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[Interview] Manga platform Piccoma ready to take over Japan's comics market

Aug 11, 2020 (Gmt+09:00)

Manga platform Piccoma is gearing up to take over Japan’s massive digital comics market as the company continues to see prominent growth in its webtoon (mobile and digital comics) category.

Piccoma’s parent company Kakao Corp, South Korea’s top mobile messaging app operator, announced August 10 that the manga app was the top-grossing non-gaming application in July on both Google Play and App Store in Japan.

“The next three years will be prime time for us to catch up with Japan’s digital comics market,” said Jae-yong Kim, the head of Kakao Japan in an interview with the Korea Economic Daily. “We’re determined to become the frontrunner in the world’s largest comics market.”

Virtual interview with Jae-yong Kim (right) with Min-ki Koo from the Korea Economic Daily. Photo by Young-woo Kim.

As of 2020, the digital comics market in Japan is indeed the world’s largest, with an estimated value of approximately 4.5 trillion won ($3.8 billion). Trailing behind is China with 1.78 trillion won, the US with 1.66 trillion won, and Korea with 1.54 trillion won.

Kakao Japan launched Piccoma in 2016, a relatively late start compared to industry peers LINE Manga and Manga Box, both launched in 2013. Arriving late didn't worry Kim, as he was confident that Korean webtoons would be megahits in Japan’s digital comics market, which offers scanned paper comics.

Kim’s hunch proved right. While Korean webtoons make up just 1.3% of the collection of more than 20,000 comics serviced via Piccoma, they account for 40% of the platform's transaction totals. According to mobile data provider AppAnnie, Korean webtoons hold over 70% market share in Japan’s digital comics market, outperforming traditional comic giants.

"Solo Leveling", a Korean webtoon that ranked number 1 in 2019 on Piccoma

Since its inception, Kakao Japan's manga operation has been on the fast track to success, marking impressive jumps in revenue. The company posted 22.5 billion won in 2017, 62.3 billion won in 2018, and 143.9 billion won in 2019. Piccoma posted a surplus for three consecutive quarters, from the fourth quarter of 2019 to the second quarter of 2020.

“Piccoma may have been late to the game, but we achieved a lot in just four years, which makes it even more meaningful,” Kim stressed.

The company now stands at the helm of the world’s comic kingdom, and Kim is keen on riding the momentum, especially since traditional Japanese comics have been foraying into the digital comics scene.

“We’re seeing faster transitions from print comics to digital comics since the coronavirus broke out,” Kim said. “We need a good plan to ensure we stay ahead of the game.”

Kakao Japan will concentrate on enhancing content quality by collaborating with Korean webtoon publishers. The company is compiling user data on Japanese readers, looking at behavior patterns and preferred genre, among other things, for Korean publishers to use to create attractive content for Japanese readers.

“A platform’s success depends on its content,” Kim said. “It will be most important to establish a network of Korean webtoon artists who are eager to tap into the Japanese market.”

Piccoma plans to hire additional developers to set up systems to further enhance user experience. The company currently uses big data and artificial intelligence to offer user-customized promotions. For example, it sends users reminders to visit the platform based on their history. It also offers additional benefits to first-time paying users who were previously using the service for free.

Piccoma is also planning to go public as way to raise large-scale funding. The IPO is expected to garner positive response from the market given Kakao Japan’s impressive track record.

“We are fully prepared. We will capture the Japanese market and show the world the immense possibilities of Korean webtoons,” said Kim.

By Min-ki Koo

Danbee Lee edited this article

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