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PP Favorites: Figment.com on Teens and Cell Phone Novels

By Edward Nawotka

From our Archive, June 1, 2010: In “Teenage Thumb Tribes: Why Cell Phone Novels Are Part of Publishing’s Future,” Jacob Lewis — the founder of Figment.com — introduced his mobile publishing company for reading and writing young-adult fiction. At the time, he wrote.

The idea for Figment comes from a New Yorker article, written by my former colleague and now partner in the business, Dana Goodyear. She wrote about a phenomenon that exemplified techno-phile Japan: adolescent girls were writing, sharing, and reading novels on their cell phones.

In Japan, the Internet and its communities have long existed on mobile phones. An entire generation has grown up using cell phones to communicate, shop, watch television and movies, read books, and create content in ways that Americans have only begun to explore. Japanese teens type so much on their phones that they are called oyayubizoku, “the thumb tribe.”

In America, 75% of teens have a cell phone, an equal number use social networking sites and, most impressively, more than a third of them send over 3,000 texts per month. 100 times a day. 10 times an hour. This is our thumb tribe.

One aspect of the Japanese model that is particularly compelling is the intimate relationship created between writer and reader. Delivered to a cell phone, a story may be psychologically on par with a private email or text message. There is an immediacy implicit in the distribution mechanism alone. Fans of cell-phone fiction rightly see themselves as the peers of the writers they admire, and they follow that author and their work as if they were friends. The storyline is beside the point.  It’s the community, the technology, and the belief that something powerful will emerge.

Today, Figment has gone from strength to strength, attracting tens of thousands of users and have moved into publishing print titles as well. They recently garnered a $1 million investment. It has attracted 35,000 users, who have posted 80,000 books on the site. Some 500 new stories are uploaded every day, says Lewis, who is building the site into an “online marketplace.”

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