Essay Question: Thinking About Mobile Media

April 13th, 2007 · 7 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

During this incredibly busy week, we have come to rely on the magical powers of our cell phone more than ever. So much so that we had a panicky dream where the cute little thing was broken and required major surgery. Not a happy time sleeping. We’ve also been talking to friends about the wonders that is cellular technology.

We are turning to you to help us understand the allure of the cellular phone.

Because leaving well enough alone has never been our strong suit, naturally we’ve nudged the conversation toward cell phones and new media. Over and over, we hear that media companies are seeing cell phones as a sort of second coming of new distribution streams while users tend to be less enthusiastic. We simply can’t tell if supply is out of touch with demand or if demand is truly in a slow-growth mode. We suspect the latter, but wonder why mobile media is so enticing for entertainment businesses, and publishers specifically.

Yes, dear readers, we are turning to you to help us understand the allure of the cellular phone. Over the course the past year or so, we have had incredibly long discussions with peers about mobile media. Other digital distribution as well, sure, but mobile seems to be the big thing. There is a general sense that it will be cool without commensurate enthusiasm.

Tiny screens seem to be a barrier. More than a few of our discussions have ended with agreement that the small viewing area is acceptable for short, interesting video clips, but not much more. In fact, the thought of trying to watch sitcom-length programming on a cell phone seems to give some people hives. YouTube-esque programming seems to be the ideal here.

Music is somewhat popular. We have found one person who uses V-Cast. Others seem annoyed by it. The person who uses it is very happy but also constantly complaining about his dead battery (though we suspect he secretly enjoys the fact that he can’t call to see if he should pick up anything from the store on his way home). Battery life, we have learned, is the biggest, baddest barrier adult consumers cite when it comes to consuming media over their cell phones.

Yes, an alarming number of full-grown adults have emotional blocks when it comes to keeping their cell phones fully charged. These are otherwise responsible folks who pay their taxes mostly on time and participate in the democratic process. There’s just something about charging batteries that stymies them. Until batter life improves, we don’t see video being the huge thing it can be.

Also, all those !@#$ competing services. Makes it so hard for people to figure out where to go to get what they want. Europe and Japan have moved light years ahead of the United States when it comes to using cell phones for more than ordering pizza. But we digress.

We cannot get anyone to admit to reading anything less than small text messages on their phones. We can get them to cringe at the thought, sure, but to actually spend time reading? Even some dedicated Blackberry users find the thought of exceeding 250 or so words painful. Can text — stories — successfully migrate to the cellular world?

This is one of essay questions that will probably go down on your permanent record. Google is cruel that way. No grades will be issued, naturally, as we are far too lazy. We are genuinely curious about this issue and you hold all the answers. We will sit back and sip our coffee and await your brilliance.

File Under: Non-Traditional Publishing

7 responses so far ↓

  • Christine Whitlock // Apr 13, 2007 at 1:27 pm

    Hi Kasia,

    While I’m a bit younger (I am firmly in the MySpace/Facebook generation at a ripe age of 23), I can’t say that many of my friends use cell phones for anything other than calls and texts–we still think it’s amazingly cool that you can text google.

    I do agree that the tiny screen of a cell phone is not conducive to reading long blocks of text, or even watching video. I do know several people who watch movies and TV shows on their iPods, however. If they can handle the intensity of a zombie horror movie on a 2 or 3 inch screen, then they can likely handle text on a platform like the iPhone. Even on something like the iPhone, though, where the screen is noticably larger, the barrier for text length will still exist.

    Of course, that opens the way for serialization, and books that are distributed on a subscription basis.

  • Joan Kelly // Apr 13, 2007 at 3:18 pm

    I don’t own a lot of gadgets yet, but I do find technology delightful, and am easily dazzled by new toys that can do new things. I also love reading like nobody’s business. The main reason I feel no enthusiasm about mixing the two is that when I’m out in the world, I like to be out in the world, and when I’m watching TV or reading a book, the only interaction I want with others is the constant fight to keep my fattest cat off my lap.

  • D.R. Ferron // Apr 13, 2007 at 8:22 pm

    I always thought that people who constantly walk around with the Bluetooth earphone hanging off their ear were just trying to be noticed and seem important…until I discovered that I can download and listen to audio books on my smartphone and that my Bluetooth is much more comfortable than jamming earbuds into my ears. Still, as much as I would love to listen to a good book while I’m doing my grocery shopping, I can’t get over being seen as pretentious.

  • Julia // Apr 15, 2007 at 7:14 am

    Despite being in the electronics generation and having fully embraced it otherwise, I’m just not into reading long fiction anywhere outside a book. I like to be able to turn everything else off and just get into the book, without any distractions. Unless we somehow get cell phones that have better screens, I’d have to say no. (Not into books on tape, either.) I do listen to music on my cell phone. It’s cheaper than buying an mp3 player.

    Poetry, on the other hand, might be okay, or short fiction. Or experimental new forms of text that are so out-there I can’t even think of them yet (I like reading them, am not out-there enough to create them), created specifically for cell phones. I think sometimes we limit ourselves too much to rely on traditional media for new formats.

  • Kassia Krozser // Apr 15, 2007 at 7:10 pm

    Okay, setting aside the notion of reading on cell phones (except, I think we agree, short text type stuff), what other bookish features would be cool on cell phones? I admit it, the thought of getting texted when a new release is available doesn’t move me much. I like it when I can immediately zoom over to Amazon and buy something when I learn it’s ready for purchase (email lists are key for me).

    I’ve also thought that publishers could do great things with classic old book covers — can you imagine some of the great “Good Girl Art” or noir covers as your wallpaper? Penguin could do great stuff here as well (Jeremy???). Modern covers might find a market as well, but I’m seeing those targeted more toward the author and his or her parents more than the mass audience. I could be wrong (it happened once a long time ago).

    And what about the issues of your basic publisher contracting with Verizon and you being a Cingular customer? The one thing that drives me crazy is exclusive deals with single providers, but that’s another rant for another essay question.

  • Bill Smith // Apr 19, 2007 at 6:57 am

    From a publishing perspective I think we’re mixing apples and oranges when thinking of the cell phone as a delivery vehicle for fiction and long-form works.

    Reference material is the natural fit for the cell phone and other portable electronic devices. Dictionaries, encyclopedias, almanacs, guides, books of lists… anything that can be accessed in searchable small bites.

    What works is having a bullet-point Lonely Planet travel guide on your phone when you’re vacationing in Quito and searching for a place to stay for the night; or an encyclopedia of hardware on your weekend trip to Home Depot; or a list of the year’s best rated wines while at the liquor store.

  • Julius Adams // Jul 11, 2007 at 7:18 am

    I used to read EBooks like crazy, but it was on a larger screen like a PALM phone, or Nokia Symbian phone. Using MOBIPOCKET it was a GREAT experience..nice fonts, easy to turn pages, picture and photos were crisp, and cover art was nicely rendered…even could zoom in on these things! BUT I also found it tedious after a while, and impersonal. Certain books worked very well, but many novels (for some reason) read very poorly on the phone. I did like having a book alwyas handy, so now I use READMANIA on my RAZR V3i, which alsopplays iTunes music. The overall experience was not bad at all once you gave it a chance. There is STILL nothing like a paper book, though. It is a personal feeling you just can’t get from an EBook. The phones are better as substitute MP3 players, but as book readers? NAH!