South Korea’s Webtoon Acquires Ebook Initiative Japan

In News by Porter Anderson

With a goal of deeper penetration in the Japanese market, South Korea’s Naver/Webtoon subsidiary Line buys Ebook Initiative Japan.

Image: From Japan’s Line Corporation home page

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Also on the Japanese market: London Book Fair Names Hiroshi Hayakawa its Lifetime Achievement Winner

Webtoon Now Cites 82 Million Users
As Publishing Perspectives readers know, Webtoon and Wattpad by October of last year were beginning to announce projects under the aegis of the merged Wattpad Webtoon Studios headed by Aron Levitz.

South Korea’s Naver, parent company of Webtoon and now Wattpad, completed its acquisition of the Toronto-based Wattpad in May 2021, creating a kind of parallel-platform framework in which Wattpad continues as a user-generated writing-and-reading platform and Webtoon operates as its user-generated comics-and-graphics-driven counterpart.

Today (April 1), the Webtoon Japanese subsidiary Line Digital Frontier has completed an acquisition of its own, buying Ebook Initiative Japan, an ebook service provider. A goal here is for Webtoon to more firmly cement its presence in the manga-avid Japanese marketplace.

The deal was announced on March 4, with Webtoon’s Line Corporation gaining 100-percent ownership of Ebook Initiative Japan.

Ebook Initiative, based in Tokyo, was founded in 2000. it operates not only its ebook effort but also an online service for print called Bookfan. Linked through Yahoo Japan, Ebook Japan reportedly hosts more than 800,000 works, 95 percent of those sales in manga.

Last year, Line Manga and Ebook Japan reported combined transaction amounts of 76.8 billion yen (US$625.3 million).

It’s hoped by the companies’ executives that the new acquisition will “create new synergies across Webtoon’s Japanese business, adding new Web service strength and capabilities” to LINE Manga’s mobile technology. The acquisition is expected to enable the companies to distribute and promote digital comics and content simultaneously on both services, and also improve exposure through the Yahoo Japan portal.

JunKoo Kim

In a prepared comment on the news of the acquisition’s completion, Webtoon founding global CEO JunKoo Kim is quoted, saying, “Japan is the world’s largest comics market, and this acquisition will supercharge our business in the country.

“By bringing Ebook Japan into the Webtoon family, we’ll be able to expand the digital comics ecosystem for creators and fans across Japan and solidify Line Manga’s growing influence in the incredible Japanese content industry.”

Webtoon reports that it expects to expand its Japanese participant base—which it terms a “local creator ecosystem”—by widening its presence in the “home to the world’s most influential manga artists. Webtoon is also expected to add successful Korean digital comics to the Line Manga service, giving those user-creators more exposure and diversifying some of the existing offer at the Japanese service.

There also has been an announcement that Webtoon will establish a European division in comics-friendly France.

Recent Statistics on Webtoon

Most recently reported data provided to Publishing Perspectives for today’s story shows Webtoon with:

  • 82 million users worldwide
  • 14 million users in the United States
  • 1.3 million titles read and/or followed by the platform’s international user base
  • 10.5 billion monthly page views
  • An annual gross merchandise value asserted to be worth US$900 million, per 2021 figures

Targeted specifically at a Generation Z demographic (currently aged roughly 9 to 24 years), Webtoon holds a “creative partnership” with DC Comics, a distribution collaboration with Marvel, a series development collaboration with Archie Comics.

Netflix’s  adaptation of the Webtoon property All of Us Are Dead by Joo Dong-geun was produced by JTBC Studios and was released in January. That original digital comic on Webtoon–about a high-school zombie attack, of course–ran from 2009 to 2011, reaching millions of views.

The Netflix series also brought readers to the original digital comic on Webtoon, where All of Us Are Dead views increased by around 80 times after the Netflix series launch.

Weekly transaction amounts are also said to have increased by 59 times. On the Webtoon English service, weekly views jumped 21 times.

Another blood-soaked Netflix adaptation from StudioN and Studio Dragon, the 2020 television series Sweet Home, by Youngchan Hwang and Carnby Kim, went to No. 1 on Netflix in eight international markets and was ranked in the Top 10 in more than 40 countries, according to data provided by Wattpad’s offices in Canada. On Webtoon, the story drew 1.3 billion views.

More from Publishing Perspectives on Wattpad is here, more on mergers and acquisitions is here, more on Webtoon is here, more on comics and graphic-storytelling content is here. More from us on the Japanese market is here, and more on South Korea is here. More from us on screen adaptation work is here.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.