Novel idea coming soon to cell phones
By Doreen Carvajal
New York Times News Service
PARIS -- One day before too long, when your mobile telephone sounds,
it could be a novel calling to recount how the headstrong heroine
dumped the handsome heartbreaker. Or it might be a guidebook
surfacing at a critical moment in a crowded bar to provide you with
pickup lines in Spanish, French or German.
The increasing power of cell phones is fast shaping innovative forms
of compact culture: micro-lit, phone soap operas and made-for-mobile
dramas that can be absorbed in less time than it takes to flick
through a book introduction.
Today very few people are using so-called third-generation mobile
services, or smart phones, which allow users to browse the Internet
and watch videos. But most cell phones sold these days have color
screens and the ability to receive picture messages. So media
companies are reinventing quaint old formulas with the aim of reaching
"Are people going to read `War and Peace' on their telephones?" asked
David Harper, whose company, Wireless Ink, in Cold Spring, N.Y.,
offers Web users cell phone-size literature on such weighty themes as
the zombie apocalypse. "The answer is probably no. Right now the
content on mobile devices is almost like early television."
One pioneer is Media Republic, an Amsterdam company that is
successfully reaching young women with the mobile equivalent of the
French "roman photo," a sentimental genre of romantic still photos and
text that dates to the postwar period.
Dutch users register their mobile phones to follow the adventures of
the hormone-driven characters of "Jong Zuid," or "Young South," which
is now in production for its fourth season. Customers receive two
episodes daily, each with six photographs of well-known Dutch actors
and text describing the travails of glamorous young people seeking
their fortune in the big city.
A weekly subscription costs about $1.50, but most of the revenue comes
from an assortment of corporate sponsors who pay for product
placements, Web advertising and the exclusive rights to sponsor "Jong
Zuid" contests and promotions.
Media Republic and a partner are to produce a similar English-language
version, which will start appearing in Australia this month.
Called "My Way," it is calculated to appeal to young women, as did the
Dutch phone soap, which attracted 78,000 subscribers, 68 percent of
them women, with an average age of about 18.
Media Republic is planning to bring out other versions of the soap
opera early next year in Germany and in France, where its partner, NX
Publishing, is in the final stages of negotiation with major French
television channels, magazines and mobile telephone operators.
"Everybody is eventually moving to video on mobile, and this `roman
photo' concept is a bridge for those people who are not able to use
videos yet because they need a sophisticated telephone," said
Jean-Michel Blottiere, NX's chief executive.
Almost two-thirds of the 62 million cell phones shipped in Europe in
the last quarter were camera phones with color screens, according to
Canalys, a number to pick up substantially next quarter.
That hasn't stopped a number of companies from trying to exploit the
potential market. During the Asian Film Festival this month in
Singapore, MediaCorp, a local company, announced it was spending a
half-million dollars to produce 45 two-minute episodes of a
Chinese-language mobile video drama.
The giant British mobile-phone company Vodafone has struck a
partnership with 20th Century Fox to create a made-for-cell phone
video series, based on the television show "24," which will start
appearing next month in the first of 13 countries. (It will eventually
appear in the United States through Vodafone's partner Verizon
Wireless.) A British phone manufacturer, I-Mate, also has produced
"Cjaq," a 10-part thriller with video about five young people trapped
in a futuristic nightclub to which they were drawn by a hoax
Evolved into film
In Japan, major publishers such as Shinchosha and Kadoadwa Shoten have
created Web sites to offer telephone reading material. Japan is also
home to probably the most successful telephone venture. Earlier this
year a mobile novel jumped from phone screens to the silver screen,
evolving into a feature film, "Deep Love."
In the book industry in the United States, the initial reaction to
mobile-lit is: "Are you kidding?" as one veteran put it.
Still, some major New York publishing houses are pondering the
future. "We are paying attention, but we haven't entered the market
yet," said Kate Tentler, vice president and publisher for Simon &
In Europe, even some old-guard publishers have jumped into the mobile
format. The Munich-based Langenscheidt Publishing Group is a
traditional, family-run company that would seem an unlikely player in
this market. It has been publishing dictionaries, travel guides and
map books since 1856 and is run by the fourth generation of the
This month Langenscheidt started offering a phone-size flirting dictionary
that is its way of promoting international understanding. For about $5, the
service offers 600 or so phrases in the chosen language, and practical
advice including phonetic pronunciations of polite brushoffs.
The benefit, said Ina Kaese, who manages Langenscheidt's mobile
services, is that if you are a traveler in a foreign city in a busy
bar, your telephone can be your instant guide to romance. It is the
mobile equivalent of the 17th Century Cyrano de Bergerac, who famously
supplied lines to the lovelorn. But certainly not ones such as this:
"Will anybody be jealous if I invite you to a cocktail?"
Copyright 2004, Chicago Tribune
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