Fortune telling is big business for Japan Web firm

TOKYO Mon Dec 1, 2008 9:21am EST

South Korean fortuneteller Kim Yong-son poses with his crystal ball in his Seoul office. Picture taken January 4, 2002. REUTERS/Lee Jae-won

South Korean fortuneteller Kim Yong-son poses with his crystal ball in his Seoul office. Picture taken January 4, 2002.

Credit: Reuters/Lee Jae-won

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TOKYO (Reuters) - An Internet firm specializing in crystal balls, tarot readings, I-ching and horoscopes is raking in business as Japanese seek reassurance about the future in the midst of a global financial crisis.

Fears of job cuts and an economy in meltdown have boosted business at Zappallas Inc, which operates Japan's largest network of fortune-telling websites, including "Your Future in Three Months" and "Certain Fate."

The mobile content provider posted a 61 percent rise in net first-half profit, and it revised up its profit and dividend outlook for the year on Monday, seeing a bright future in its target: women ages 20 to 34.

Registered users, who pay a set monthly fee, climbed 21 percent from a year earlier to 2.2 million at the end of October. That's even as consumers rein in spending on new mobile phones and PCs, which they use to click on Zappallas's 443 sites.

"Fortune telling is content that has been around for thousands of years," said Zappallas spokeswoman Kumiko Wada. "We now treat it as a bit of fun, but there's depth and a history there of people turning to it for guidance in tough times."

The company, which earns 70 percent of its sales from fortune telling sites, combines statistical analysis and programing savvy with advice from fortune tellers, whose expertise runs the gamut of eastern and western techniques.

The company, a supplier to NTT DoCoMo Inc, KDDI Corp and Softbank Corp, is looking to find its own future, as well as the future of its clients.

It hopes to expand into animated text-messages with moving letters and illustrations, known as "decoration mail."

"We don't want to be known just for fortune telling," Wada said. "We want another pillar of growth."

(Reporting by Mayumi Negishi)

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