The Rise of Webtoons

Aida Araia, News Editor

The Digital Age introduced something almost revolutionary for several aspiring artists: digital art. It is easy to see examples of this throughout the internet, as people post their creations on social media sites like Instagram and Pinterest, but in most cases these are just posts. Not a source of income or a profession. That was until JunKoo Kim, founder of LINE Webtoon, created an app that let creators make a profit off of their work, or at the very least, their comics. The app is essentially a comic hub, giving readers a place to view comics and creators a platform to post on. Some of the most popular comics on this app get millions of views, and according to PRNewswire, the Webtoon app, “celebrate[d] their fifth anniversary with a staggering 100 billion views annually across the platform.”

Over the past few years readership has continued to grow, which raises a question. What draws in viewers?

One of the key reasons for the popularity of LINE Webtoon is its easy access; this applies to both viewers and creators. In the case of viewers, downloading the app and reading comics on it at a regular pace is free (readers can pay extra in the form of a fastpass if they want to read further ahead). To make it even more accessible, the comics are released in numerous languages, turning the app into an international platform. Creators range in nationality, and when they are unable to hire a professional translator, the fans help translate their comics into different languages.

In the case of creator accessibility, there is a section of LINE Webtoon called Canvas where anyone can release their comics. Creators that release their comics here are paid based on views, but this source of income – while fair – is unstable. As a result, when some Canvas comics show a lot of promise, the creators are offered an opportunity for their comic to become Featured and released on the Original section of the app (a contract is involved at this point). This is important because the Original section is the most viewed section of the app, making the comics released here more accessible and popular. Why does creator accessibility increase readership? Simply put, more creator access leads to more creators, which leads to more advertising, and as a result more readers.

Another reason for the app’s rise in popularity is its addictive nature, or its ability to maintain its current readership. If a creator decides to end their episode on a cliffhanger, which they often do, it spurs the readers to come back for the next episode, whether this is in a few days or a few weeks. As mentioned earlier, some readers are willing to pay in order to read ahead, so returning to the app can hardly be seen as an inconvenience. On the topic of paying to read ahead, readers pay with coins, which can be purchased (10 coins cost $0.99) or earned for free by participating in things like reading events (an ingenious way to get readers interested in new comics). Finally, the introduction of Daily Pass, a section of the app for comics that have already been completed, helps retain readership. These comics allow you to read a limit of one to two episodes every day (unless you have coins) and you can only gain access to the next episode if you have read the previous one. This coaxes the reader into returning on a daily basis.

The final reason for the rise in Webtoon popularity is its unique structure. LINE Webtoon was the first app to release comics in a vertical/scroll structure and it has become notable because of this feature. Kim explained why he did this in an interview with Tech Insider.

“It wasn’t necessarily that I wanted to do the scroll, but people that create content and deliver content should always think in terms of how the creators or how users will consume the content,” said Kim. “During this time in the early 2000s, when most of content creators were still on PC, you would read and consume a lot of digital content by scrolling down on your mouse. To read news, you don’t flip a page, you often scroll through and read your news. Although comics are a mix of image and text, I think text is the one that drives the narrative so it just makes sense that you would read a comic in a scroll manner.”