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Naver-Kakao rivalry heats up in global webtoon market

Corporate logos of Naver and Kakao
Corporate logos of Naver and Kakao
South Korean digital comics platform operator Naver faces growing competition from its crosstown rival Kakao as the latter ups investment to tap into overseas markets.

A webtoon refers to a series of comic strips published online. In South Korea, Naver and Kakao are the two largest online webtoon platform providers.

Earlier last month, Kakao Entertainment launched its webtoon platform, Kakao Webtoon, in Thailand and Taiwan. Last week, the firm revealed that it has taken the top spot in the Google Play Store and second place in the Apple App Store, in terms of the number of app downloads, in the two countries. It added that the company’s sales in Thailand surpassed 300 million won ($270,000) within four days after the company launched the platform.

In response, Naver said Sunday that in terms of sales and number of users, it was still ahead of Kakao in the two countries.

Naver’s webtoon platform currently has the largest number of monthly active users in Thailand, Taiwan and Indonesia, the company said. The number of Naver Webtoon’s monthly active users in Thailand and Taiwan now stands at 3.5 million and 1.5 million, respectively. Indonesia alone has 6.9 million, the firm said.

The Korean internet giant, since launching its webtoon platform in 2004, has pioneered the global webtoon industry, introducing readers to a new way of enjoying comics online. In the three countries, the company has leveraged its messenger app Line to popularize webtoons and promote its platform.

But in Japan, Kakao Japan’s Piccoma recently outran Naver’s Japan-based web comics platform, Line Manga, in terms of total transactions on the platform. The combined transactions on Piccoma last year soared to 414.6 billion won, from 144 billion won in 2019 and 63 billion won in 2018.

Kakao Japan, estimated to be worth 8.8 trillion won, brought in 600 billion won from global investment group Anchor Equity Partners and overseas sovereign wealth funds in May this year.

The two Korean internet giants are also competing to acquire foreign storytelling platforms to leverage intellectual property and expand their user base.

Naver on Friday last week closed a $600 million deal to acquire Toronto-based Wattpad, a Canadian storytelling platform with about 90 million monthly active users. With the acquisition, Naver has secured around 160 million monthly users for its online storytelling platforms.

In February, Naver invested 33.4 billion won in Content First, a company that operates the second-largest digital comics platform in the US, Tappytoon, to acquire 25 percent of its shares.

Kakao too followed Naver with large acquisition deals, including a $510 million purchase of Tapas and a separate $440 million deal for Radish.

By Shim Woo-hyun (