Gone are the days when children and students need to hide their comic books from the parents and teachers in order to enjoy them secretly. Thanks to webtoons, folks can read comics anywhere on the Internet. But have you ever come across a publishing platform that primarily posts webtoons and generates substantial revenue from ads?
We bet you haven’t if you are not a comics geek or from Korea. In Korea, 1 in 3 people is reading webtoons on the smartphone every week (Src). And when you ask a person about his/her favorite webtoon platform, chances are high that you’ll be introduced to Naver’s Webtoons, a publishing portal for comic lovers.
Naver, which is the leading search engine in South Korea, attracts the largest number of comics fans, and Webtoons has been contributing hugely to Naver’s overall revenue since its inception. So, is this the reason why we chose Webtoons for our next Becoming series? Well, of course, revenue matters the most. But Webtoons’ unique and interesting growth strategies are the factors that attracted us towards it.
To give you an overview of their growth rate in the past decade, here are a few statistics:
- Webtoons started as a startup in 2004 and outpaced some of its competitors such as Daum, another search portal that has the second-largest share in the Korean market.
- Webtoons made its international debut in 2014. For 10 years, the publishing portal thrived in Korea, and as of today, more than 41 million comic geeks across the globe visit the website monthly.
- Last year, Naver’s Webtoons app became the No. 1 in not only in Korea but also in Japan. The app is installed on more than 50 million people’s mobile devices. Sales grew fast, and the company hit $502 million in revenue.
How it all started?
Webtoons.com was launched by Junkoo Kim, a self-proclaimed comics geek in 2004. Back in the late 90s, the Korean economy was collapsing including the Manhwa (Korean term for animated cartoons) industry. As many comic companies were shutting down the production, Junkoo Kim wanted to help webtoon lovers by getting the comics into their hands for free. Kim brainwashed his mind and ended up establishing an in-house startup, Webtoons.
Number of Artists – 4 (Src).
Where Are They Today?
Naver’s Webtoons revenue totaled ~60 billion won (175% YoY Growth) and hit 60 million monthly visitors last year. Over the past two years, Naver’s Webtoons saw a hike of 71% in its monthly readers (Src). The global monthly impressions of Webtoons are 328,000,000 (328 million).
“When your hobby becomes your career, you will always stay motivated. Think of founding a company as one of the ways to pursue what you love to do.”
– Junkoo Kim, CEO, Webtoons (Src)
The Early Years (Till 2013)
It was 2004 when the traditional comics industries were about to crash due to pummeling by the rampant copyright infringements. Amidst those uncertain days, a comics geek, Junkoo Kim, who grew up reading hundreds of Japanese and Korean comics, thought of ways to get new and original cartoons. And this brainchild of JunKoo Kim introduced Webtoons to the Korean people who were already scrolling through the web pages.
“There weren’t any series coming out, there were no big hits and there weren’t any comics I could read.”
– JunKoo Kim,CEO and Founder, Webtoons (Src)
When Junkoo launched Webtoons.com, he wasn’t a part of Naver corporation as it wasn’t planned that way. In fact, the whole purpose of Webtoons was to turn his interests into a career. However, he knew to expand the startup, he’d required a financial hub and a team to run the website.
Soon after creating the website, Junkoo Kim came to know about Naver Corporation investing in online comics and cartoons. So, he applied to the company even when there was no team for Webtoons. Unsurprisingly, the company found him passionate and decided to invest.
Initially, the challenge in front of the publisher was to find the perfect format to display comics on the web pages. Traditional comics could be designed and read from one panel to another panel horizontally. But, to read digital content, readers cannot flip a page and have to scroll through one page. And this was something new to him. Besides, there were a limited number of artists who had the capability of drawing comics in a scrolling manner.
So, how did he manage to find people and a way around this? The publisher took the help of a third-party and developed an effective Canvas.