Online comic company Webtoon is going public

Stephanie Hughes Jun 26, 2024
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The online comic site Webtoon has more than 24 million creators who post work to their site. Above, comic artist Bae Jin-soo sketching a Webtoon on May 24. Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images

Online comic company Webtoon is going public

Stephanie Hughes Jun 26, 2024
Heard on:
The online comic site Webtoon has more than 24 million creators who post work to their site. Above, comic artist Bae Jin-soo sketching a Webtoon on May 24. Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images
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The company Webtoon Entertainment is expected to start trading publicly Thursday on the NASDAQ. Webtoon calls itself the world’s largest webcomic platform and has been around about two decades, with more than 24 million creators posting work to the site. Its parent company is the South Korean tech company Naver.

As long as there’s been an internet, cartoonists have been interested in using it to get their comics out to readers.

“The problem was figuring out how to get people to pay for them,” said Benjamin Woo, a communication and media studies professor at Carleton University, who studies comics.

Webtoon has been successful at figuring out a business model. The company sells ads and lets users pay to get early access to comics. It also has two production studios where it can adapt Webtoon hits for other media, like television or film — “the media industries where generally speaking, there’s more money than in comic books,” Woo said.

Online comics reach a different audience than paper ones do. It’s a younger group used to reading on screens and includes 30-year-old Miles Green. 

“It’s really convenient to just read it on your phone, because of the way everything’s formatted — just scrolling down, scrolling down, rather than flipping a page,” he said.

Green reads paper comics, too, but likes that online ones are less expensive for him. (He doesn’t pay for early access to Webtoon comics.) He also draws his own digital comics under the handle @milesdarobot

One of his favorite Webtoon comics is called My Giant Nerd Boyfriend. He likes that it’s relatable — not about super humans, but regular humans. “Just normal everyday situations, like them playing video games and their trip to the store.”

In comics, this genre is called “slice of life.” And it’s perfect for a digital comic versus a paper one, per Rob Salkowitz, author of the book “Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture.”

“Because you can’t put a big action cover on things like that, and yet it’s developing because of the community element of Webtoon and the ability to interact with the creators,” he said.

Webtoon also collects metrics about how well stories do with its audience, which skews slightly female.

Salkowitz said it makes sense that the company’s going public now: “They really had an accelerated growth spurt during COVID, when everybody was home and had a lot of time on their hands.”

Webtoon does have rivals — platforms it competes with for both users and creators.

And, per Salkowitz, with a young audience, it can be hard to know what they’ll be into in the near future.

“Will next generation readers like the stuff that their older sisters liked? You never know,” he said.

One advantage the company has are those metrics. They share the data with artists, who can use it to make their stories more fan-friendly.

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