With the rise of webtoon as a major part of Korean pop culture, cartoonists no longer have to face minimum wages. Former cartoonists are now starting to shift from paper publications to web publications. The source of their revenue is getting more and more diversified - from the writer’s fee by portal sites such as Naver or Daum, to publications, character business, advertisements, etc. Webtoons’ true value however, does not lie in the revenue it creates, but in how it is democratizing the contents industry.

How Webtoons are Democratizing the Korean Contents Industry

As a kid, the comic books I borrowed from a local rental shop were my biggest source of entertainment. I still remember how much I dreaded flipping the last page of my favorite comic books. When I got to high school, my love for comic books only grew, but the difference was that the comic book rental shops I used to see on the street were starting to disappear.

 

At that time, I often read in newspapers how the rise of the internet caused heavy violation of copyrights in the contents industry. The comics industry was no exception. I still remember many cartoonists admonishing readers to buy instead of download comics. They also called out to the government to reinforce relevant regulations regarding copyright protection. Still, none of their cries could stop the world from going paperless. I could not enjoy the diversity of comics as I used to anymore.

 

Right when I was about to give up on my hobby, webtoons entered the picture. As a Korean working in China, one thing that prevents me from being too homesick is reading daily Webtoons from Naver- Korea’s largest internet portal.

 

Webtoon is a compound word of ‘Web’ and ‘Cartoon’. Its distribution platform, as can be easily guessed from its name, is ‘Web’. Every day, more than 40 weekly webtoons get updated on Korea’s major portal sites. Those webtoons cover diverse genres from comedy to suspense, and create a huge fandom in Korea. One of Naver’s most famous webtoons - ‘Sound of Mind’ by webtoonist Seok Jo, regularly gathers close to 30,000 ratings and more than 10,000 reviews from readers in less than 12 hours. Its accumulated viewership has already reached a few billion. Witty expressions from this webtoon often go viral and become buzz-lines.

 

The webtoon genre started gaining publicity when the first generation webtoonist ‘Pul, Kang’s webtoon on the romance of two people in their old age –‘ I love you’ drew huge traffic to his personal blog in 2003. For years, his series of romance or thriller webtoons enjoyed nation-wide popularity, which resulted in 7 of his webtoons being made into motion pictures. Now, webtoons have grown to be a part of Korea’s culture and entertainment. We often see famous Webtoons being made into movies and TV series that go beyond the local market. Just like celebrities, we also see news on the dating lives of famous webtoonists on tabloids and top-ranked searches.

 

With the rise of webtoon as a major part of Korean pop culture, cartoonists no longer have to face minimum wages. Former cartoonists are now starting to shift from paper publications to web publications. The source of their revenue is getting more and more diversified - from the writer’s fee by portal sites such as Naver or Daum, to publications, character business, advertisements, etc.

 

Webtoons’ true value however, does not lie in the revenue it creates, but in how it is democratizing the contents industry. Because the distribution fee is now close to zero, internet portals are helping eliminate the high entry barriers for amateur artists into the contents market.

 

With an open webtoon platform, no one needs to await nods from editors of publishing houses to get their works out in public. Instead, anyone can upload his/her own piece and get exposed to the close to 40 million portal users. The public plays a bigger role in deciding who deserves the regular spot or not more than any editor in the company.  Amateur webtoonists who gain good response from viewers can receive an offer for a regular spot on the portal’s weekly Webtoon. The emergence of webtoons definitely shows us that the shift of the content platform from a paper page to a web page goes hand in hand with the growing proactivity of public in the contents industry.   

 

By Mandy Shin
Analyst Consultant