Webtoons, the vertical-scrolling iteration of digital comics that emerged some twenty years ago in Korea, along with the smartphone, are now a global medium. But they are only at the beginning of their global journey, says Charlie Park, CEO of Kakao Entertainment-owned Tapas.
Park was speaking Tuesday at the Asia Television Forum in Singapore in a session moderated by industry consultant Jimmy Kim.
Park explained that the webtoon segment was for several years a niche fan-driven activity with few opportunities for monetization. And suggested that the ‘wait or pay’ business model, introduced by Korean firm Daum, combined with the advent of micropayments, allowed money to flow in to the sector. “This in turn led to further investment and growth,” said Park.
“Our company has invested $1.5 billion in the webtoon industry, said Park. “That has caused quality generally to improve and had other impacts, such as allowing some webtoon creators to make this their full-time activity.”
Webtoons have been the source material for numerous films and TV series, including Netflix’s “A Business Proposal,” Disney+’s critical and commercial hit “Moving” and “Knuckle Girl” on Prime Video.
In some cases, webtoons make the leap directly from digital comic to live-action show. In others they may be a part of a chain going from novel to webtoon to animated series.
These days, webtoons are being widely translated and published in different languages and different platforms have local strengths. But Japan, Korea’s near neighbor and home of anime, remains the biggest export market.
Park said that globalization is not only under way, but has much further to go. “We already have the necessary conditions for webtoons to go global. First is the number of streaming platforms that are playing webtoon-derived content. Audiences worldwide are already familiar with the idea. Another is that the pool of creators is no longer limited to Korea and has itself become global. The know-how and breadth of the webtoon platforms is also at a level now. Another factor is generational change, which favors digital consumption and is so much faster than for paper-based comics,” he explained.
Asked about the growing involvement of artificial intelligence in the webtoon sector, he said that the future is already here. “Without users knowing it we have already introduced much, for example in recommendations. It also plays a part in translation. Next, we may see it used to reduce our costs,” said Park.
“AI can also play a part in our anti-piracy efforts. There is simply too much of it for humans alone to deal with.”