Phone books

Sales of books in Japan are in decline but a novel idea — the ‘phone book’(keitai bunko) — is enjoying spectacular sales success. People — and especially women in their 20s and 30s — are reading love stories and mysteries on their mobiles while sitting at home or travelling to work. Indeed, in 2006, four of the top ten best selling hard copy books in Japan began life as mobile phone books and several of these cellular stories have notched up sales well in excess of a million copies. There are roughly 100 million mobile phones in Japan (out of a total human population of 127 million) and according to one estimate the size of this market is ¥ 9.4 billion (Euro 60 million) a year in Japan, up from zero in 2002. Why is this happening? Data transmission speeds are now fast and screen are bigger and easier to use, however, there may also be another particularly Japanese explanation. Many Japanese commute very long distances to work and there is often a need for some form of mobile-based distraction, be it phone shopping or mobile literature. Interestingly, perhaps, what typically starts off as a serialised or instalment-based phone book sent out to subscribers is often transferred to a traditional hard copy. The reason for this could be that young readers first read these instalments on their phone and send in suggestions and criticisms direct to the book’s author. Thus the reader feels that she or he has contributed to the development of the novel and therefore wants a copy of the final (hardcopy) book as a physical keepsake or memento. So what are the implications of this trend? First the distinction between e-books and phone books will erode to the point where the distinction is meaningless. Second, language and literature will evolve to fit these new formats, which will mean that simple, short sentences and words will be the order of the day.

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