Today's New York Times has an article by Norimitsu Onishi on Japanese mobile phone novels (keitai shousetsu) entitled Thumbs Race as Japan’s Best Sellers Go Cellular. It describes how more than a million novels have been composed on cell phones and made available on sites such as Maho no i-rando (Majic Island). Some have been become best sellers (5 of the top 10, selling 400,000 copies each) when republished in book form and one has been made into a movie. The genre has also benefited from the decision by the Japanese mobile operators to offer unlimited packet data, reducing the instances of "packet death" when subscribers got their first bill.
The stories are mostly written by young women such as Rin, who according to the Sidney Morning Herald is a nursery school teacher from Kokura. When offered in the original serialized form the format offers ample opportunity for the readers to comment while the work is in progress and feel involved in the creative process.
The depth of the works are somewhat limited, with lots of dialog and little scene or character development, not just because the need to punch out lines while riding the train but also because of the limited vocabulary of kanji that can be entered from the mobile keypad. The distinctive style uses short sentences, emoticons and spaces (to indicate when a character is thinking.)
An except from Satomi Nakamura's To Love You Again:
Kin Kon Kan Kon (sound of school bell ringing)
The school bell rang
"Sigh. We're missing class"
(space) She said with an annoyed expression.
While some bemoan the lowbrow nature of the work, these books are reaching an audience whose book reading has previously been confined to manga if they read books at all.