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Last Updated: Friday, 24 March 2006, 18:07 GMT
Japanese comics go mobile
Richard Taylor
By Richard Taylor
Editor, BBC Click

From texting to surfing the internet and making video calls, the ways in which mobile phones can be used seem to be ever expanding. In Japan, another string has been recently been added to the mobile bow with the launch of electronic books and comics specifically for phones.

A woman reading a novel on her mobile phone
Will mobile e-books help relieve commuting boredom?
Two-thirds of Japan's population - about 80 million people - are using their mobiles in ways which would make the rest of us gasp in astonishment.

Here you can use your phone to alleviate many of the more mundane things life tends to throw up, everything from paying for your groceries, to letting yourself back into your apartment.

Catering to the drudge of the daily commute, an entirely new phenomenon is catching on.

You can either while away an hour-long train journey getting lost in a paperback, or alternatively you could bury your head in some absorbing prose on a screen two inches (4cm) wide.

Wireless Watch Japan's Daniel Scuka says: "Japan is a very literate country. Literacy is a lot higher than in many Western countries.

"People read newspapers and novels a lot, they actually consume the written word quite strongly. Certainly you might not be putting on a full 10,000 word novel onto a phone.

"But when you've got shorter stories, comic books, manga, anime, the colour design, something you can actually look at as well as read a story along with it, it's a great way to spend your morning commute."

Mobile romance

The story of the Japanese mobile novel begins in Tokyo's fashionably hip youth hangout of Shibuya.

A mobile novel
Mobile users are becoming used to doing more and more things with their phones, so it's an easy transition to make
Mahota Asunuma, Bandai Networks
It was here five years ago that a budding young author calling himself Yoshi gave out leaflets to 2,000 teenage girls. Little did he realise that this would be the spark to ignite a whole new era.

Deep Love, the story of adolescent romance through a chance encounter, was a runaway success. Yoshi made good use of the fact that users could feedback comments, and revised it accordingly.

The story became a legend in its own right, moving from mobile to print and onto the big screen too.

Stunned by the seemingly huge untapped demand, traditional publishing houses and mobile content providers alike have been scrambling for a piece of this novel mobile action.

Today there are a number of sites, where for a subscription of $10 to 15 (5.70 to 8.70) a month you can download every genre imaginable to your heart's content.

Bandai Networks is one of the largest publishing outfits in this brave new world.

They have their own steadily growing mobile site, with 20,000 users subscribing to a catalogue of 400 plus titles.

Mobile literature

But surely the experience of reading a book on a mobile cannot exactly be easy on the eye?

Bandai Networks' Mahota Asunuma says: "The screen of the liquid crystal display is getting larger so people get less tired than they used to reading books on a phone.

"This improvement is definitely helping the market. Mobile users are becoming used to doing more and more things with their phones, so it's an easy transition to make."

A man in a bookshop
Mobile e-books seem to encourage people to read paperbacks
The books are proving such a hit that Bandai is hiring authors to train others would-be writers in the art of mobile literature. One established novelist told me the new medium is creating a new form of expression.

And perhaps more importantly, it is reversing the younger generation's apathy towards reading.

Science Fiction author Chiaki Kawamata says: "A high school student wrote to me to tell me that he read 1,000 books in a single summer.

"There's absolutely no way he could have done that with regular books and without having the novels on his phone instead."

This renewed interest in the written word is also spinning off into regular bookshops. It seems that this could be one medium which, though still somewhat rare, may, in the final analysis, prove to be pretty well done

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