“Mobile Novels” Already Big in Japan

By Neal Comment

After spotting my item earlier this about Harlequin serializing romance novels by email, a reader steered me towards an article that ran last week in The Times of London on Japan’s “mobile novel” phenomenon, and the “anxious debate about the nature of literature and the future of reading in Japan” provoked by the success of the keitai shosetsu.

“Five of the year’s most successful novels, including the top three, were first written for downloading on mobile phones before being republished in book form,” Richard Lloyd Parry reported, describing their format as “short, simple sentences using relatively few characters, featuring melodramatic plots heavy on violence, sex and tear-jerking sentiment.” You can guess how the debate plays out: One side is thrilled young people are reading, and the other is appalled that they’re reading such dreadful novels. Some of the samples provided from representative works are, admittedly, blah, although some of that might be an effect of translation. But then there’s this line from Love Sky, the #1 novel in Japan this year: “I’m short, I’m stupid, I’m not pretty, I’m rubbish, and I’ve got no dreams.” That sounds like it would probably do pretty well in the American YA market.

Here’s the part that’ll make publishers take notice, though: Sales of keitai shosetsu were five times greater in 2006 than when they debuted in 2002. And though it might seem like American readers wouldn’t take to reading novels, even in bite-sized chunks, on some cell phones, screens are getting bigger all the time—and a Blackberry or a Treo might already be a viable platform.