Google 1, Korea 0 as fee fracas continues, webtoon prices upped
Webtoon publishers are raising prices after the so-called anti-Google law failed to force down commissions charged by app stores.
Last month, Naver Webtoon and Kakao Webtoon increased the price of webtoons by 20 percent to cover the new in-app payment fee. Online streaming services Tving and Wavve, along with music streaming services Vibe and FLO, have raised their subscription fees by 14 to 16 percent.
Under the terms of a new Google fee plan — first announced in September 2020 — all parties using Google Play have to pay commissions of six percent to 30 percent of the payments they receive.
Those not paying risk getting kicked off of the Play Store, which is a significant threat for businesses that depend on the store to be connected with customers.
Google cited safety and quality issues in instituting the fee plan.
The National Assembly, which had been keeping a keen eye on public opinion, jumped straight in. Seven bills were proposed in the four months from July 2020 by representatives. A revision to the Telecommunications Business Act, nicknamed the Anti-Google law, was hastily passed last August.
But the legislation left a gaping loophole that allowed Google to continue collecting fees it believes it is owed.
At a press briefing on May 26, the Korea Communications Commission (KCC), the government body in charge, said that "fees are difficult to regulate by law."
The debate has been going around in circles, with arguments centered on what Google can require for those who use its Play Store and what can actually be prohibited, such as links to external payment sites.
In a rush for Korea to be the first country in the world to pressure global big tech, the National Assembly neglected to check its work and rethink its plan.
"We will push for additional legislation if necessary," said Rep. Jo Seoung-lae of the Democratic Party on May 31.
Apple, another major app market operator, is another big problem. The National Assembly and the government had given up on Apple, saying that it is difficult to sanction because it has kept a very closed system from the beginning. But Apple was the first app market operator to force an in-app payment fee.
According to Sensor Tower, a market research firm, app installations through Google are 3.4 times those of Apple, but the actual app market transaction amount is larger for Apple, 1.7 times that of Google. This difference was the catalyst for Google's 30 percent fee increase for content platforms and apps.
Overseas governments, such as those in the United States, the Netherlands and Russia, see Apple as the core of the problem rather than Google. Apple is also the subject of lawsuits by major IT companies, such as Epic Games and Spotify.
Neither Apple nor Google have commented recently on these issues.
BY KIM JUNG-MIN [firstname.lastname@example.org]