Skip to content

mobile phone novels (keitai shousetsu) – not in the USA

When my American friends discuss innovation, I often get annoyed at their dedication of passion to their uninformed opinions. If only they would put some of that energy into study, eh?

TechCrunch (today’s version of Red Herring, according to some lol) is reporting that “In Japan, half the top selling books are Written on Mobile Phones”. (I am not sure if this headline is a play on the old “In JAPAN…. ” jokes, like the original, “In JAPAN, the HAND can cut like a KNIFE!” but I appreciated it anyway).

So half of the top-selling books are written on mobile phones. Wow. Of course there is so much detail to examine behind that headline, but first let’s look at the story to better understand how this country labels pop culture pornography and how in this country big business stifles innovation in order to preserve the needed time to manage control of it:

With all the talk about Amazon’s Kindle, there’s a bigger revolution taking place and those who studied classic literature will be horrified. In Japan, half of the top ten selling works of fiction in the first six months of 2007 were composed on mobile phones.

TechCrunch cites a real newspaper, so we know this story is true:

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, mobile phone novels (keitai shousetsu) have become a publishing phenomenon in Japan, “turning middle-of-the-road publishing houses into major concerns and making their authors a small fortune in the process.”

I will assume that, IN JAPAN! they have mobile phones that work better than my $499 HTC/Audiovox/Verizon Winblows Mobile device, even if they don’t suffer the horrors of Verizon crippling for a mere $135/month over in Japan. They must, because otherwise, how could they write much more than a page or two before the battery dies, the phone needs a hard reset, or the screen goes too dim to even.. find the slider to increase screen brightness?

But I digress. There is more about what those popular “books” really are:

One book, Koizora (Love Sky) about high-school girl who is bullied, gang-raped, becomes pregnant has sold more than 1.2 million copies since being released. …. another book Moshimo Kimiga (420,000 copies) starting with installments uploaded to an internet site and sent our to “thousands of young subscribers.”

Well well well. In JAPAN, stories of teenage sex, rape, and brutalization sell. Imagine that! In this country, we don’t even count “adult literature” or even “graphic novels” when we cite best sellers. They don’t count (even if they do drive innovation, e.g. online publishing). Okay so maybe this Love Sky is not pornography, but it’s not great literature like our own best-selling-novel-of-all-time “Valley of the Dolls” either. Ooops. Valley of the Dolls is arguably the most popular (selling) novel of all time, but it does indeed address themes of “art films” culture in the 60’s. Hmm… but that was back in the sixties, and anyway, is this real literature or just scandalous text?

Regardless, the Japanese can buy stuff easily over their mobile phones today. Aspiring pulp fiction writers in Japan can sell their stuff through those same channels more easily than I can navigate my CCBill affiliate income reporting screen (no, I am not an adult publisher, but I did side step my way into one CCBill account a few years ago.. it’s a long story).

I think we’re still arguing about micropayments over here, far from enabling citizens to pay a buck or two to read some trashy text. Also the Japanese can upgrade their phones and phone plans and such as they desire to consume innovative technology. Over here, as a consumer unhappy with my 18 month old Verizon Winblows Mobile 5 device and willing to pay to get the latest stuff, I am offered a “new” version of the HTC with Winblows Mobile 6 that was actually announced last January, is finally available this month (late November, actually), and will require a 2 year commitment from me to the network plan with at best an 18 month upgrade cycle on the technology.

I’d have to be stupid to pay another $300 for another obsolete device, with a 2 year commitment. That’s a lot of money I could be spending downloading trashy novelettes.

My consulting business is increasingly receiving calls from overseas for Search Engine Optimization services. Wow… I’m World Famous now. I am an Internationally known search engine optimization consultant. In demand world wide. Or maybe it’s just because I’m cheap as hell with the dollar trading at less than half a British pound, and less than 2/3 of a Euro.

History tells us this country won’t wake up until the situation is very painful.


  1. Todd Mintz wrote:

    “Valley of the Dolls” (the book & the film) is way better than most people give it credit for…unfortunately, a lot of crap was then created that try to piggyback on its success.

    Monday, December 3, 2007 at 11:45 am | Permalink
  2. yui wrote:

    Actually, the story of Love Sky is a tearkearker, high school girl Mika and classmate Hiro fall in love with each other, but another girl is jealous, so she schemes and gets other boys to rape poor Mika. When iro learns what has happenned, he swears to protect Mika forever. Then she falls pregnant and learns Hiro has cancer. After fighting disease, he dies and she decides to raise their child all alone.

    The author of this book is also called Mika, and actually this was presented as a true story. So many readers thought they read what really happened to the author, but in reality, it appears that the book is only loosely based on the author’s life, but all the advertisement campaigns presented it as as sad love story that really happenned.

    Also there is nothing unbelievable about this story, cellphone novels are not new, they’ve existed for 8 years at least. One man called Yoshi wrote many such novels about sad love stories and became highly popular amongst teenage girls, who are the main consumers of such “literature.”

    The Japanese cellphone handsets have big colorful, nice to look at screen, there are many phones there with beautiful screens like the Iphone’s. Also Japanese is more suited to cellphone keypads than English because Japanese doesn’t have an alphabet but a syllabary, apart from a few exceptions, each “letter” or “sign” represents two sounds, a consonant a vowel ex: karaoke in Japanese is written as ka-ra-o-ke, with 4 “letters” but in English it takes 7 letters. So it takes more time to type on a non Azerty keyboard in English than in Japanese.

    And cellphone Japanese takes less time to type and is normal Japanese, it would be structurally impossible to shorten Japanese anyway like in English, unlike cellphone English which requires big efforts without an azerty keyboard iy you want it to look normal.

    And these novels are written and published in byte sized installments on cellphone website where readers can leave their comments, so the authors don’t write 150 pages in one go, but not even half a page, maybe 10 or 20 lines since it must be readble on a cellphone.

    Also, since 4 years back, carriers have launched unlimited data plans, but before, there were customersd who ended with astronomical charges $1000 by using too much data.

    So all this favours cellphone novels.

    I am sure the same could happen in Western countries too with azerty keyboards and unlimited data plans.

    As for cellphones, it is common in Japan to buy it, so if you want to change, you must buy a new one also they are sim locked, so you cannot use the same phone with another carrier you must also buy a new one if you want to change.

    Average phones are better than average phones in Europe or the US,, but high end ones like PDA’s are worse.And the calling plans are not that cheap either, so most people don’t use their phone to talk, just write emails.

    @yui : thank you for the additional insights! 

    Sunday, May 4, 2008 at 10:40 pm | Permalink
  3. Stan wrote:


    Wow great overview of cellphone novels in Japan and very helpful thoughts about what cultural and technological factors may have made them adopted more quickly there than elsewhere.

    We are beta testing a website in the U.S. ( that allows users to write their novels online or with their cellphones (by sending in an MMS text or email) and allows readers to subscribe to the stories chapters as they are published and comment on them. Readers can receive updates by text or email. We are hopeful that this will become a way that younger authors and readers in particular can share fiction. I am really hopeful that we get a story as compelling as some of those that have been written in Japan in this medium.

    Thanks again for your thoughts.


    Tuesday, August 5, 2008 at 9:45 am | Permalink