The Korea Herald


Top Webtoon creators rake in millions amid income gap, SEC filing shows

By Moon Ki-hoon

Published : July 7, 2024 - 15:04

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Webtoon's advertisement displayed on a billboard in Times Square, New York, Sunday (Yonhap) Webtoon's advertisement displayed on a billboard in Times Square, New York, Sunday (Yonhap)

Naver's webcomic platform Webtoon, boasting 170 million active users each month, has transformed the comics industry for the mobile era. Following its much-anticipated Nasdaq debut on June 27, attention has turned to the economic realities facing its vast pool of creators.

The company's recent US Securities and Exchange Commission filing submitted ahead of its initial public offering confirms substantial incomes for top performers, but also reveals a deep divide within the creator ecosystem. While a select few artists enjoy celebrity status and lucrative earnings, the majority face far less promising financial prospects, the filing shows.

The company's June 17 amendment to its registration statement reveals that 483 creators earned $100,000 or more in 2023, with the top 100 averaging $1 million each.

However, a close look at the figures shows a two-tiered system that separates a small elite from the majority. According to the 253-page filing, Webtoon distinguishes between "amateur" and "professional" creators. Amateurs post on separate platforms — "Challenge Comics" in Korea and "Canvas" in the US — and cannot monetize their content until gaining enough popularity to join the main platform. Only as professionals can creators benefit from revenue-sharing agreements and contractual protections.

Of Webtoon's 24 million creators, only about 13,000 are classified as "professional," according to figures provided in the SEC filing. The average annual income for these professionals — those who advanced through the ranks in a highly competitive field — was a modest $48,000, representing only a fraction of top-tier earnings.

Webtoon provided no income data for amateur creators in the document.

In an effort to address income disparities, Naver Webtoon Corp. pledged last year to extend its advertising revenue program to amateur creators. However, the program's stringent eligibility requirements — 1,000 subscribers and 40,000 monthly views — have raised concerns that this initiative may fall short of supporting many struggling webtoon creators.