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Chat fiction app operator eyes global expansion, webtoon market

By May 18, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

Eine Blume CEO Choi Jae-hyun describes Chatie during an interview with The Korea Economic Daily on May 18.
Eine Blume CEO Choi Jae-hyun describes Chatie during an interview with The Korea Economic Daily on May 18.

As smartphones have become essential to everyday life, chat fiction -- storytelling in the form of fictional text messaging -- has become popular among teenagers. And while South Korea isn't the birthplace of chat fiction, domestic startup Eine Blume Co.'s app Chatie has expanded to offer the largest quantity of chat fiction in the world, exceeding over 400,000 stories.

“When you look at the rising number of teenage users on Chatie, you realize that it's not that teens aren't reading books, it's just that their preferred platforms and methods are different,” said Choi Jae-hyun, the chief executive of Eine Blume, in an interview with The Korea Economic Daily on May 18.

Founded in January 2018, Eine Blume released Chatie the same year. Since then, the platform has gained 400,000 users as of April 2021, up by 30% compared to the year-earlier period. Currently, teenagers make up over 70% of the platform’s users.

On Chatie, stories are shared in the form of text messages between characters, an evolving and creative storytelling method.

Chat fiction has become popular among teenagers. (Courtesy of Chatie)
Chat fiction has become popular among teenagers. (Courtesy of Chatie)

It also offers an interactive reading experience where users have to touch the screen to continue reading, giving them control over the pace of the story and making it more immersive, as if engaged in a role-playing game.

“It has high readability because readers feel like they're peeping into someone else's conversation," said Choi.

USERS BECOME CREATORS

Writers and users share a strong bond on Chatie, which can be seen as a content-based community platform, according to Choi.

For example, fans will create community chatrooms for writers and make various requests, such as keeping the main character alive in the story.

In some cases, users are inspired by stories featured on the platform and venture into writing themselves.

"Some 20% to 25% of our subscribers actually come to write their own stories," said Choi.

Last year, Eine Blume implemented artificial intelligence technology to enhance its service quality, such as proofreading newly uploaded material and making personalized recommendations to users. The adoption of AI technology has helped boost users' time spent on Chatie, according to Choi.

Eine Blume has yet to become profitable as most of its services are free and its users are mostly teenagers. Still, its profitablity potential has been recognized by its investors, such as Kakao Ventures, Premier Partners and Partners Investment. To date, the company has raised over 10 billion won ($9 million).

Choi is keen on improving the company’s profitability by expanding its target audience to users in their 20s, who have more purchasing power than teenagers, as well as upgrading its customized features.

Moving forward, the company plans to raise additional funds to tap into the webtoon sector as well as the overseas market, backed by Choi's expertise in global content operations gained in his former role heading up platform giant Naver Corp.’s US-based business.

Write to Joo-wan Kim at kjwan@hankyung.com

Danbee Lee edited this article.

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