LINE Webtoon has been making a push in the U.S. to bring their unique brand of scrolling webcomics to the market. After becoming a massive hit in Korea, it was time to bring that strategy to an entirely new audience.
Considered a giant in the space, LINE Webtoon is looking to shake up the creator owned comic space for the digital market. Offering readers a Netflix-like service for comics is surely one that is on the brink of exploding onto the scene. With plans to bring some of the biggest and best creators in the industry to it's service, Webtoon is certainly going to be a force to be reckoned with.
We caught up with Tom Akel from LINE Webtoon to lay out LINE Webtoon's plan for digital comics domination.
So what brought Webtoon to the states?
Tom Akel: It was sometime in 2014 the decision was made to take Webtoon globally outside of Asia and we opened an office here in LA, early in 2014. Then we launched the web app in July of that year just prior to San Diego Comic Con.
Was there anything specific about the timing?
Tom: No, I think in Asia the success of the numbers, which at that point it was over six million daily unique readers, 17 million non-unique readers,over 30 billion chapters of comics were read, really led our founder JunKoo Kim to want to expand. He, as always, had a vision of building it at home first and then taking it globally. It was always in the plans to reach outside of Korea, and outside of Asia but just a matter of time.
And this is all creator owned stuff, right?
Tom: Everything we do is 100% creator owned with a couple of minor, minor exceptions, things like Star Wars.
I mean we’re going to have some instances where some licensed stuff will come through. Like we’d be crazy to pass on something like Star Wars. But outside of that, everything is 100% creator owned. In Asia, almost 70% of the narrative content, and by narrative I mean big scripted series, have been adapted to original web series, television series, film, animation and video games.
Is the model any different in the States? Who essentially is funding the original comics? Is all whatever income and revenue comes from it being sold on the platform goes back, or is Webtoon giving an advance to some creators depending on who or what they are?
Tom: We work with creators basically the same way say a publisher like Image would. People pitch us a book and if it something we think would do well, we’ll bring it to the platform. We pay a guaranteed page rate for the book and that way all of our creators are guaranteed to make money off it. I mean look, the format is a little different obviously because of the platform, but we’ve broken down what would be a fair and comfortable page rate and send the creators off to the races.
That money is guaranteed to them and on top of that, there’s an incentive for them on sales and how the books perform. Basically when we commission and agree on a new series, creators are fully funded.
The other way we work with creators is through the “Challenge System.” This is a space where anybody can submit work to the site and from there we’ll elevate anywhere from 1 to 4 creators at a time into the featured area of the site. Once they become a featured creator, they’ll start to generate income and we pay them on a weekly basis.
From a rights and revenue standpoint, the creators who are creating comics be it on their own or with the help of Webtoon, still own all of the rights. Right? If they want to go print the comics, or if they wanted to go sell it to make a TV show, etc., Webtoon doesn't care?
Tom: Yes. All creators retain 100% of their rights. We actually work really closely with CAA. So if creators want to go down the movie/tv route, that door is always open to them. That being said, we do have options available through Webtoon to get titles in front of the right people, but there’s no obligation to go through us.
Do you guys have an open-submissions policy or are you guys just searching out out creators for pitches?
Tom: There's no open to submission policy on the site right now. The best way for any kind of new creator looking to break in is to upload content to the challenge portion of the site and start their own comic there. Again that portion of the site is open to anybody who wants to promote their content to build an audience. If it's good we're absolutely going to elevate it into the featured area. It's kind of the best way to get noticed.
For other professionals we’re going out on our own to try and commission work.
Right now, the comics are read via vertical scrolling. Are there any plans to change the presentation by making it more dynamic? Sort of like what like Marvel's doing with Infinite Comics and what DC was doing with Batman ’66?
Tom: There are features in the comic where, in our app right now you can tap to scroll if you don't want to scroll reading your comic. We leave the door open for creators to use different formats the way they feel best with their content when it comes to scrolling. Given the mobile devices today, it’s the best way to display it. Also, they know their content better than we do.
The only one really right now that breaks from that model is Cyko KO - using the FX Toon technology that adds some video and audio effects into the scrolling comic format. Those are obviously more rare and more work intensive for creators.
Moving back to the higher profile stuff for a second. Is something like the Star Wars comic a one-off deal? Or is getting into the licensing game something that you guys are interested in?
Tom: First and foremost we’re a creator owned publisher. However, opportunities to work with Star Wars presents themselves, those are opportunities that we're not going to turn our backs to obviously.
Like using Cyberforce for example. The previous chapters are up already and now new chapters are being made available. That was again, an opportunity to work with Mark Silvestri who I’ve worked with before for a long time. Once in a while we're going to especially because of our scale, be presented with opportunities to work with some great IP and when those chances come along, of course we’re going to jump on them.
Outside of the financial head start creators would get with an approved pitch through you guys, what other help would they get? Is there editorial support? Is there marketing and PR support? How do you make sure that they're not working in a vacuum essentially?
Tom: Well I mean, they're not working in a vacuum because they're plugging into a platform that already has incredible usage. We have pretty great social media reach too. We have close to over 900,000 Facebook fans and so there's a whole lot of social support that we already have built in and that's been growing at tremendous rates.
Outside of the social support we have a great PR team over at DKC. We set up interviews for all the creators. On the marketing side we do significant website marketing and grass roots marketing at conventions. This year, we had a great presence at both New York and San Diego. We're doing a lot more of that next year.
It's an incredibly robust support system.
Obviously this looks like a space that has the potential to get crowded very quickly. I can't imagine though at the rate that you're going that's something that you're worried about but it has to be something that you're thinking about. How are you guys making sure that you guys are going to be one step ahead of anyone else who potentially pops into this space?
Tom: You know, yeah. I've been, it's not a concern really. We have a very large tech team in Asia and we've been doing this a really long time. The tech that we built and the apps, their stability, the usability, are all reasons why. We do things that we've been working on very confidently for over a decade with a world class team. For somebody to play catch-up is obviously not something that we're overly concerned about. These things take time to develop the way we do it. We have a product line that extends years into the future with all kinds of rating features and more which obviously I can't talk about at this time.
The idea of competition is a little bit, at least as comics isn't something that we think about too much. We don't really think about somebody like a Marvel or a Comixology as competition. We’re more in competition with YouTube and the Netflix than anybody else. We’re here to entertain.
Now that you're building up a roster of creators to come work with you guys, are there any talks going on with creators that folks who read Marvel/DC stuff might recognize?
Tom: There are good names, I can't tell you what they are. They are people who we have deep, deep discussions with who would consider common industry legends and A-listers.
Believe me, I wish I could tell you the names. There are, you know, overly certainly a pretty robust line of talent that we'll announce for sure.
When can we start to see you guys hopefully roll out some of those announcements?
Tom: We'll probably do some announcements closer to March.
So what do you think ComicBook.com readers, are you going to give Webtoon a try? Let us know in the comments below!