Cell phone comics up in Japan

Anime News Network reports that sales of electronic manga in Japan totaled 10.6 billion yen, or about $95.7 million, in 2006. That’s a respectable increase over the 3.4 million yen spent in 2005. One aspect that is being watched on this side of the Pacific is how much is going to cell phones rather than computer screens: It was pretty lopsided last year, with 2.4 billion yen being spent to view manga on computers and 8.2 billion to read it on cell phones.

There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that many Japanese people commute by train, not car, so they have big blocks of time to read cell phone manga. But this article, translated by Manganews earlier this year, touches on another important difference:

The main factor of this popularity is establishment of the “fixed fee system” for packet communication in cellular phones. If the customer contracts fixed fee system, he has to pay only the membership fee (300 yen per month) without worrying about the communication fee.

As the mother of two teenagers, I know this is not a theoretical concern: My daughter just discovered text messaging, and we discovered she had discovered it when our bill went up by $25 in one month. Back when I was a full-time newspaper reporter, I was the chief offender, exceeding our allowed minutes every month just with voice calls. So while you apparently don’t get billed for reading time (the comic is downloaded to your phone), UClick’s info page notes that your carrier, as a separate entity, can charge for browsing and downloading, and they can tack on a “transport fee” as well.

With the advent of the Google phone, people have started talking about decoupling mobile phones from the carriers. Since I have never met anyone who didn’t hate their carrier, this is likely to be a popular idea, and it may be a requirement for cell phone manga to catch on with the public here. Until that happens, I’m too worried that my carrier will find a million extras to charge me for every time I look at a comic.

Which is really a shame, because after talking to Thunder Road creators Sean Demory and Steven Sanders, I’m curious to see this new medium in action.

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