Market for mobile ‘manga’ taking off

by Kazuaki Nagata

A wave of digital and mobile phone technology is sweeping through the Japanese publishing industry as the market for electronic publishing continues to take off.

The digital publishing market has recently seen tremendous growth, chalking up sales of ¥4.5 billion in 2004, ¥9.4 billion in 2005, ¥18.2 billion in 2006, and ¥35.5 billion last year, market research company Impress R&D said.

This trend appears to be one of the main themes of the huge international book event that kicked off Thursday at Tokyo Big Sight in the Ariake district, where seven book- and publishing-related fairs are being held simultaneously, including the Tokyo International Book Fair, the Digital Publishing Fair, and the Children’s Book Fair.

The expansion of the e-book market is mainly being credited to the rapid growth in mobile phone publishing.

The market for electronic books last year was valued at ¥35.5 billion, with ¥28.3 billion of that coming from mobile phone book content — more than 2 1/2 times greater than last year.

“Japan’s digital book market started with computers and grew smoothly,” said Mikio Amaya, who runs Papyless Co., one of Japan’s leading digital bookstores with about 90,000 electronic titles.

“Digital books have been applied to mobile phones, which are easy to carry around, and the number has been doubling every year recently,” he said during a seminar.

In addition to their portability, Amaya said cell phones are easier to use than computers because content charges are included in the bills.

He also said the number of digital book stores on mobile phone Web sites has been proliferating, which means more competition for companies like his.

Among the hottest trends in hand-held digital books are comic books, which are becoming especially popular, according to a spokeswoman for Celsys Inc., which develops comic-viewing software for mobile phones.

“The mobile phone screen didn’t used to be this big, and mobile phone users now enjoy unlimited access to the Web for fixed monthly fees,” she said, listing those factors as the biggest contributors to the cell phone e-comic book boom.

Although she said more content is available for other generations, the main buyers of mobile phone “manga,” which cost about ¥300 to ¥700 per book, are women in their 20s.