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South Korean web novels become a trend of their own

 

2019.09.09

 

The web novel market in South Korea has been expanding at a breakneck pace, with readers drawn to their easy-to-read content. According to the Korea Creative Content Agency, the web novel market in South Korea was estimated to be around 10 billion won in 2013, and by 2017, it had expanded to 270 billion won. Last year, sales of web novels alone amounted to around 400 billion won. In line with this soaring popularity and growing market, there are now web novel authors who earn six-figures a year. In 2016, 8.2 percent of all web novelists were found to be earning more than 10 million won per year.

 


Web novels with unlimited versatility stand in the center of a new trend

 

The number of ways web novels can transform themselves is unlimited, and their influence is only growing through 'one source, multi-use' content.
Adaptations of web novels into webtoons are also worth taking note of because after they find new life through webtoons, web novels have found it easy to reach audiences outside South Korea.

 

Poster for the television drama adaptation of <What's Wrong with Secretary Kim> (left) and cover art for the original web novel (right)

Poster for the television drama adaptation of What's Wrong with Secretary Kim (left)and cover art for the original web novel (right)

 

After television drama What's Wrong with Secretary Kim aired on South Korean cable channel tvN last year, audiences who watched the series have ended up reading more web novels as a result. The original web novel upon which the television series was based was an immensely popular web novel on Kakao Page, a web novel platform, with over 500 million views after it was uploaded in 2013. After the web novel became popular, it was adapted into a cartoon format, which was later adapted into the television drama series.
What's Wrong with Secretary Kim (Gaha) isn't the only web novel that was adapted into a television drama series. Author Jang Ho's Justice (Hainaim) was also adapted into a television drama and aired on KBS 2TV starting July 17 this year. The web novel is a courtroom mystery about a famous lawyer who has chosen depravity over justice for vendetta, and a genius prosecutor working against him who has a memory that operates on overdrive. The web novel was published in physical form just as the television drama started airing. Moon Embracing the Sun (Paran Media) was also a web novel on South Korea's biggest romance novel platform, Romantique, which was later adapted into a television drama in 2012. The drama boasted viewership rates of over 40 percent at the time, marking great success. Love in the Moonlight (Yollimwon), whose television adaptation aired in 2016, made the news after monthly sales for the original web novel jumped over 500 million won as the drama was being aired.

 

<What's Wrong With Secretary Kim>, <Justice>

What's Wrong With Secretary Kim, Justice

 

Web novels are increasing their influence thanks to 'one-source, multi-use' content. Transformations by web novels have proven to be limitless. Another web novel on Kakao Page called The Magician (Minumsa) was adapted into a movie in 2015 starring Yoo Seung-ho and Go Ara. Games like “Taming Master” and “Maybe” take place in worlds adapted from web novels.
Adaptations of web novels into webtoons are also worth taking note of because after they find new life through webtoons, web novels have found it easy to reach audiences outside South Korea. One representative case would be Noh Seung-ah's Honey Honey Wedding, a web novel that raised more than 100 million won worth in sales per month on Naver Web Novel's 'Preview' corner. The web novel was later adapted into a webtoon, which was subsequently exported outside South Korea. Author Rosebean's Take Me (Dahyang) and Kim Eun-jeong's So I Married an Anti-fan (Terrace Books) were exported overseas after they were adapted into webtoons. According to Naver Webtoon, the biggest such online platform of its kind in South Korea, 17 works based on web novels are currently either being serially uploaded or scheduled to be. Meanwhile, 26 other web novels are currently in the process of being adapted into webtoons.

 

<Take Me>, <So I Married an Anti-fan>

Take Me, So I Married an Anti-fan

 

Also, web novel competitions are as extremely popular as they are lucrative. Naver Webtoon has been holding 'The Biggest Competition on Earth' from April, offering some of the highest awards in the country. The awards amount to a total of 840 million won after the 26 best works are selected. The first prize winner will be eligible for a cash prize of 100 million won, second prize winner 30 million won and third prize winner 10 million won. The first and second prize winners will be allowed to formally upload their stories on Naver Series' 'Free Just for You' and 'Naver Web Novels' in addition to becoming adapted into webtoons. Another web novel platform, Munpia, also held a similar contest in April with cash prizes totaling 700 million won. The contest had raised much interest as the prize money was twice as much as it was the previous year. Kakao Page also hosted a competition in November 2018 where cash prizes were over 600 million won.

 


Web novels, a blue ocean industry, dream of going global

 

On the back of the recent popularity of web novels, South Korean web novel platformslike Kakao Page, Joara, Munpia and Naver are taking their business overseasto countries like Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand.

 

Thanks to the popularity of web novels, South Korean web novel platforms are actively making their way into global markets outside the country. In December 2018, Kakao Page announced it would be expanding into Indonesia by acquiring a majority stake (68.39 percent) in a content business there called Neobazar. Neobazar is a webtoon, web novel platform business in Indonesia and currently has the biggest market share in terms of paid webtoon content. Accumulated app downloads for Neobazar have surpassed 1.7 million, and South Korean webtoons have been popular with users there, like Another World's Empress (DNC Books) and Why She Had to go to the Duke's House (It Book). "Indonesia has over 270 million people, and when considering the fact that almost 100 million people there use smartphones, we are hopeful the country will act as a bridge to our expansion into Southeast Asian markets," said an executive at Kakao Page.

 

<Another World's Empress>, <Why She Had to go to the Duke's House>

Another World's Empress, Why She Had to go to the Duke's House

 

Web novel platform Joara also hammered out a deal with Ookbee, a content platform business in Thailand, on September 2018 to provide five web novels. Following this agreement, another deal was made in February this year to provide three more web novels to the Thai platform. Ookbee is a joint venture between China's tech giant Tencent and Ookbee U. It has more than 10 million users in Southeast Asia, including countries like Vietnam and the Philippines. Joara and Ookbee waere able to reach the second contract because of the immense popularity that one South Korean web novel had in particular. This was Golden Climb from Joara uploaded on Ookbee, and it recorded the highest sales for a South Korean novel uploaded on Ookbee.
Yet another web novel platform business in South Korea called Munpia exported some of its novels including Reincarnation Position (Munpia) and The Hunter of a Collapsed World (Munpia) to China's CLL, or China Literature Limited. Reincarnation Position is a fantasy novel from 2016 written by ALLA, who was then considered to have opened a new era for South Korean alternate world literature. During its initial uploads, the novel saw more than 30,000 downloads for each chapter that became available - showing how wildly popular it was. The Hunter of a Collapsed World is a modern fantasy novel that takes place in a realistically portrayed, post-apocalyptic world. Written by Geuljangee Jakka S (Writer S), the novel was viewed more than 3 million times. It tells the story of a hunter that survives the end of the world, a young girl he meets and the adventures they take together. In addition to these, 13 other web novels including The World After the Apocalypse (Munpia) by Sing Shong, Dimensional Ruler (Munpia) by Oren and Golden Time (Munpia) by Jeong Yong were exported.
Naver has also been aggressive in taking its business global. Naver Webtoon, in particular, is expanding its reach outside South Korea consistently. Outside South Korea, it provides a platform service called 'Line Webtoon' with a variety of content available in six languages: English, Chinese, Thai, Indonesian and Japanese. This service is currently the most popular of its kind in Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand and it has also been making strides in North America with the number of monthly active users to the service reaching over 3 million.

 


Web novels vs. print novels? Wrong.

 

Web novels are referred to as part of 'snack culture' because they are easy to consume in a short amount of time.
Instead of regular novels on print, web novels' competition consists of smartphone videos, social networks, the news and games.

 

Why are web novels so popular now? People make the easy mistake of comparing web novels with print novels. However, this is far from reality. Web novels' competition consists of smartphone videos, social networks, the news and games. There are now fewer people who walk around with books in their bag, and more people can be found wanting content they can consume through their phone whenever they have time. What people want is content they can consume in a short amount of time, or 'snack culture'.
Web novels fully qualify as snack culture. The book The Shock of Web Novels (Yoda) by Japanese journalist Iida Ichishi explains the concept of bite-sized consumerism, which is very similar to snack culture. The author offers two conditions: one, it should be able to provide stimulus when necessary. Two, it should make the user curious enough to go onto the next page. Ichishi says stories with complicated plots do not fall under this category, as details cannot be remembered continuously. Also, it cannot be stories that take time for readers to reach the climax. It should be work readers can instantly find out what the content will be after they read the title, see the thumbnail picture, read a summary of the work they can read in 5 seconds and have a good idea of how they'll feel after reading the full content.
This is a considerable part of the reason why web novel genres are usually romance or fantasy. According to a survey conducted by KPIPA regarding popular genres of online platform content, romance was the most popular with 56.3 percent of respondents selecting the genre. Following romance was fantasy with 25 percent. In the case of Naver web novels, romance novels count for 70 percent of total web novel content and Joara's offerings also center around romance novels while expanding into fantasy novels. Munpia built its fan base around fantasy, and martial arts novels and is increasingly solidifying its identity as a web novel platform for men.
Readers usually take 3 to 5 minutes to read one uploaded chapter of a web novel. Ichishi adds in the book that print books can't help but have a hard time competing against web novels that can easily be read in short fragments of time. In the world of bite-sized consumerism, people prefer cycles to end in a short amount of time. Web novelists are acutely aware of this fact. "It's most important to have an ending that will spark curiosity even in the shortest form of writing," says popular web novelist Rosebean. "It's the same strategy television dramas use as they always end episodes at dramatic points, drawing viewers to the TV screen."

Readers and writers alike are entering the web novel market at a rapid pace. Some 47,000 people are currently registered as writers on Munpia, a more than ten-fold jump from 3,800 in 2013. The web novel market is expected to continue growing in coming years. "Web novels' competitive edge comes from the fact that they're tailored to the modern person's lifestyle," said an official at the Korea Creative Content Agency. "As long as people consume content on their smartphones, the web novel market has only room to grow. However, the novels are usually about romance and fantasy, so genre diversification will be critical."

 

 


Written by Lee Yu-jin (Reporter at The Kyunghyang Shinmun)

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Lee Yu-jin (Reporter at The Kyunghyang Shinmun)

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