BOOKS, CELL PHONE NOVELS AND THE JAPANESE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY

JAPANESE BOOKSTORES AND THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY

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The Japanese publishing industry is dominated by a few giant corporations, which produce booth books and magazines, and put pressure on writers to do as they command. Popular writers often seem as if their life is one long busy schedule of interviews, appearances, and deadline writing for books and articles. Explain how the system works, Haruki Murakami told the New Yorker, "Editors represent the publishing companies but they come on to you as friends. If you say no to them, they loose face, and feel hurt. They think I'm arrogant and insensitive, and this makes life very hard."

In 2010 approximately 78,000 books and magazines were published in Japan, with total copies amounting to about 4.7 billion. Newly published books cover a wide range of fields. By category, social science and literature each represent about one-fifth, followed by fine arts, technology and industry, natural science, history, and books for children. In terms of sales, popular literature such as historical novels and mysteries, which are mainly favorites of the middle-aged, overwhelms all other genres. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

In Japan, authors hold copyrights, while publishers only have the right to publish books. The price of books has remained pretty much the same in Japan for the last two decades. In addition, books costs pretty much the same from place to place, whether it’s a small Mom and Pop store are a huge volume dealer.

Bookoff is a second-hand book store aimed clean-freak, status-conscious Japanese. It sells used book with the promise they have been thoroughly cleaned in a store that has an atmosphere like a upscale department store. Bookoff was started in 1991 and now has over 900 outlets and is regarded as a serious challenge to normal bookstores.

Book sales have been shrinking with competition from the Internet, cell phones and other media. In recent years some major publishers have gone bankrupt. According to a survey in 2007, 52 percent of the people asked said they had not read a book in the past month. The number of bookstores has shrunk from 20,939 in 2001 to 17,098 in 2007. Book and magazine sales hit a 20 year low in 2009.

Japanese Literary Market

Fewer people are reading books in Japan. A national survey conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun found half of those polled didn't even read a single book each month.Commenting on the importance of literature in Japan today, a Colombia University professor in Japan told the New York Times: "If you go to a bookstore here, unless it is a very big bookstore, you won't find a real solid literary work. Authors today are writing for the passing tastes of a young audience. University students were the real market for serious books, but they don't really read them any more. It's a very depressing period."

A literary agent in Japan told the New York Times that Japanese women like literary fiction that deals with “isolation and the meaninglessness of modern urban life; boredom and frustration with en and relations and marriage and the constrains put in women in Japanese society.”

Older readers like jidai-shusetsu ("period novels") with samurai, shoguns and feudal settings. Shiba and Endo are both regarded as masters of this form.

Books on being Japanese are very popular in Japan. Books about other countries and cultures often focus on how they compare to Japan and the Japanese. The Akutagawa Prize is Japan's most prestigious literary award. The Naoki Prize is Japan’s second most prestigious literary prize. There are several other awards.The Akutagawa Prize is given to up and coming writers while the Naoki Prize goes to seasoned writers.

In 2009, the Akutagawa Prize was awarded to a young Iranian woman named Shirin Nezammafi. Written in Japanese her story Shiroi Kami (“White Paper”) is about a romance between two students during the time of the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. The Farsi-speaking Nezammafi began studying Japanese when she was in high school.

Monkey Business: New Voices from Japan is an English-language edition of a Japanese literary magazine edited by University of Tokyo scholar and literary translator Motoyuki Shibata and York University scholar and translator Ted Goossen.

Jisui, Home-Made E-Books

An increasing number of people are enjoying reading e-books of their own making on e-readers or other devices. This can be done by using a scanner to copy each page of a book. Using this method to produce e-books can be likened to sucking out the contents of a paper book on your own. This can be described as jisui, a word comprising two kanji--ji, or "self," and sui, or "sucking." Sui is a homophone that means cooking food. In this way, the word jisui, when referring to e-books, became a homophone to the word that means to cook one's own meals. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, March 13, 2012]

Some writers and cartoonists have sued companies for offering jisui services. Jisui is comparable to duplicating a paper book because it creates a digital version of its contents. A person is allowed to copy books for his or her personal use. However, if a number of digital copies are made widely available, it may encourage some people to stop buying books. It is unpardonable to earn a profit by offering jisui services. This is the angry sentiment felt by novelists and cartoonists. It is said that many people chose to make e-books through the jisui method because publishing companies offer only a small number of e-books. Therefore, it is important for publishers to produce more e-books.

Electronic Books and E-Readers in Japan

“Although still very small in absolute terms, the electronic book market is growing rapidly. A number of services offer electronic books formatted for reading on personal computers and personal digital assistants (PDA), and in 2003 a new service was introduced that distributes fiction and other electronic books for reading on cellular telephones. [Ibid]

An increasing number of people believe selling e-book software will become more profitable than selling e-readers. As a result, Panasonic, which does not have its own e-book website, and Sony, which does, could be forced to alter their business models which currently rely on e-reader sales. E-readers have been inconvenient for customers in some ways, as some book titles were previously unavailable, depending on the e-reader. But these complaints have gradually disappeared as each company has taken various measures to address the problem.

The domestic market for devices such as e-readers, personal computers and smartphones was only about 7.5 billion yen in fiscal 2010. Meanwhile, annual sales of paper books and magazines during the same period totaled nearly 2 trillion yen. Comparatively, the market share for e-books remains small as many consumers find e-readers expensive. The Wi-Fi model of the Sony Reader sells for about 20,000 yen. Panasonic markets its UT-PB1 e-reader at about 30,000 yen.

Rakuten Low-Priced E-Readers

In January 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: Rakuten said it completed the purchase of Kobo Inc., a Canadian firm that operates an e-book business in about 100 countries. The main reason behind the acquisition is to introduce the Kobo e-reader into the Japanese market. The Kobo e-reader allows Japanese text layouts such as vertical writing. Rakuten plans to sell the device for less than 10,000 yen. [Source: Michihiro Kawashima, Yomiuri Shimbun, January 17, 2011]

The company aims to gain profits from e-book sales by introducing a less expensive e-reader compared to those of Sony Corp. or Panasonic Corp. and simultaneously expand the domestic e-book market.In August, Rakuten launched a website for its e-book store "Raboo." To increase its e-book selection, the company has been negotiating with publishing companies to digitize books. To do so, Rakuten has presented publishers with a contract promising profits from e-book sales.

While Rakuten does not pay much attention to Japanese e-book tablet makers, it is wary of Amazon.com. as U.S. e-tailer Amazon.com Inc. attaches great importance to Japan's e-book market, the tug-of-war between Japanese and U.S. companies has become more fierce. The least expensive model of Amazon's Kindle e-reader is priced at 79 dollars, or about 6,300 yen. Furthermore, Amazon's e-book sales exceeds those of its paper books.

Amazon has also been negotiating with Japanese publishing companies to digitize books as it prepares to launch a full-fledged sales campaign for the Kindle e-reader in the Japanese market.Amazon's contract states the U.S. online retailer retains the right to decide the sales price of e-books--which provoked a strong reaction from publishers in Japan. "[If Amazon holds the right,] we'll barely [gain enough profits] to pay royalties to authors," a publishing company official said. Amazon also asked the publishers for copyright controls to accelerate the digitizing process.

Cell Phone Novels in Japan

null Ketai shosetsu (“cell phone novels”)---most written by amateurs with no previous published works---became very popular in the mid 2000s in Japan. They were so popular in fact that published as real books they were four of the top five best selling book in 2007, lead by The Red Thread by Mei, which sold 1.8 million copies, followed and Love Sky and its sequel at No. 2 and No. 3 by Mika , which together sold 2.6 million copies. [Source: Dana Goodyear, The New Yorker, December 22, 2008]

Many of the cell phone novels are by young women who use single name pseudonyms and refuse to reveal their true identity. Most of the novels are romance stories with episodes revolving around pregnancies, love triangles, abortion, rape and the like. Many are set in rural areas with characters that are middle or lower class Yankees (Japanese greasers). Most of the readers are young women.

The weepiest---and most popular’stories are often about women who suffer passively as tragic events happened to them. Love Sky---which has been viewed more than 12 million times online and has been adapted for manga, television and film that earned $35 million at the box office---is about girl who---like the author---is named Mika and is raped by a group of men incited by her boyfriend’s ex girlfriend and is dropped by her boyfriend after she get pregnant with his child only to find out that he selflessly broke up with her to spare her the news that he is dying of rare disease.

Maho I-Land (Magic Island) is Japan and the world’s largest cell phone novel site, with over a million titles, all available for free. The site, which offers templates for blogs and novel sites, receives more than 3½ billion hits a month. Most of the novels are written by amateurs, some of whom write their posting on the train on their way to work and think up episodes while working at dead end jobs..

The e-book market in 2009 was ¥57.4 billion.

Eternal Dream

Eternal Dream---another popular cell phone novel---was posted on the Maho- I-Land in 2006 by a writer who used the pen name Mone. A onetime beauty school student and college drop out, Mone began writing her novel directly into her cell phone after looking at some old photo albums, while sitting around bored during g a visit to her hometown.

Eternal Dream is about Saki, a high school student in a small town. One day while walking home from school she abducted by three strange men and gang raped and left by the side of the road, where she is discovered by a male schoolmate. They fall in love. The first installment was written on a whim. But after it appeared Mone received e-mails asking when the next installment was coming. As the story develops Saki finds out her father is not her father and her boyfriend drops her after she visits him in Tokyo.

Eternal Dream was completed in 19 days. By that times thousands of people had read it and publishers wanted to print it as a normal book. The hardback version was among the ten best-selling hardbacks in the first half of 2007.

In an interview with The New Yorker, Mone said she is mostly bitter about her success. She said she has earned about $100,000 from her writing but said the things she revealed about her family generated a number of fights. On her fame, she said, “If I were some super famous novelist, I would be running around saying, “hey, I’m a novelist.” But I’m not. I am treated as this lame chick whose written one of those awful cell novels...I’m considered a total loser for having done it.”

Mone told The New Yorker, “People say these horrible things about cell-phone novels, and I’m not sure they’re mistaken. They say we’re immature and incapable of writing a literate sentence. But I would say, so what? The fact that we’re producing at all is important.”

Deep Love and the Origin of Cell Phone Novels in Japan

The cell phone novel phenomena has been traced to a cram school teacher in the trendy Shibuya area of Tokyo who calls himself Yoshi. In 2000, he set up a Web Site and began posting his novel, Deep Love ,” about a 17-year-old girl who prostitutes herself to earn money for her dying boyfriend’s heart operation but in process gets AIDS from a client. As a self published book Deep Love sold over 100,000 copes, and ultimately generated manga, a film, a television drama and a series of novels that sold 2.7 million copies.

Around the time that Yoshi began posting Deep Love , Maho-I-land, which was founded in 1999, added templates called “Let’s Make Novels” to its site. The cell phone novel model took off in 2003, when unlimited data transmission packages for cell were introduced.

Cell Phones and Writing in Japan

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Cell phones have not only revolutionized the way Japanese communicate verbally and through messages they have also revolutionized the way Japanese write. On a Japanese cell phone you type in hiragana and katakana. For kanji, rather than laboriously making the multiple-stroke characters, you type in syllables of hiragana and katakana, and the phone provides a list to choose from of kanji the user uses most frequently.

This phenomena has led to a general dumbing down of the written language. Kanji are now use less frequently and those that are used are simple and common and are ones most everyone is familiar with. This partly explains why cell phones novels are so popular in Japan: they are easy to read and easy to write, and with a cell phone you can read them any time and any place.

Dana Goodyear wrote in The New Yorker, that Japanese cell phone novels are “quick and slangy, and filled with emotions and dialogue...The stories are have a tossed of, spoken feel.” One Japanese literature professor told her, “This is the average, ordinary girl talking to herself. The mumblings of her heart.”

Cell phone novels are generally written in truncated sentences with each clause given its own line which are often double spaced. One passage of I, Girlfriend by Kiki goes: “I’m/ Aki/ Age: 23/ Well, 24 this year/ Have a boyfriend?/ Well/ Just like everybody/ yes? Or. Kind of/ No way you don’t have a boyfriend/?

Otaku expert Kanta Ishida wrote in the Daily Yomiuri, “The protagonist’s monologue consists mostly of double-spaced phrases. At first, it’s hard to read. But once you get used to it, you begin to feel almost intoxicated, thanks to the rhythm of the piecemeal phrases, This imaginative style is unique to mobile phone displays.”

Most cell phone novelists upload their comments as they finish each chapter or section so they can get immediate feedback for readers, who access stories on the website and click through the pages. Authors respond by correcting errors. and in some cases, altering story lines. Many authors conceal their identifies for privacy reasons.

Cell Phones and Publishing in Japan

Cell phone novel have also revolutionized publishing. Technology executive Satovi Yoshida told The New Yorker, “The cell phone novel is an extreme success story of how social networks are used to build a product and launch it. Your fans support you and encourage you in the process of creating work---they help build the work. Then they buy the book to reaffirm their relationship to it in the first place.”

The cell phone novel phenomena has made Japanese publishing industry---which has been suffering of late, shrinking 20 percent in the last decade---both excited and worried. On one hand people are excited about a new forum to express oneself and make money but on other they see it as low common denominator form of writing.

Starts Publishing, one of the leaders in publishing cell phone novels, gives out the Japan Ketai Novel Award, which is worth about $20,000. The winner in 2008 was Kiki, a 23-year-old from a small town in Hokkaido for frank, chatty and vulgar I’m His Girl. One passage goes: “Kids?/ Well/ twice I got knocked up/ By mistake?/ Like who asked them to get made/ I/ Don’t Like rubbers/ yeah/ For beer and cocks/ raw is best/ You know?. Kiki never went to college and got Fs in Japanese in high school. She wrote her story, she said, as an expression of love to her boyfriend whom she lives with. She has worked in a day care and is trained to take care of the elderly.

Mahoi-Land Co in one of he largest cell phone novel content providers. It has 1 million online book titles and 6 million users. ASCII Media Works specializes in works for 14- to 17-year-olds. Kenro Hayamizu, an author a book on cell phone novels, told the Los Angeles Times. “Keitai novels should be linked, to the literary genre of light novels. These are Harlequin romances for young girls.”

Middle School Cell Phone Novelist

In 2009, a 15-year-old middle school who called herself “Bunny” after a character in the Disney classic Bambi was one of the most successful cell novelists. She wrote a three volume story about a shy girl named Miku and handsome guy named Shun called Wolf Boy x Natural Girl , which sold over 110,000 copies in it paperback form and grossed $611,000. When her mother found out about the book deal she was shocked and had no idea. [Source: Yukiko Nagano, Los Angeles Times, February 2010]

Bunny, who get her name from Thumper’s friend Miss Bunny, began writing when she got her first cell phone in the sixth grade. She wrote “Wolf Boy” on her pink phone in bedroom between homework assignments. A typical passages goes; “I changed into a suit for the party...When I stepped out of my room...Miku was there. Miku was in a pink one-piece dress, wearing white heels. She looks mature because her hair is lightly curled. She’s looking straight at me. Its hard to keep my cool when she’s looking at me like that.”

Image Sources: 1)3) 5) Amazon 2) 4) Wikipedia 6) Japan Vistors 7) Ray Kinnane

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated August 2012

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