Will Cell Phone Novels Come Stateside?

Text messaging is more deeply embedded in Japanese pop culture than it is in American communication, according to Saffo.

"In the first cell phone service in Japan, it was expensive to make calls, but the provider gave away messaging for free. The result was all the high school kids didn't make calls and just messaged," Saffo said. "The writing methods are much more compact in Japanese. You do a couple of keystrokes per character and one character can represent a much bigger concept. The Roman alphabet has a disadvantage for small screens."

In addition to language and cultural barriers, there are technical barriers as well, said Julie Ask, a wireless analyst at Jupiter Research. Ask believes Americans won't want to write (or read) that much on a small cell phone screen.

"Text messaging is limiting, with a 160-character limit and you're using 12-tab text pad, so it would be a laborious process," Ask said.

Instead, she believes consumers will more and more opt for mobile PC-like devices.

"Phones are getting to look more and more like computers, whether it's word processing, listening to music. There are phones that can do those things today," Ask said.

Saffo agrees and believes that the cell phone novel trend in Japan is already making an impact on America in electronic readers like the Sony Reader and the Amazon Kindle.

"I think that what's happening in Japan is going to remind publishers and consumer electronics manufacturers that people have no problem reading things on screens," he said. "The problem in the United States is that the screens the companies give us are ones that we have to read sitting down," like laptops.

"The Kindle is a device you can read with one hand on a subway strap and one hand on the kindle while you're bouncing along."

Beyond the electronics world, Saffo believes the trend will also inspire a nation of creative types trapped in the bodies of nine-to-fivers, who believe they're too time-strapped to write.

Next time the business man is riding in the train from Long Island, he may not be playing a video game. He may be writing the great American cybernovel," Saffo said.

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