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Lezhin aims to boost comic book industry

Unlike in the U.S. or Japan, comic books in Korea have not been considered materials that can fuel creativity and imagination.

Parents have discouraged their kids from reading comic books, let alone from becoming comic book artists and writers as they often lead a poor life.

However, Lezhin Entertainment, the operator of the Lezhin webtoon platform, is working to change all that.

Lezhin co-founders CTO Chris Kwon (left) and director Lee Sung-eob
Lezhin co-founders CTO Chris Kwon (left) and director Lee Sung-eob

Since the service was launched in June 2013, the platform has raised not only the bar for high-quality digital comics with rich stories, but also boosted the livelihoods of comic book writers and artists.

The company said it had writers who earned 50 million won a month, and writers who earned 10 million won a month. It also ensures that rookie writers earn a fixed monthly salary, or close to what new employees at conglomerates make, so that they can concentrate on storytelling without having to work part-time for a living.

“Given that the platform’s sustainability relies on the quality of comic book stories created by the writers, they get a bigger share of the profit than we do,” said Chris Kwon, Lezhin’s chief technology officer.

“By doing this, we have sought to create a virtuous circle in which the writers do not have to worry about making a living on the side, but focus on storytelling and taking risks in creating new comic books.”

The tech start-up, whose strategic investors and partners include NCsoft, an online PC game developer, and tvN, CJ E&M’s cable channel operator, adopted a “freemium” business model for its platform.

The strategy offers some portion of the service for free, while charging money for advanced features.

This model has allowed Lezhin to develop its platform without advertisements by targeting adult readers, especially women, who can pay for quality online comics.

“This is how we can differentiate ourselves from the webtoon platforms of Naver and Daum Kakao, which mostly appeal to younger readers or children,” said Lee Sung-eob, business director of Lezhin Entertainment.

“By offering categories such as graphic novels, mysteries, thrillers, action and romance, we were able to attract new writers who studied cartoon arts or animation at college and seek to create such comics.”

CTO Chris Kwon said it had developed technology to make the comic stories “easily and comfortably accessible anytime and anywhere” via virtual accounts on its platform.

He added that technology and content should go hand in hand, with the former supporting the latter to stand out in terms of quality and accessibility. For instance, Lezhin’s data service showing customers’ retention rates allows comic book writers to examine and check whether their readers are enjoying their comic books. If not, Lezhin producers will work with the writers to reshape their stories.

“Also, our partnerships with NCsoft and tvN are aimed at helping the writers’ comic stories be retold in games, TV dramas and movies,” CTO Kwon said.

By Park Hyong-ki (hkp@heraldcorp.com)
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