Digital comics is more than just print titles sold online, and one of the biggest pioneers of that is LINE Webtoon. Originally launched in Korea several years ago, LINE Webtoon came to North America in June 2014 and has grown to be a thriving hub of comic creators and fans that in many ways is outside the traditional North American comic book mainstream.
And just how big are they?
10 million people read digital comics on LINE Webtoon daily, with a 300% year-to-year growth rate in the United States alone.
LINE Webtoon recently entered into a partnership with DeviantArt for a series of joint-convention appearances beginning with Boston Comic Con earlier this month.
So with over two years under their belt in North America, Newsarama spoke with LINE Webtoon's Head of Content Tom Akel about the growth of the service, how it pays its creators, and the unique partnerships it's created.
Newsarama: Tom, first question - how do you think LINE Webtoon has been doing so far?
Tom Akel: Thanks for having me! To answer that I think I should provide a bit of context. Looking back to a year ago, we had announced 6 million daily active readers and 17 million monthly. We had a lot of success at the time with our big hits from Korea finding a western audience, and had announced a few of our first projects and partnerships in the U.S. Recently, we’ve released our latest figures - 10 million daily readers, 35 million monthly readers, with over 300% growth in the U.S. alone. We’ve had our first panels at events like South By Southwest and Comic-Con International: San Diego. We’ve announced and launched partnerships for original titles that include Star Wars and BuzzFeed Comics. And we’ve been developing several hits from U.S. creators including the New Brooklyn Universe series, Heroine Chic which just started its second season to record numbers, YA series Dents from Beth Behrs, Matt Doyle, and Sid Kotian, and Siren’s Lament which has been read over 30 million times since launching in March. We’re dominating in comics for young women.
Nrama: What are the big goals for LINE Webtoon going forward?
Akel: We are always creator-focused, so goal number one is educating creators on what we offer, both as featured creators and within our Discover platform and building a world class offering around creator-owned content with no barriers to entry for readers.
Beyond that, we’ve had a lot of hits in Asia, with many comics garnering over 5 million readers per week. Those titles have then made their way to live action television, film, animation, gaming, and so on. We’re looking to replicate that same success here.
This is the point where I have to hold myself back from telling you about several upcoming partnership announcements and new titles. I think we’re launching or announcing over 10 new titles between now and New York Comic Con. Some of those are from creators who are industry legends and some are outstanding new series from creators just getting started.
Nrama: Your company recently announced that Patreon will be integrated into your webcomics app. What led to this integration?.
Akel: We want to do all we can to help foster and nurture emerging comic voices and needed a better way to provide new creators financial opportunities. The path up to this point has been: launch your comic in Discover, every month we pick a couple of titles to move to featured, when that happens you get paid. There’s more to it than that of course, but that was the basic message and even though we had thousands of comics in Discover already, the only clear road to monetization were the occasional contests we’d run. Discover is non-exclusive, so there’s been nothing to lose by publishing there and many creators were leveraging their readership in other ways with a huge potential upside. In fact, the majority of our hits have come from Discover and those creators do extremely well. But if our mission statement is to put creators at the forefront of everything we do then we needed to find a way to support this massive group. That discussion started last year, and we looked at a lot of ways to accomplish that goal.
The comics on LINE Webtoon are free for readers, and we don’t plan to change that. It’s a tough challenge to figure out how to pay creators in an open system where the content is free. So we looked at fan-supported content as a model which has really taken off in the U.S. And though we’re not monetizing these comics, wanted to help seed a program to support as many creators as possible. The decision at that point was: do we build this internally or do we look for a partner? As soon as that question was asked it was immediately clear that we should be working with Patreon. Creators using Patreon are accustomed to delivering their content on a regular basis, which aligns with our programming strategy. And Patreon is already massively successful with this financial model which opens the doors for our existing creators to not only have access to their platform but also to a community who are already supporting creator-owned arts.
Nrama: Is the Patreon integration just for the webcomics on the Discover platform, or all webcomics including the company-owned and work-for-hire ones?
Akel: The Patreon integration is only for our Discover creators. There are featured creators who have Patreon accounts, but since we pay our featured creators highly competitive rates, this partnership is focused on our Discover artists. The licensed properties such as Star Wars would not be a part of this program. We don’t have work-for-hire comics, the original, featured titles are creator-owned. And to clarify, this program is open to all creators publishing in LINE Webtoon english language app. It doesn’t matter where you’re located.
Nrama: Does LINE Webtoon take any cut from the moneys contributed to the individual Patreon accounts?
Akel: Not a dime.
Nrama: Since LINE Webtoon is emphasizing income and pay for the comic creators doing work for you, can you clarify how they are paid by LINE Webtoon?
Akel: Discover creators who choose to participate in this program are paid through their Patreon accounts. The additional patronage that LINE Webtoon provides will come through that same account. We intend to be a leading patron of the comic arts. There is a table and more details on how that works and what the requirements are to earn patronage here.
We’re prepared to invest up to $1,000 per creator on a monthly basis to the top 300 creators each month who reach the goals on that chart. You can extrapolate the math to figure out the level of our commitment to getting creators up and running with their comics. We want creators to take us to task on it.
Featured creators are paid a highly competitive rate per chapter and can earn additional bonus tiers based on their readership.
Nrama: This month LINE Webtoon also announced a partnership with DeviantArt. From the announcement it sounds as if you're sharing convention space at four upcoming conventions, but will the partnership be going further into each of your web offerings?
Akel: Absolutely. DeviantArt is another strategic partnership where, like Patreon, their core values align with ours. The focus of what we’re doing over the next few months is the cons. We’ll be at Boston Comic Con, Baltimore Comic Con, Rose City Comic Con, and New York Comic Con, sponsoring and exhibiting at the Artist Alleys at those events. There will be online components to this as well, though we’re using this as an opportunity to connect directly with creators, educate creators on how we’re working with Patreon, conduct portfolio reviews, and sponsor the occasional Drink and Draw or after party. There’s no substitute for a human connection and we don’t want our creators to think of us as a piece of software. There’s a living, breathing team on the other end of Discover that’s looking at their work and always thinking about how to make their content shine.