There was a great AP article yesterday on the recent boom in cell phone novels and serials in Japan. The top and bottom images here are pulled from “Bunko Yomihodai,” or “All You Can Read Paperbacks” – a popular microlit site with over 50,000 subscribers, offering 150 titles written or adapted specially for reading on phones.
“In the latest versions, cell-phone novels are downloaded in short installments and run on handsets as Java-based applications. You’re free to browse as though you’re in a bookstore, whether you’re at home, in your office or on a commuter train. A whole library can be tucked away in your cell phone — a gadget you carry around anyway.”
True. Right now, the cell phone is the ultimate indispensable gadget. It’s with us practically all the time. No wonder it’s the first place that electronic books are gaining a foothold.
And the content is varied…
“Surprisingly, people are using cell-phone books to catch up on classics they never finished reading. And people are perusing sex manuals and other books they’re too embarrassed to be caught reading or buying. More common is keeping an electronic dictionary in your phone in case a need arises.”
Microlit hasn’t really taken off here in the States, though there are a few signs that suggest a gradual movement in this direction. There was a bit of buzz about a month ago when Random House acquired a significant minority stake in wireless applications developer VOCEL. And more people seem to be using their phones and PDAs for reading – everything from websurfing, to RSS feeds, to downloaded books (or even raw text files of public domain literature – I tried this on my iPod with this fun hack). But we have yet to see any kind of full-blown lit phenomenon.
The breakthrough work in Japan was a serial called “Deep Love,” the story of a teenage prostitute in Tokyo. It became so popular that it was published as an actual book, and spun off into a TV series, a manga (comics), and a movie. Now the author, named simply Yoshi, is trying his hand at thrillers. From the article:
“Another work by Yoshi, a horror mystery, has a cell-phone Web link that readers click. One pulls up a video clip of a bleeding face; another shows a letter that tells people to go on living.
“Yoshi, a former prep-school instructor who sees his readers as “a community,” reads the dozens of e-mail messages teenage fans send him daily and uses their material for story ideas.
“He also knows immediately when readers are getting bored and changes the plot when access tallies start dipping for his stories.
“‘It’s like playing live music at a club,'” he said. ‘You know right away if the audience isn’t responding, and you can change what you’re doing right then and there.'”
Remember that Dickens often wrote in this way. Perhaps we are witnessing the return of serialized novels.