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The Shifting Mode of Comic and Webtoon Production

Platfomizing Webtoon? The Shifting Mode of Comic and Webtoon Production

How could have South Korean platforms successfully promoted Webtoon business on a global scale?

Webtoon platforms have successfully aggregated audiences, procuring both amateurs and professional comic artists, who have combined to make up a greater labor pool, demonstrating a “winner-takes-all” effect (Nieborg & Poell, 2018).

Arguably, the status of their parent companies’ web portals, Naver and Daum (renamed as Kakao since its merger with Kakao), has contributed to the establishment of a large labor pool, aggregating audiences and ensuring the swift growth of the Webtoon industry.

These portals are the equivalent of Google and Bing in South Korea, comprising not only search engines but also myriad services including the country’s most popular instant messaging app (KakaoTalk) and blog services (Naver Blog) among others. Thus, they have the capacity to shape South Korea’s digital ecology significantly (cf. Jin, 2017). Naver and Daum Webtoons started introducing various creator-friendly policies around 2012, as a way to offer a more stable environment to Webtoonists, partly in response to the rise of alternative platforms and public criticism of Webtoonists’ working conditions. 

For instance, those platforms increased the minimum monthly wage for all commissioned Webtoonists to US$1,800, and in 2013, they launched “competitive compensation” programs such as the Page Profit Share (PPS) strategy, which maximizes the exposure of character products and paid content created by particular Webtoonists (KOCCA, 2016b, pp. 17-21) and gives 70% of the revenue generated to corresponding Webtoonists. Crucially, these leading platforms have also established means of compensation for amateur Webtoonists in the second tiers.

For example, in Naver Webtoon’s second tier, amateur Webtoonists can insert “keyword-based adverts” within their Webtoon page, enabling them to choose a keyword that is relevant to each episode (e.g., food), and subsequently an advert that is pertinent to that keyword (e.g., a restaurant) appears at the bottom of the page.

As a result, Webtoonists receive 50% of ad revenues, and can check the profitability and profit statistics for each advert themselves for future reference. Similarly, in 2016, Line Webtoon organized a crowdfunding program, through which audiences were able to donate certain amounts of money directly to amateur Webtoonists, to help to foster new talent and assist artists in monetizing their work more easily (“WEBTOON x Patreon for Monetization on Discover!” 2016 campaign).

Line, in this sense, acts as a financial mediator between Webtoonists and their fans-cum-donators.

References:

● Kim, J. H., Yu, J., Sya, K., & Son, S. H. (2021). K-Culture Glossary: 100 Terms to Get You Started with Korean Popular Culture. Jikim Publishing Limited.

● Nieborg D. B., Poell T. (2018). The platformization of cultural production. New Media & Society, 20, 4275–4292.

● Jin D.-Y. (2017). Rise of platform imperialism in the networked Korean society. Brill, 43, 209–232.

● Korea Creative Content Agency. (2016b). 2016 content industry outlook. Naju-si, South Korea: Author.

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