Naver, Kakao ramp up rivalry in Southeast Asian webtoon market

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Naver, Kakao ramp up rivalry in Southeast Asian webtoon market

Left, Kakao Webtoon is ranked as the most downloaded application in Thailand Google Play Store's comics category as of June 11. Right, Naver's Line Webtoon is shown as the No. 1 application in terms of in-app purchases, also as of June 11. [KAKAO, NAVER]

Left, Kakao Webtoon is ranked as the most downloaded application in Thailand Google Play Store's comics category as of June 11. Right, Naver's Line Webtoon is shown as the No. 1 application in terms of in-app purchases, also as of June 11. [KAKAO, NAVER]

 
Naver and Kakao’s rivalry in the Southeast Asian Webtoon market is heating up, with both companies claiming they dominate the market.  
 
Kakao Entertainment launched Kakao Webtoon in Thailand and Taiwan in early June and announced on June 11 that the application had reached No. 1 in the comics category on both countries' Google Play Store.


Naver quickly released its own press release, announcing on June 13 that its Line Webtoon is still the leading webtoon platform in Thailand and Taiwan.
 
“The claim that [Kakao] ranked No. 1 didn't state the criteria for the ranking,” said a spokesperson for Naver. “It just shows popularity in terms of the number of downloads.”
 
The Southeast Asian market is a competitive battleground for the two companies. After Naver’s mobile messenger application Line saw huge success in Japan, the company expanded the service to other countries such as Taiwan and Thailand. After Line Manga launched in the Japanese market, the company then launched Line Webtoon in Taiwan and Thailand in 2014 and Indonesia in 2015.
 
Japan was also the first country Kakao tapped into, with its subsidiary Kakao Japan launching webtoon platform Piccoma. Kakao then launched Kakao Webtoon in Thailand and Taiwan on June 7 and 9.
 
But how they define success is the cause of the latest disagreement.  
 
“The success of an application is calculated by the number of downloads during a period,” said a spokesperson for Kakao Entertainment. “There’s bound to be a difference between our active users compared to Line Webtoon, a service that has been operating [in Southeast Asian countries] for seven years. But [in Thailand,] daily transactions on the app reached 300 million won ($270,000) in just four days since the launch, which has never happened on any other webtoon platform globally.”
 
Naver states they are leading the Southeast Asian market based on monthly active users. 
 
According to the company, Line Webtoon sees 12 million monthly users in Thailand, Taiwan and Indonesia altogether. Line Webtoon is also leading in terms of sales according to the company, although it didn't give a specific number. Tappytoon, a webtoon platform translating Korean comics, comes second. Naver acquired a 25 percent stake in Contents First, the operator of Tappytoon, in February.
 
“Articles saying that Kakao is ahead of Naver in Southeast Asia are not true,” said a spokesperson for Naver.
 
According to online application tracker App Annie, Line Webtoon earned $69,300 between June 9 and 11 in Thailand and Kakao Webtoon earned $48,400.

 
“It seems that our sales are slightly lower because purchases made from the Kakao Webtoon application running on Android take some time to be shown on App Annie,” said a spokesperson for Kakao.
 
During the same period, Kakao Webtoon earned $40,500 from its application running on iOS and Line Webtoon earned $34,100.
 
Naver values the number of active users because Line Webtoon mostly offers its content for free, only putting a select number of completed webtoons behind a paywall. It also focuses on fostering new local cartoonists to enhance their presence. For Kakao, in-app purchases and sales are more important because its main purpose is to translate Korean webtoons and offer them through a paid model.
 
Naver didn’t consider Kakao a huge threat in the global webtoon market until Piccoma emerged as a big player. The number of monthly active users of Line Manga lost to Piccoma last year.
 
“Many at Naver took the sudden growth of Piccoma hard,” said an anonymous employee working at a local webtoon company. “Naver seems to be going against Kakao to secure their lead in the global market such as Southeast Asia.”
 
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Kakao Entertainment plans to expand its presence in the Southeast Asian market by offering comics that prove to be popular in Korea and other overseas markets such as Solo Leveling and Overgeared. Currently carrying 70 comics, Kakao Webtoon aims to carry 200 by end of this year.
 
“There’s going to be significant changes in the Southeast Asian [webtoon] market,” said a spokesperson for Kakao Entertainment. “This is just the start, and we will mark our spot as the clear leader starting next month, when we begin full-fledged marketing.”
 
Naver plans to hold their lead by focusing on fostering local cartoonists via Canvas, a self-publishing section where artists can upload their own comics. They aim to increase sales by further developing the fast pass system, a feature where users can gain early access to future episodes by paying.
 
“Naver’s [Line] Webtoon is the leading webtoon platform in Southeast Asia, widely known to both comic readers and cartoonists,” said Cha Ha-na, head of Line Webtoon Thailand and Indonesia. “We plan on accomplishing better results by constructing a stable webtoon ecosystem and enhancing content competitiveness.”
 
BY JUNG WON-YEOB [lee.taehee2@joongang.co.kr]
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