Snack-o-tainment, is what they call it in the the USA. Culture on the go, bite-sized chunks of diversion which consumers can gobble down using their iPods or cellphones. In Japan, perhaps because of their respect for miniature forms (think Haiku), where a reduction in size is not assumed to be a dumbing-down, they are less condescending towards packaged bits of culture. Although soap opera series made for mobile are hugely popular in Japan, the NTT DoCoMo mobile literature site, Maho i-Land, reportedly has six million members, and carries more than a million mobile novels.
Now Mobfest, a South African company dedicated to mobile media, has boldly launched an initiative to put freshly written novels in daily "textisodes" onto the screens of local cellphone users. From the 7th of July, readers simply have to register via the Novel Idea site, or simply SMS the word NOVEL to 33879, and will then receive daily episodes of the story which they have selected. A real strength of the project seems to be that they have signed up six impressive local authors, who have written tales specially crafted for the mobile medium. The authors who have contributed work to the first round of mobile literature are:
Diane Awerbuck (award-winning author of Gardening at Night),
Lauren Beukes (author of hot new futuristic novel Moxyland),
Richard de Nooy (Six Fang Marks and a Tetanus Shot),
Robyn Goss (And So Say All of Us…),
Sarah Lotz (Pompidou Posse),
Henrietta Rose-Innes (The Rock Alphabet),
Stephan Simm (aka “Miss Kwa Kwa”),
Zukiswa Wanner (The Madams),
Sam Wilson (Urbo).
Mobfest are also admirably upfront about all the costs to the user of the service. The registration process SMS costs R1.50 and the only subsequent charges are those added by the user’s network for data services. This might, however, be the achilles heel of the South African service. The local networks obstinately persist in treating data as a luxury product for high end (usually business) users. By comparison, Japanese operators such as NTT DoCoMo, switched to flat rate some years ago. The effect of this rate reduction on the Maho i-Land mobile literature site was very significant with a huge leap in membership and the number of novels posted.
Strength to Mobfest and their new initiative.