The country that gave the world its first novel, “The Tale of Genji,” a millennium ago, has introduced a new 21st Century genre: novels thumbed out of cellphones, republished in book form, that have not only infiltrated the mainstream but have come to dominate it, selling hundreds of thousands of hardbound copies
Of Japan's 10 best-selling novels last year, five were originally cellphone novels, mostly love stories written in the short sentences characteristic of text messaging but containing little of the plotting or character development found in traditional novels. The top three were debut novels.
Fans on the new genre praised the novels as a new literary form created and consumed by a generation whose reading habits had consisted mostly of manga, the Japanese word for comics that date from shortly after World War II, but have a long, complex history in earlier Japanese art.
Astute critics suggest that cellphone novels may mirror the rise of manga, widely read by people of all ages in a broad range of subjects and topics, including action-adventure, romance, sports and games, historical drama, comedy, science fiction and fantasy, mystery, horror, sexuality, and business and commerce. Since the 1950s, manga have steadily become a major part of the Japanese publishing industry, representing approximately $4.4 billion dollars.
Other critics said the dominance of cellphone novels, with their poor literary quality, would hasten the decline of Japanese literature.
Whatever their literary talents, cellphone novelists are racking up the kind of sales that most more experienced, traditional novelists can only dream of.
According to the New York Times, one such star, a 21-year-old woman named Rin, wrote “If You” over a six-month stretch during her senior year in high school while commuting to her part-time job or whenever she found a free moment. She tapped out chapters on her cellphone and uploaded them on a popular Web site, Maho no i-rando, for would-be authors. The number of users uploading novels began booming only two to three years ago, and the number of novels listed on the site reached one million last month
After cellphone readers voted her novel No. 1 in one ranking, her story of the tragic love between two childhood friends was turned into a 142-page hardcover book last year. It sold 400,000 copies and became the No. 5 best-selling novel of 2007, according to Tohan, a major book distributor.
A hidden factor fueling the the boom was cellphone companies’ decision to offer unlimited transmission of packet data, like text-messaging, as part of flat monthly rates. The largest provider, the cellphone content pioneer, Docomo, began offering this service in mid-2004.
Posted by Jason McManus.
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