Paperless novels become popular with tech-savvy readers and writers.
In Asia the popularity of user-generated content has spilled over in a big way into the publishing world. In countries such as Japan and China, high mobile phone penetration rates, language characteristics, and the development of a pervasive cellphone culture has given rise to an ever-growing number of novel blogs and mobile novels. This, in turn, has stimulated literary markets that were previously regarded as irrelevant by the younger generation. Mobile phone and blog-based novelists are usually not paid for their work, no matter how many millions of times their novels might be read online. The pay-off, if any, comes when the novels are reproduced and sold as traditional books.
The Koizora Phenomenon
The phenomenon of the novel Koizora (Love Sky) made “mobile novel” (keitai shousetsu) a buzzword in Japan last year. Koizora debuted as a downloadable text from mobile phone social networking site Mahou no Island (Magical Island) in October of 2006 and has to date recorded an astonishing 12,000,000 downloads. The novel was picked by the Starts Publishing Company, sold over a million copies in hardback, and became a hit movie last year.
More recently a mobile novel by a 21-year old Japanese schoolgirl called “Moshimo Kimiga” (“If You…” ) received a huge number of hits, and was published in January 2007 as a 142-page hardback book. Her story about a high-school romance and the couple’s fight against the girl’s illness sold 400,000 copies after it was published by Goma Books. The book was ranked second on the nationwide bestselling fiction list in the first half of 2007, according to nationwide publications distributor Nippan.
Of last year’s 10 best-selling Japanese novels, five were originally composed on a mobile phone. They are mostly love stories written in the short sentences characteristic of text messaging, with limited plots and character development. The top three spots were occupied by first-time cellphone novelists, touching off debates in the news media and blogosphere.
Young novelists are attracted to the mobile and online format because it allows them to share content quickly, and receive almost instantaneous feedback from fans. Chinese youth, and to a lesser extent Japanese youth, are also drawn to the anonymity and freedom of expression which digitally created novels offer. Young readers prefer the format because it is cheap, quick and convenient, and fits in with their mobile lifestyle.
It’s not clear how long e-novels and mobile novels will remain popular in Asia, but with increased smartphone uptake and the proliferation of novel-focused sites set to continue, coupled with the continuing love affair with user-generated content, this is one trend likely to build momentum throughout 2008.
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