Mobile phones are now emerging as a viable distribution channel for publishers. In this respect, the international publishing community is far ahead of their US counterparts. According to a recent post on TechCrunch, in Japan, half of the top selling works of fiction in 2007 were composed for reading on cell phones (keitai shousetsu) rather than in print form. This is opening up new opportunities for authors and publishers to reach a wider audience without necessarily going through the often slow moving bookstore channel.
In some ways this is not surprizing; there are many factors driving this trend. First, is the universality cell phone usage. For example:
- 75% of adults and 90% of college students have mobile phones
- 1 in 8 homes no longer have a landline phone
- 62% of subscribers use text messaging regularly
- 80% of world is covered by mobile networks
Second is mobile phone technology. Current generation mobile phones now come equipped with applications to download music, video and photos, so the leap to e-books was a small one. A number of third party providers now supply reader software for cell phones. And there are popular freeware applications such as Stanza for the iPhone. About half a million people in more than 50 countries have downloaded Stanza (see demo video below).
A third factor is a widening availability of a content in e-book format. The recent Google settlement with the book publishing industrypotentially opens the door to a wide range of works. Neill Denny, editor of The Bookseller, a trade publication based in London, wrote that the agreement has possibly created
. . . the largest bookshop in the world has been built, even if it is not quite open for business yet.
Google’s Book Search program has scanned thousands of books and made them available to be searched on the Internet. Under the agreement, Google will share any revenue from online sales with publishers and authors. In the future, Google may become both a powerful book advertising and sales venue.
In some markets, like textbooks, the experimentation with mobile phone book content is well underway. This is helping schools manage the expense of print textbooks in a time of greater budget austerity for educaitonal institutions and families. Libraries are becoming simlarly inclined to look at mobile formats for books.
The fourth factor is simply the fact that Millenials and the generations that follow them will expect to access books – like they now access other forms of entertainment - via their mobile devices.
The half life of technology predictions is short in our fast paced world. But if the trends discussed above continue, books delivered to mobile phones will become a bigger part of the book publishing landscape.
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