Japan’s Mobile Comic Frenzy

Mobile comics seem to be growing in popularity worldwide, bouyed by better screen resolutions and the growing number of comic creators experimenting with the form. Further growth in the market might come from the increasing sales success for mobile comics (ketai) in Japan, a country which has already successfully exported manga print comics worldwide.

Reuters reported today that the Japanese love of mobile comics – which is already huge – could grow further with the arrival of Apple’s iphone next month. Analysts claim the device’s touch-screen will make it easier and more appealing to read comics on handsets.

With the number of mobile phone subscribers close to 108 million, or 85 percent of Japan’s population, carriers there are already finding e-mail, music downloads and web surfing hugely popular, and are looking for new opportunities to make money in a highly competitive market – and that includes comics.

Mobile Comics led the size of the Japanese mobile publication market to double in the last business year to 22 billion yen ($204 million), according to Internet and media research firm Impress R&D, almost three times bigger than the e-publication market for PCs.

“Until now, users had been extensively using mobile phones for email,” Shinko Securities analyst Tomohiko Okugawa told Reuters. “Now that’s shifting to games and comics … This is the area that’s going to be very interesting.”

“The importance of content has been growing,” agreed Toshitake Amamiya, general manager of telecom KDDI’s content and media division. “It’s crucial to pursue what we can do in this market where each adult always carries around a mobile phone and uses it as a life tool.”

But mobile comics on mobile aren’t just proving popular in Japan. Putting on my hat as Managing Editor of comics-on-mobile service ROK Comics, we’ve found that translations of strips first published on ROK Comics for China have proven very popular in recent months.

While selling comics on mobile to traditional comics readers is, surprisingly, a hard sell – it’s hard to beat the beauty and versatility of the printed comic page either online or on mobile – we are finding that mobile comics are a new, wider audience. Comics fans who have always read newspaper cartoons but never set foot in a comic shop may prove the key to making mobile comics a success.

Webcomics creators argue a hardcore fan set of a couple of thousand readers is enough to turn a profit online (largely through sales of strip-related merchandise such as collections, t-shirts etc.) so the potential revenues are strong. What we’re finding is that mobile comics are popular even in countries where there is no traditional print-based or web comic industry, and mobile reaches far more people than even web comic creators reach via PC delivery.

ROK Comics provides both a platform for licensed comic content including Andy Capp, Roy of the Rovers and Garth, and the tools for independent comic creators to upload their own comics, promoting their characters on mobile using a comic creator tool which also enable web blog and web site publication. The sale of downloads and WAP page views are credited to creators’ accounts, with profits on sales shared equally between ROK and the creator.

Delivering comics on mobile in the West is achievable – we’ve been doing that for over a year – but creators and publishers do need to take on board the creative challenges imposed by small screen delivery and be aware it’s still early days for the form outside countries like Japan where mobile comics have been around for quite some time.

More about creating comics for mobile on the ROK Comics web site

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