Friday, January 25, 2008

Cell Phone Novels

You’ve heard of traditionally published books and small press books. Self-publishing is becoming more acceptable and now E-books are taking hold. But cell phone books?

Cell phone novels aren’t big here in the US, but considering their growing popularity in Japan, they may be coming to the states. Consider last Sunday’s article, “Thumbs Race as Japan’s Best Sellers Go Cellular,” in The New York Times.

According to the Times, in Japan:
Of last year’s 10 best-selling novels, five were originally cell phone novels, mostly love stories written in the short sentences characteristic of text messaging but containing little of the plotting or character development found in traditional novels.

Best sellers, yes. But great literature? Even critics in Japan call the cell phone novels “poor literary quality” and worry that they’ll hasten “the decline of Japanese literature.” Worry aside, the cell phone novels are big hits. One 21-year-old girl, Rin, who’d never written a book before, tapped one out on her cell phone during her senior year in high school. She then uploaded it to a website for would-be authors who post their stories in progress. It’s now a hardcover book
It sold 400,000 copies and became the No. 5 best-selling novel of 2007, according to a closely watched list by Tohan, a major book distributor.

The cell phone book by another young author, Mika, was “read by 20 million people on cellphones or on computers… Republished in book form, it became the No. 1 selling novel last year and was made into a movie.”

With unlimited texting now the norm in Japan, cell phone books are huge, but what about here in the US?

According to Wired:
Such times could be just around the corner in the United States, where cell phones are [becoming] increasingly used for relaying data, including video, digital photos and music.

Wired also notes:
U.S. publisher Random House recently bought a stake in Vocel, a San Diego-based company that provides such mobile-phone products as Scholastic Aptitude Test preparation programs. Random House also said it reached licensing arrangements with Vocel to provide cell-phone access to the publisher's Living Language foreign language study programs and Prima Games video game strategy guides.

Will either of these go the way of Tokyo-based wireless service provider, Bandai Networks? Bandai “offers 150 books on its site, called Bunko Yomihodai, or All You Can Read Paperbacks. It began the service in 2003 and saw interest grow last year. There are now about 50,000 subscribers…. Users can search by author, title and genre, and readers can write reviews, send fan mail to authors and request what they want to read, all from their phones.”

Considering the popularity of cell phone books in Asia, we have to add this medium to the growing list of ways books can be published. They’re not yet huge here in the US, but they may be coming.

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