Piccoma rides high-end manga and webtoons in Japan

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Kim Jae-yong, President of Kakao Japan. [KAKAO JAPAN]

Piccoma started operations on May 15, 2016 and on the first day it withdrew 200 yen ($ 1.81) from 300 users.

Almost five years later, on May 5, 2021, the Japanese webtoon app posted revenue of 4.37 billion yen, a daily record. Two days later, it had 4.2 million daily users, another record.

Piccoma, the Japanese online comic service run by Kakao Japan, the Japanese subsidiary of Korean portal operator Kakao, achieved the highest turnover of all smartphone apps in Japan last year, in outside of games: 37.6 billion yen. The average compound annual growth rate has been 149% since 2016.

Prior to Piccoma, the major players in the Japanese online comic market were Mecha Comics and Line Manga, specializing in online versions of black and white manga printed in books.

“Because Japan was the homeland of manga, our challenges were great, but so were the opportunities,” said Kim Jae-yong, 45, president of Kakao Japan, which is behind the success of Piccoma.

“At the time, Japan had digitized a lot of things, but the comic book market was relatively slow to catch up with this trend. We were latecomers, but I was sure there was room for growth.

Piccoma differentiated itself from the competition with a Korean webtoon business model. Instead of black-and-white cartoons sold as full stories, Korean webtoons are usually in color, unless an author intentionally chooses black and white, and a new episode is uploaded every week. The authors offer two to three episodes in advance, which readers can watch for 200-300 won (18-26 cents) per episode, or wait a week for the episode to be offered for free.

Kakao Piccoma's Japanese webtoon service [KAKAO JAPAN]

Kakao Piccoma’s Japanese webtoon service [KAKAO JAPAN]

“Many people doubted that the [Korean] The method would work with Japanese readers who are used to paying a lump sum to read comics, ”Kim said in an interview with the Kakao Japan office in the Roppongi section of Tokyo. “They even wondered why we divide a book into episodes when a book is more practical.”

Kim told skeptics that comics read on smartphone apps are “strictly for entertainment purposes” and short episodes are more appropriate. People could read them between daily tasks more easily than whole books. And by providing one free episode per week, readers would expect the next one and naturally develop a sense of loyalty to the work.

The method has been so successful that major Japanese publishers such as Kodansha and Shueisha have signed up with Piccoma to offer their content in an episode-by-episode format. Soon, other Japanese comic book apps adopted the system.

Piccoma also presented webtoons to Japanese readers. Piccoma offers around 600 Korean webtoons that are viewed by scrolling down, as opposed to most of the 60,000 Japanese works that are still done in book format from right to left. Korean webtoons may only represent 1% of all webtoons in the app, but they generate 45% of the revenue generated by Piccoma’s webtoons, Kim said.

“The Japanese comic book market is still dominated by published books,” Kim said. “But more and more readers are realizing that webtoons are easier to read and the story is more compelling.”

Kakao Piccoma's Japanese Webtoon Service Service Page [KAKAO JAPAN]

Kakao Piccoma’s Japanese Webtoon Service Service Page [KAKAO JAPAN]

Chon Kye-young’s Daum Webtoon series “Love Alarm”, which managed to grab the attention of Japanese audiences, was a pioneering work in the beginning. “Solo Leveling,” originally written as a web novel series by Chugong and remade as a Webtoon series by Jang Seong-rak, is now Piccoma’s biggest hit. The series debuted in March 2019 on Piccoma and topped 55 million yen in daily sales on April 30.

“The main player base is pretty stable and new comic book fans are joining the game through webtoons,” Kim said. “Webtoons don’t compete as much with published comics as other mobile content such as games. Webtoons have endless potential ahead.”

Kim is a graduate of Kyung Hee University, with a double major in English Literature and Management. He started as a marketer in the Japanese branch of games subsidiary Naver, NHN, in 2006, and led the Creative Center, learning a lot about content marketing. Unlike the Korean market, where the publishing industry has been taken over by digital platforms, digital comics are bringing Japan’s declining publishing industry back to life, according to Kim.

“I believe content commerce is about touching someone else’s heart,” he said. “We are experimenting with many methods of moving people, for example by showing different main images to display in the app for users with different tastes. The main image presents readers with various works and functions as a poster to attract them. Piccoma analyzes each reader’s models and responds to their tastes by showing the images that interest them most.

Kakao Japan recently received 600 billion won of investments from global investors, including Anchor Equity Partners.

“We will focus on finding talented webtoons authors through our own studio,” Kim said. “Our goal is to create a system where creators, platforms and readers can happily coexist. ”

BY LEE YOUNG-HEE [[email protected]]


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