We've written about mobile phone books in Japan and now spreading beyond. It took a while for the "mobile books" industry to figure out the mobile phone as the 7th mass media channel, and not to attempt to copy what you do in the older media (print is the first of the 7 mass media) when you bring it to the new. So first book publishers tried to release big hit books like Harry Potters etc onto mobile, to very poor commercial success. But in Japan they learned what makes the 7th mass media unique and started to develop concepts to its benefit. Now mobile books are offered as an opportunity to generate a book authoring opportunity for young, new authors, to get first time published.
And does it work? We already told you that mobile books sold in Japan were worth 82 million dollars annually. Or counted against mobile phone subscribers, books as content delivered 90 cents per subscriber per year in content revenues. If (and when) that translates worldwide, that means mobile books could become a 3 billion dollar global industry in the near future.
But its actually even more profound than that. On Monday the International Herald Tribune (21 Jan 2008) ran a long article starting on its front page about mobile changing the books business in Japan. First, the shock statistic. In 2007, five out of the top ten bestselling (printed) books in Japan were originally released as mobile books. Wow. Not just is mobile books a new channel to explore new authoring talent at very modest costs, but also successful mobile book authors turn into successful traditional book authors. Half of the top ten! Wow. That is radical.
But lets dig deeper. I write in my Thought Piece on the 7th Mass Media from a year ago, and Alan Moore echoes the same thought in his White Paper on 7th Mass Media in June, that you need to innovate on the new media. That mobile has actually six unique benefits not available on any of the six legacy media (which are for those who are not regular readers of our blog, Print (1st Mass Media, 1500s), Recordings (2nd, 1890s), Cinema (3rd, 1900s), Radio (4th, 1910s); TV (5th, 1950s) and the internet (6th, 1990s). Now mobile is the newest and least understood mass media channel, the seventh. Mobile is a digital interactive media similar to the internet, and is able to replicate all of the previous media content forms (this is not the case for any new media, through radio airwaves or the cinema projector you cannot sell print content such as newspapers or books, but we can easily suppoly newspaper and book content on the internet or mobile)
Oh, and the six unique benefits that mobile as a mass media has, that is not available on the previous mass media channels, are 1) first personal mass media; 2) permanently carried media; 3) always on media; 4) first media with built-in payment mechanism; 5) is available at the point of inspiration; and 6) features the most accurate audience measurement of any mass media.
So, lets return to the excellent IHT article about mobile books in Japan. Yes, the mobile books are a way for new unknown authors to get an opportunity to try to release books, that is rather obvious and we discussed that before. But now the article reveals more about what kind of stories and writing is involved. I am sorry I didn't notice this before - but I don't read Japanese so I didn't get the personal chance to observe this difference.
Mobile books are written by young authors, to be consumed on mobile. So they are much closer to SMS text messaging in style than they are to traditional writing. Older Japanese adults deplore these new mobile books, as their sentence structure is short and weak in grammar. The language used, the vocabulary, is not as rich as older Japanese books. And the mobile books contain the cryptic shorthand of text messaging such as "C U L8" which means "see you later" and uses "emoticons" (the smiley faces many use in email, instant messaging and SMS) to convey emotional status of the writer etc.
Think about it. If you asked a 16 year old teenager in any country to "author a book". Most of them, by far the most, perhaps 95% of them would rather write it in the style of SMS text messaging, which is faster in style, simpler in construction, using shorthand and abbreviations. And they would prefer to write to their own peers who would understand it, rather than "to adults". Most teenagers would hate to try to compose a "horribly long essay" of 150 pages of well constructed text, in correct grammar, correct spelling, rich in language, on a PC.
And here it gets even more interesting. I think our friend and fellow author Tony Fish would approve (he coined the phrase "available at the point of inspiration"). The Japanese mobile phone books are mostly written on the mobile phones !!! By teenagers who send in short sections when they have the moment to write. They are not dependent on being close to their family PC to compose more text, they just use their "keitai", their mobile phone, and just like some bloggers are now starting to upload blog content straight from phones, these teenagers thumb out the text multi-tapping on the mobile phone keypad and author their books on their phones !!!
And five out of the ten best-selling books in Japan last year were created this way. Wow.
I used to think that the user-generated ability of "real content" was limited to the higher end of cameraphones for pictures, maybe some videos as DVD vidoe recording quality is starting to emerge onto phones, and perhaps to record podcasts. But to compose books on mobile phone keypads? I have advised our industry on mobile apps for over ten years now, and I honestly did not see this coming.
But that is rather cool. This is so typical of Generation C (Community Generation) and how they almost instinctively use mobile phones for communciation and how involved they are with SMS text messaging. We've reported earlier that in New Zealand schools they are allowing students to write essays and to respond to tests using the spelling and grammar of SMS text messaging. So there is a transition happening also in the writing culture. I am amused at times when one of my nephews or neices mentions that my messages are long (they probably mean that my messages are too long, but are kind to put it mildly). Think about that. We write with Alan in the book Communities Dominate Brands that youth attention spans have shrunk from the 30 minute sitcom time concepts of the 1970s to the MTV 3 minute music video time spans of the 1980s to now this, 160 characters of an SMS text message may be "too long"
And bestselling books are written on mobile phones by teenagers, as they commute to school and back. It is a fascinating time we live in.