Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. will almost triple the number of comic books it formats for viewing on cell phones in a move that will make it the No. 1 provider of popular Japanese "manga" comics for cell phones, a company official said Monday.
The Sony Corp. unit will increase the number of titles it offers to 300 over the next year. That's more than double the number offered by top rivals NTT Solmare and Toppan Publishing combined, though the two competitors also plan to boost their libraries.
Japanese viewers pay 315 yen ($2.90) to download five manga titles a month by an artist of their choice.
The marriage between cell-phone technology and manga comic books, which are wildly popular across all ages in Japan, is a natural progression in a nation where people already download music, games and even novels onto their mobiles.
"Manga are a Japanese institution, but viewing comics on mobile phones is an entirely different experience altogether," said Hidekazu Tanaka, a Sony spokesman.
Cell-phone comics use a technology called Comic Surfing, developed by Tokyo-based venture firm Celsys, which takes viewers through manga stories at a carefully calculated speed and sequence.
The manga frames are specially formatted to fit on tiny mobile phone screens. Pop-up frames and vibration during action scenes add to the drama. Cell-phone comics with preprogrammed sound effects are also coming soon, said Toppan Publishing spokesman Katsunori Onishi.
Tanaka said Sony Pictures Entertainment has signed exclusive contracts with 10 popular manga artists, including Shigeru Mizuki, creator of Gegege no Kitaro — a 1970s classic featuring a young ghoul boy who fights monsters.
"We want to rein in middle-aged mobile-phone users, as well as teenagers," he said.
Tapping into the manga fan market would also be lucrative for mobile content developers. Japan's Nomura Research Institute estimates that manga maniacs spent an estimated 100 billion yen ($906 million) on comics in 2004.