'Cellular Novels' Are Most Popular Books in Japan
This is a fascinating story about the mobile evolution of a traditional literary form. I personally can't imagine reading a novel on my tiny-screened Motorola Slivr, 150 characters at a time, but for Japanese consumers that have grown up interacting with manga, anime, and other forms of new media 'micro-content', this novel technological approach to the consumption of literature is being treated as a natural progression of existing reading and writing habits.
Until recently, cellphone novels — composed on phone keypads by young women wielding dexterous thumbs and read by fans on their tiny screens — had been dismissed in Japan as a subgenre unworthy of the country that gave the world its first novel, “The Tale of Genji,” a millennium ago. Then last month, the year-end best-seller tally showed that cellphone novels, republished in book form, have not only infiltrated the mainstream but have come to dominate it.
Rin, 21, tapped out a novel on her cellphone that sold 400,000 copies in hardcover.
Of last year’s 10 best-selling novels, five were originally cellphone 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. What is more, the top three spots were occupied by first-time cellphone novelists, touching off debates in the news media and blogosphere.
Whatever their literary talents, cellphone novelists are racking up the kind of sales that most more experienced, traditional novelists can only dream of.
One such star, a 21-year-old woman named Rin, wrote “If You” over a six-month stretch during her senior year in high school. While commuting to her part-time job or whenever she found a free moment, she tapped out passages on her cellphone and uploaded them on a popular Web site for would-be authors.
After cellphone readers voted her novel No. 1 in one ranking, her story of the tragic love between two childhood friends was turned into a 142-page hardcover book last year. 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 cellphone novel was born in 2000 after a home-page-making Web site, Maho no i-rando, realized that many users were writing novels on their blogs; it tinkered with its software to allow users to upload works in progress and readers to comment, creating the serialized cellphone novel. But the number of users uploading novels began booming only two to three years ago, and the number of novels listed on the site reached one million last month, according to Maho no i-rando.
The boom appeared to have been fueled by a development having nothing to do with culture or novels but by mobile-phone companies’ decision to offer unlimited transmission of packet data, like text-messaging, as part of flat monthly rates.