Have you heard? People are reading things on mobile phones! But we may not be reading them quite as much as folks do in Japan, as this long, informative article in The Independent on the huge success of keitai — novels written for and read on mobile phones. In Japan, five of last year’s top ten best-selling novels started life as keitai novels.

And who do you think is driving this boom? WHO DO YOU THINK???

Keitai novels are mainly read by teenage girls, with 13- to 18-year-olds accounting for 70 per cent of downloads, and while Izumi gained a doctorate in Victorian literature from Cambridge University, he does not claim to be writing highbrow literature. “There is less scene-setting than in conventional novels, fewer adjectives, and more of a focus on conversation and emotions. The structure of the novels, with very simple sentences, makes them accessible,” he says.

Toru Kenjyu, CEO of Takarajima Wondernet, the biggest creator of mobile manga, says that 80 per cent of comic book downloads – for which subscribers pay a £3 monthly charge to keep up with – are by women.

And it’s not just novels:

Toru Kenjyu, CEO of Takarajima Wondernet, the biggest creator of mobile manga, says that 80 per cent of comic book downloads – for which subscribers pay a £3 monthly charge to keep up with – are by women.

The current best-seller is Catwalk Beat, the story of a boy with a troubled background, but excellent sartorial sense. When he starts a new school, his fashionable threads unite all the pupils. More than seven million people downloaded the mobile manga, and the fashions from Catwalk Beat have been produced for real and are available to buy online. And while this may eventually be published as a traditional comic book, it is more enjoyable on the mobile as the phone vibrates whenever there’s a tense moment.

It’s not just comic art that is popular on mobile phones in Tokyo; street artists also create designs specifically for mobiles. Mao Sakaguchi, web project leader of the Shibuya HP France Gallery, says he grew frustrated by the limited art market in Japan, so had the idea of using mobiles to introduce art to a wider audience. “I had friends who were street artists, and I used my fashion store as an art gallery, changing the work monthly,” he says. “We started by taking pictures of their work that could be downloaded onto mobile phones.”

Since Japan seems to be our trend leader in so many things, it does stand to reason that we’ll be doing the same thing in a few years; however, there are some differences in Japan’s (and the UK’s) mobile phone systems (not to mention society) that may require tweaking. Of course, it’s a given that Japan and Europe are way ahead of the US as far as bandwidth and phone capabilities are concerned, although the iPhone is helping Americans catch up.

Also, the Japanese have a much bigger audience for what they call “light novels” — genre-oriented YA novels which would seem to be a precursor to keitai. Genre-oriented light novels are pretty big in the US too — Twilight — so there could be some inroads there.

In our humble, and farseeing, really wacky out of right field, opinion, someday very, very soon, someone somewhere is going to create something original for the mobile phone in the US that some teen-age girl just won’t be able to live without. We predict it will involve romance and fashion. And that will happen very, very soon. And then everyone will say “We told you so!”


  1. Until 80% of Americans spend several hours a day stuck in a train or a train station, killing time, I doubt anyone will hear you say “I told you so.”

  2. “80 per cent of comic book downloads – for which subscribers pay a £3 monthly charge to keep up with – are by women.”
    So, can we say the stereotypes for women are also true in Nippon? That women spend an inordinate amount of time on the phone, because they like to gab a lot? Also…

    “someday very, very soon, someone somewhere is going to create something original for the mobile phone in the US that some teen-age girl just won’t be able to live without”
    Yes, and it will be the most pointless, inane thing EVER!! Like Bratz and 90210 and Lohan updates COMBINED!!

    So yeah, I’d say, it probably won’t be that exciting for people who don’t have the unthinking drone-mind.

  3. “We predict it will involve romance and fashion.”

    Well, Kathryn Immonen (sp?) floated the idea of doing a “Wolverine Goes Shopping” mini…

    Put THAT on the iPhone, and it’s all over!

  4. Kendall, there is an upcoming original-english-manga X-Men title coming soon.

    Blah… are you saying that people in communities without mass transit don’t download files to their iphones or blackberries or cells?

    I read this blog on the subway (live in the Bronx, where it’s elevated). I check Blogger in the restroom to see if anything new has been posted. I surf the web on my cellphone (Palm Treo 755p) in bed, and have gotten in the habit of watching YouTube on it before going to sleep. (Kinda like how my parents would watch Johnny Carson before falling asleep.) Every morning, while I linger in bed, listening to 1010 WINS on my radio alarm clock, I check a few comicstrips on the cell. (Yeah, I have to magnify the image and scroll across, but it works fabulously.)

    And who cares about adults? Yeah, they’re a market, but the disposable income, the trendsetters, the early adopters? They’re young and single and open to new experiences. They’ve got lots of time to spend online, on computers and smartphones and netbooks.

    As for bandwidth, 4G is coming soon. We may lag behind smaller countries, but if there’s money to be made, you can bet we’ll market the heck out of it!

    Heidi… I’m thinking a Bella Sara cellphone. Has limited cell capabilities (set by parents) but allows unlimited use of the Bella Sara website (formatted for the phone), chat rooms, and allows fans to customize their phones. Like many cellphone plans, text messages and phone calls to other Bella Sara phones are unlimited.

    Heck… why limit it to Bella Sara… set up a conglomerate which offers similar services to multiple “tribes”, a one-stop-shopping bazaar. You can keep your cellphone plan, and for an extra fee, you can join various tribes, using the plan I described above. You “clone” your cell, or make it dissociative, letting it have multiple identities, just like yourself! Your square dancing buddies don’t know you also like towel folding; your ASCII comics buddies don’t know you’re into skiffle. (Unless you post it on your profile.) Stuff gets pushed to your phone at least once a day!

    And, yes, Sturgeon’s Revelation applies to cell phones too. But if it makes money, then it’s not crap.

  5. Writing on a novel on a cell phone is actually quite smart… Scott Turow wrote his first novel while commuting, using legal pads. A cell phone or PDA is just doing it directly into a computer, and requires one to think concisely when typing. It also forces you to save your work frequently.

    Yeah, I’m a media junkie, but I can quit anytime… and I’m not like those reality show peeping toms… brrr…

  6. Japanese light novels aren’t really directly comparable to something like Twilight and aren’t always YA (though the market does tend to skew young on the whole). What really defines a light novel is that it’s usually marketed to fans of manga/anime through use of illustrations and genre subject matter complete with anime and manga storytelling conventions. Tone ranges from kid-friendly stuff for kids watching afternoon cartoons to more sexual material aimed at the adult fans of the late-night stuff.

    In particular, most light novels tend to have both a writer and artist credited. The artist produces full character designs as if the project was to be animated and the novel is likely to include a number of full-page color illustrations (how many varies but usually ten-twelve that I’ve seen). The character designs and art are a major element of how light novels are marketed. Amazon JP ranks light novels and manga in the same category, to give you an idea of how crucial the illustrations are to perception of the material.

    A lot of light novels are corporate tie-ins for an ongoing anime franchise but also tend to be outlets for genre material that isn’t ready to be immediately published as manga or anime but likely to appeal to otaku. A lot of classic anime franchises are in fact adaptations of light novel series exploiting the popularity of the already-developed property. Probably the most notable anime franchise to rise from the light novel world is (IIRC) The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.

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