In 2008, The New Yorker published an article by Dana Goodyear that discussed the first literary genre of the cellular age—keitai shosetsu or cell phone novels. These novels, the first of which, Deep Love, was written in 2003 by a writer who called himself Yoshi, are written entirely via text message and sent via SMS or email message to the readers or through mobile services such as Maho i-Land, which claims to get 3.5 billion hits a month. At the time of that article’s publishing, the idea of full-length books being written and read on cell phones seemed completely out of the ordinary. And, the audience for these cell phone novels—teenage girls—was one that publishers covet. Today, reading on mobile phones is on a meteoric rise with sites like Wattpad, Scribd, Oyster, and phone apps from the major ebook platforms such as Amazon Kindle, Nook, and iBooks giving readers hundreds of thousands of books right in their back pockets.
A Pew Research Center study from April 2015 states that 64% of American adults have a smartphone, with 46% saying that their cellphone is something they cannot live without. In addition to being a device vital to their connectivity through phone and email, consumers use smartphones to take pictures, watch films, even deposit checks into their bank accounts. As app developers create functionality that makes these day-to-day activities even simpler, the use of phones will continue to rise.
With so much of our lives lived on our phones and the increased ease with which consumers can download and read books on handheld devices, it makes sense that consumers are turning to that instead of purchasing and carrying separate tablets, ereaders, or even print books. And more importantly, the rise of reading on phones expands the reach of publishers to a pool of readers in a wider diversity of ages, socioeconomic status, and technological capability.
The opportunities that arise from being able to tap into an audience of 4.5 billion mobile users around the world couldn’t be clearer than when Samsung, a global leader in mobile technology, signed on as the Innovation Partner for last year's Frankfurt Book Fair. In the press release announcing the partnership, Younghee Lee, Executive Vice President of Global Marketing, Mobile Communications Business at Samsung Electronics, said: “The digital evolution of the publishing industry is giving consumers new and exciting ways to consume content while also offering publishers innovative methods to deliver enhanced content through mobile technology.”
Reading on phones opens up a number of opportunities for publishers to connect to any type of reader on a device to which they feel personally connected. Whether publishers create their own platform for reaching readers on their phones, find new and innovative ways of telling stories, revive the backlist through book discovery, or create new bundling or pricing models for this audience, mobile reading on handheld devices is a gain for publishers.
Randy Petway will present US findings of Ingenta's Mobile Phone eBook Reading Survey on Wednesday, May 27th at the IDPF Digital Book Conference at Book Expo America in New York. The full results of our report can be accessed at publishingtechnology.com/research.
This article is adapted from a version that originally appeared in the October 7 Publishing Perspectives Show Daily at the 2014 Frankfurt Book Fair.