“Manga” comics that can be downloaded to mobile phones are increasing at a rapid rate and beginning to exceed the number available for personal computers and personal digital assistants.

Industry analysts said the market is expected to grow further as mobile phone technology improves. Improved quality and lower communication charges are leading to a wider range of choices in downloadable manga. Book sales have hit a ceiling while electronic books continue to grow.

“As the length of the comics are small, it’s good way to kill time,” said a man in his 30s who downloads comics to his PC.

Mobile phone cartoons can be downloaded from specialty sites. On top of connection charges to download the cartoons, customers pay a monthly fee starting at 315 yen and an average charge of 40 yen per program.

The number of stories and novels available for mobile-phone download is significantly larger, but half of all printed material downloaded is manga.

According to Impress Holdings Inc., an information technology-related publisher, the e-book market in fiscal 2004 was worth about 4.5 billion yen, 2.5 times larger than in fiscal 2003.

Sales of printed material for the mobile phone market has grown particularly fast. It was 1.2 billion yen in 2004, a dramatic rise from only 100 million yen the previous year.

Behind this increase are the dramatic advances in mobile phone technology, which now has high-speed data communication and larger memories.

In addition, communication charges have dropped with flat-rate pricing.

“The number of manga is increasing, and popular ones can also be read on mobile phones,” said Katsuyuki Kobayashi, an official of NTT Solmare Corp., which is operating a site for mobile phone cartoons. “This is great.”

The number of comics downloaded from NTT Solmare’s site began to increase rapidly last summer. In May, 5 million cartoons were downloaded to the mobile phones of three phone companies alone.

The tiny comics are tailored to the small phone screens and sound is added.

The downloaders are mainly people in their 20s to 30s and at first were mostly men, but they are now outnumbered by women.

Publishing companies are also expecting the e-books to pay off in other ways.

“By distributing to mobile phones, we can get new copyright fees,” said an official of Shueisha Inc.

“There are many popular cartoons that cannot be read on mobile phones as the problem of copyrights has yet to be resolved,” said Yoshihiro Nakajima, director of the Internet Life Research Institute of Impress Holdings. “If the distribution of these cartoons begins, the market will further expand.”

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