aimed at men, particularly office workers who commute on public transportation. But the number of female readers has since grown rapidly, now that reading from mobile phones is considered cool. In response, publishers are working on providing female-oriented comics for mobile-phone subscribers. This development may provide an additional boost to the market - from men who are fans of girls' comics but would be embarrassed to be seen buying such magazines in stores.

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Copyright (c) 2006 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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