Today I present you an interview I did with Mr. JunKoo Kim the creator of the LINE Webtoon platform. There's a lot of info in the interview so let's dive in!
Dustin Cabeal: To start with can you give me some history of Webtoons? How did it come about?
Mr. JunKoo Kim: Webtoons have been extremely successful in Korea, ever since we originally launched the NAVER Webtoons service back in 2004. Webtoons are a popular part of daily life in Korea, where we see more than 6.2 million daily users on our service, with an average of 17 million monthly users enjoying it regularly. Over the last ten plus years, fans have accumulated more than 29 billion reads of the webtoons, which are a combination of the words web and cartoons. Readers in the U.S. may be more familiar with the term webcomic, but they're similar with some unique features we’re excited for fans to experience potentially for the first time.
As a fan of comics my entire life, I’ve been dedicated to helping grow the service and helping rising artists become discovered.
DC: It’s interesting that Webtoons is a part of LINE, what made them jump from a communication app to publishing webcomics?
Mr. Kim: LINE has become a hot cultural icon among the world’s youth, always being one step ahead of its users’ needs by advancing the communication experience through integrating various features of daily life activities into one platform. As a “Smartphone LINE Platform,” LINE takes the mobile messaging application beyond being just a communication tool with fun stickers, interactive games and convenient services. LINE Webtoon is one of the important LINE family-apps advancing mobile entertainment.
As explained before, Naver has been operating Webtoon since 2004 with more than 29 billion accumulated reads. LINE Webtoon launched in the U.S and worldwide last July within the family of LINE apps.
DC: Also how does the Webtoons platform work?
Mr. Kim: As mentioned earlier, Webtoons are extremely popular throughout Asia, so we were excited to launch the service in the U.S. and throughout the world last July. LINE Webtoon is a service where fans can discover new webcomic content regularly, as we pioneered the “daily system”, which brings new episodes to popular series each day of the week. With more than 60 original webcomic series currently featured in LINE Webtoon, fans always have new content to read and enjoy.
LINE Webtoon is also a free platform both on the web at Webtoons.com and on mobile devices available for both iOS and Android. LINE Webtoon users can experience multiple genres of webcomics, easy access to download content on-the-go and receive update notifications when newly-released webtoons are available.
LINE Webtoon also now features the Challenge League system, which is a platform for webtoonists of all skill level to upload and share their content through the LINE Webtoon service. This feature has been extremely popular in Korea since it launched and hundreds of the Challenge League submissions have become paid partners within the NAVER Webtoons service. We look forward to seeing similar results here in the U.S. and around the world!
DC: What makes it different from other sites that publish webcomics?
Mr. Kim: Unlike most published comics or graphic novels, the LINE Webtoon service is a fun digital content service where new content is scheduled to be released daily. In addition to being a free platform to discover, read and share webcomics, we offer a unique way to experience them as well. As comic books typically require a reader to read from left to right and up and down, LINE Webtoon has an intuitive scrolling feature both on the web and on mobile devices from top to bottom, keeping readers in the action or moment without typical page breaks or awkward controls. Our touch scroll system is something everyone should try, as it will change the way you read and think about comics!
LINE Webtoon also allows the webtoon artists and creators a way to connect with their fans as users can share their favorite webtoons via social channels, such as Facebook, Twitter or LINE, and also leave comments, where the artists can interact. We’ve seen incredible interaction between artists and fans, helping grow their fan base and building repeat readers. One of the most impressive examples of this is with the series Tower of God, where one episode alone received 731,478 comments from fans. Pretty impressive stuff! The Noblesse series has more than 1.3 billion reads, with more than four million per episode. Our longest running webtoon, The Sound of Your Heart recently reached its 900th episode!
Fans can also read the content in multiple languages, which allows the artists to reach fans far and wide to continue growing their audiences.
DC: As I understand it from looking at Webtoons site, you can be paid for you webcomic. How does that work and what is the Challenge League?
Mr. Kim: This is correct! We are excited to offer opportunities to artists to become a partnered artist with LINE Webtoon. We’ve been doing this consistently for 11 years in Korea with artists and are excited to offer the same opportunity now here in the U.S. and around the world. We are always looking for the best and brightest cartoonists and webcomic artists to join our LINE Webtoon platform, where we can offer ongoing monthly payments to our official artists starting at $2,000 a month with the potential to make much more.
We also feature other ways beyond the monthly payments, such as our Page Profit Share program, which will eventually be coming to America. Currently, we offer this in our Korean version of Webtoons, which allows artists to have advertisements and stores at the bottom of their webtoons for ways to make more money. We’ve seen some artists make upwards of $80,000 a month based on how popular their series have become, so we look forward to rolling out a similar revenue model in the near future globally.
Regarding Challenge League, we recently launched the new feature globally in November, where artists and fans of all skill levels can submit their webcomics for a chance to become an official LINE Webtoon artist. Challenge League is a free feature for anyone to showcase their talents with the opportunity to gain recognition and be discovered via the mobile and desktop LINE Webtoon service. Artists can submit their work right on the Webtoons.com Challenge League page, where a hub will be created for their webcomics and fans can come discover their series, leave comments and check out their other offerings. We made Challenge League so anyone could find a home for their creations, where we regularly feature our editors’ favorites of the week, as well as look to partner with at least one, if not more new artists each month to become an official paid LINE Webtoon partner.
Our goal is to find and promote the most impressive webtoon series regularly, so we’re always on the lookout for potential paid partners as we grow the service here in the U.S.
To celebrate the service’s launch, we just finished our first Challenge League contest at the end of January, where Stephen McCranie won $30,000 for his Space Boy series, which will soon become a paid partner series on LINE Webtoon. We’d also like to congratulate the other second and third place winners, as well as the 1,900 more submissions we had during the contest. Beyond the impressive amount of submissions, we saw so many unique stories and potential ongoing opportunities for fans to become discovered as the next great webtoon creator and are excited to see thousands of more submissions, as we will continue to have unique contests in the near future.
DC: In exploring the app and website I found that there were a plethora of styles and stories that really represented artists from around the world. Has that been the goal and will the platform continue to look and feel that diverse?
Mr. Kim: LINE Webtoon is not a business model that makes sales by providing a customized payment service to a small niche market.
Instead of that, LINE aims to gather various users into LINE Webtoons by offering fun digital content that contains amusement and stories of all genres and styles.
In order to do so, there should be diverse content that can satisfy any visitor or reader.
Users’ tastes are various. For example, in the comedy genre, there are people who like slapstick comedy, dark comedy or daily comedies, all with very different preferences for comedy.
Therefore, LINE Webtoon has set up the goal to gain all types of readers by preparing varying content offerings. We also continue to make the utmost efforts to obtain more diverse content within the service and are always open to new genres and formats that resonate with readers.
DC: How are you looking to expand Webtoons?
Mr. Kim: As I talked previously, we’re continuing to introduce more varying content within our service, where readers of any age or demographic can enjoy something within LINE Webtoon. However, our method will be different from our competitors in the digital comic distribution service model.
Our competitors as content providers discover the needs of users and try to find content to satisfy what they want.
LINE Webtoon, as mentioned earlier, offers featured artists a unique compensation program to reward series that have become serialized within the service. These artists are regularly featured within the LINE Webtoon service to further expand their audiences and readership.
In addition to the compensation program for paid partners, we also offer the open-platform of Challenge League, where artists can submit any content to reach a wide audience of readers with constant new and engaging content.
With this platform, any promising author can present their various works through Challenge League, where users can leave feedback after viewing their content and help grow the webtoon’s popularity. It is a system where content can become discovered regularly by growing audiences, which will help artists get selected to become officially published serially, becoming a paid LINE Webtoon partner based on the popularity of the series.
The lineup of LINE Webtoon is expected to become more varying, fan selected and expanded through the Challenge League open platform.
By constantly reviewing the preferences of individual users in the U.S. market, we will carry out pin-point marketing ideal content for specific users based on their tastes and interests.
For example, we look to expand our presence among the U.S. market by varying methods, including things like participating in a Comic-Con. Since Comic-Con attends love super heroes, we would look to participate in it too in order to let attendees meet the greatest LINE Webtoon super heroes.
DC: Last question, do you have any reading recommendations on Webtoons?
Mr. Kim: I recommend ‘Noblesse’ or ‘Tower of God’ to anyone who likes Japanese manga. They are in the process of making both into movies and games as well.
It could be a little bit hard to understand at first as they have their own massive worlds, but it will be hard to get out of it once you fall into these worlds and their characters.
I would like to introduce ‘Blue Chair’ for people who are new to webcomics, but enjoy fun content. It is based on ordinary life, but it has moments that just make you giggle out loud. Everybody can enjoy it easily, because it’s short and has relaxed stories. It is great to read on-the-go especially.
I cannot leave out ‘Space Boy’ by Stephen McCranie, which won our Challenge League contest recently. Please check it out, as it took first place in our recent contest with more than 1,900 webcomics submitted.
A big thank you to JunKoo Kim for taking the time to talk about us and be sure to check out LINE Webtoon and the recommended comics!