Webtoon: the Digital Platform Disrupting Traditional Comics Publishing
By Frankie Harnett and Alice Fusai
Over the past five years, Webtoon has exploded onto the global webcomics scene and revolutionised the way comics are read in the digital era. The South Korean comics platform was immediately successful in Asia after its launch in 2004, however it gained global traction after it’s American and European launch in 2019, now boasting over 89 million active monthly users. It has attracted Hollywood attention, with Webtoon adaptations brightening the screens of major TV conglomerates like Netflix and HBO. The platform has also gained notoriety in the publishing sector, being identified by data analyst Brenna Connor’s recent report as the most important platform to watch as it “grew 80 times faster than the rest of the comics and graphics novel space” between 2019 and 2023.
Like Kindles and eBooks, comics and graphic art novels have been transformed by the digital revolution. Seen as cheaper and less fragile than their physical counterparts, webcomics are read on phones, laptops and tablets, often in panel-by-panel reading modes. These new forms of comics are now being offered by most global publishers, including DC, Dark Horse, Dynamite, IDW, Image, Lion Forge, Marvel, Valiant and webcomic platforms like ComiXology have emerged. Reports estimate the global webcomic industry is set to grow from $7.36 billion in 2021 to $11.12 billion by 2028.
And yet, in a world of seemingly limitless panelled storytelling on silver screens, Webtoon stands apart in its success. Anna E. Cook attributes this to the “freemium experience,” with so many graphic stories at our fingertips for nothing. However, the real secret of Webtoon appears to be its usability. Unlike other digital comics which have been adapted to screens, Webtoon specifically designs it’s content to be consumed on smartphones. Trademark features include scrolling vertically through stories – unlike the panel format of traditional webcomics – and releasing short, episodic styles of comics, making them highly consumable and addictive. CEO Ken Kim explained that the goal of Webtoon was to “revolutionise storytelling” by making comics more accessible in a mobile format, aiming the product primarily at millennials and Gen Z, who make up around 75% of the platform’s readership.
Not only an incredible tool for consumers, Webtoon's creator site, Webtoon Canvas, is also a nurturing community for both amateur and well-established comic artists. Boasting a dedicated collection of creator resources in both video and illustrated mediums, covering getting started on Webtoon, monetising creations and coping with creative anxieties, Webtoon is a haven for aspiring creators. The site is also preparing to offer live workshops to improve the creators' art and storytelling skills.
Another key feature of Webtoon is the opportunity for creators to monetise their comics. According to Webtoon, since 2020, they have paid English-language creators over $27,000, or a little over $1 million per month. This is done primarily through the Ad Revenue Sharing Program, in which creators can earn 50% from ads displayed on their series. However, creators can also link their comics directly to their Patreon accounts, so that readers can pledge funds directly to them.
Webtoon is a digital comics platform that has revolutionized the way creators publish and distribute their work. It has given young creators a platform to share their stories, build a following and has helped creators transition from amateur to professional.
Technology has made it possible for readers to connect with communities and creators much faster than traditional publishing can and it is having a significant impact on the industry. Webtoon and the vertical scroll format it has popularised is appealing to a new generation of readers and is eating into the traditional comic book industry's target audience. However, it is not without its flaws. It would benefit from cross-platform reading, a better in-app currency and a rating system. However, it remains an excellent platform for reading digital comics.