recently, a Korean illegal webtoon site 'Bam Toggi' was shut down and the management was all arrested. ‘Bam Toggi’ has been making a lot of profit from the advertisements posting a bunch of webtoons without permission from the artists. They illegally have posted almost 90,000 webtoons and earned 1 billion won by advertising revenues. In addition, the number of page visitors per month was 130 million in December 2017, which made it the largest illegal website in Korea, even exceeding Naver, the biggest searching engine site in Korea. Hearing the news, a number of webtoon artists released their own paintings to express their gratitude. With the growth of webtoon industry, there are many obstacles besides the illegal website problem. The webtoon industry has a huge impact on Korean society, as the ‘Bam Toggi’ scandal has become a hot topic. Let's take an in-depth look at the webtoon industry.
What is Webtoon?
Webtoon as a term is a combination of web from the World Wide Web and cartoon referring to a unique internet comic strip established in Korea. While many Western countries use the word ‘Webcomic’, in Korea the word ‘webtoon’ has been widely used. The biggest Korean portal sites like Naver and Daum usually provide webtoons for free through a weekly serialization. In a survey of 1,000 adults aged 19 to 59 across the country by a market research institute Trend Monitor, 86 % of respondents said they enjoyed webtoons, and 98 % of those in their 20's said they have tried webtoons. In Korea, webtoons are very influential and popular culture.
The sales of major webtoons platforms in 2016 reached 350 billion won and is growing rapidly. Resin Comics with sales of 10 billion won in 2014 increased nearly fourfold with sales of about 40 billion won in 2016. Also, webtoons do not end in themselves, but emerge as the core of contents, producing over 190 secondary contents, including dramas, movies, and games. in fact, the movie " With God " based on the webtoons attracted 14 million viewers in 2017, making it the second highest number of moviegoers in the history of Korean movies and it was sold in 103 countries. webtoons are very popular not only in Korea but also abroad. Half of the 40 million monthly users of Naver's Line webtoons are overseas users. Kakao is also serving webtoons in Japan and has daily sales of 100 million won. Resin Comics also provides about 300 English and Japanese services in Japan and the United States.
According to KT Economic Research Institute, the global webtoon market has more than tripled from 150 billion won in 2013 to 584 billion won in 2016 and is expected to reach 1 trillion won in 2020. Thus, the webtoon industry is growing rapidly with the new wave of hallyu, and is making a huge profit. However, several factors are holding back the growth of the webtoon industry.
Difficulties faced by the webtoon industry
1) Illegal sharing site
One of the main sources of revenue for webtoons is the preview service. You can watch it for free on a weekly basis, but you usually have to pay between 100 and 300 won for the next episode. However, the websites illegally share paid webtoons contents for free without permission, attract visitors, and get advertising revenue. There are so many of them that it is difficult to specify the exact number that there are more than 10 large, enterprise-class operations. The biggest illegal website, " bam toggi, " was shut down recently, and Two-Mix, one of the paid webtoons platforms, reported that the traffic has increased by 30 percent after ‘bam toggi’ was shut down. According to webtoon Statistical Analysis Institute webtoons Guide, there are 58 Korean webtoon platforms and the damage caused by illegal copying is estimated to be more than 200 billion won in April alone. That is a third of the nation’s annual webtoon sales of about 700 million won. And 3133 webtoons were illegally distributed in April.
In addition, it has a great psychological and physical damage to the webtoon artists. They suffer from the mental pain of their work being used as a major source of income for illegal sharing sites, having a negative influence on teenagers.
And the Korea Comic Association's survey showed that the profits from the sale of artists have dropped nearly half of the time since their pieces were illegally distributed.
2) The unfair treatment of writers
In 2017, the number of webtoon artists with released works is 2,250. 42 percent of the total number of students who picked webtoons writer as their future career according to the survey of Korean elementary school students nationwide. However, the reality of a life as a webtoon writer doesn’t seem bright.
Works that are advertised on the main screen of the homepage or included in the discount promotion are advertised to more readers, which is directly linked to profits. According to the webtoon artists, if works are included in a promotion event, profits will increase by two to four times. When the unfair treatment issue arise, Resin Comics excluded those who raised a question at Resin in the in-house blacklist from the advertising exposure. After writing an article on the improvement of the environment of the webtoons artists, Eunsong, the author of " Boy of the Two " got omitted from all the event promotion.
② Deductions of late fees not found in the contract
Resin also extort late fees not specified in the contract. Resin Comics notified webtoons artists by mail that the company will take up to 9 % of their total revenue if they do not submit the manuscript until 3 P.M. two days before the deadline. The company said the entire mail is valid, but this is clearly illegal. Moreover, the writers' association pointed out that the late fees are a double regulation on the part of the writers who are evaluated for their sincerity in the process of negotiating fees and renewing contracts. In the end, the company abolished the treaty.
3) The monopoly of a large platform
89.9 % of readers use Naver as a webtoon platform, 37.9 % use Resin, and 6 % use other platforms except Kakao Page and resin Comics. Apparently four large platforms dominate the market, and they use the position to treat weaker authors unfairly. According to the 2017 survey towards 315 webtoon artists conducted by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, about 10 percent of the authors replied that they were violated by the online platform because of this status.
21.6% of them said they were subjected to the abusive language and human rights violations. and 15.9% of them said they were given private instructions, and 9.5 percent said they were sexually abused.
36.5 % of webtoons artists were forced into unfair contract terms, and 33 % said they lost an average of 76.6 million won due to unfair revenue distribution of platforms. The actual usage rate of the webtoons Serials Standard Agreement, which was created by the Ministry of Culture for a fair contract in 2016, was 23.9 percent. The use of standard contract is only government recommendation and the actual use is up to the platform company. As the contract system is not established, new artists are unilaterally terminated and their contracts are being destroyed.
4) Hardship of shadow writers
Major webtoons artists formally employed on large platforms share their pre-view sales revenue, advertisement receipts, movie production, and game-for-game profits with the platform in addition to the basic amount guaranteed. Naver pays at least 2 million won per month for the manuscript fee. And the review is conducted every three months to raise the price of manuscript. The paid income such as preview and replay is shared by writers and portals at 7:3. Some webtoons with high numbers of views also earned an additional 10 million won in advertising fees per month.
In a case of Resin comics, the basic guarantee is 31.2 million won per year. There are 37 artists who earn more than 100 million won, and the highest-income authors earn more than 180 million won a year.
However, there are about 150,000 people called shadow writers who get paid at the minimum or who couldn’t become artists since they failed to overcome the competition rate of 800:1. Also, the situation is not easy for the shadow writers. According to the Seoul Metropolitan Government's survey on the unfair cultural and artistic practices, the average monthly income is 1.05 million won. In particular, female authors earn 690,000 won a month on average. The wage difference between men and women has been a chronic problem in the comics industry. In particular, there have been several cases in which an assistant writer went to a famous authors 's studio to learn webtoons, but without pay, they did housework for major authors. They are even extorted by famous authors, not even from their pay, by state subsidies to assistant writers. Kang neng yee, the author of the popular webtoons ‘New man with Storm’, also had a hard time in his unknown days. A famous author asked him if he would like to learn comics, but the author didn't teach him for two years and the author made him do all kinds of chores. It was like a life of slavery.
Also, 15 percent of them were violated by senior writers by using abusive language.
So what we should do?
1) Fast response to illegal sharing sites
Currently, illegal sharing sites operate with servers overseas, making closure process complicated and time-consuming. Reporting to overseas authorities takes at least one month to review, and blocking takes two to three months. In July 17, a bill was proposed to swiftly block the network of illegal overseas server sites within a week, but it is still pending in the National Assembly.
In Japan, the government's interest in content copyright protection is so high that it announced emergency measures to urge international server operators to block specific three illegal sites.
The government's resolute institutional system and swift response are urgently needed.
2) Next-Generation Water Mark
Hollywood, which has long been suffering from illegal leaks, strongly recommends the introduction of forensic watermarks to prevent the spread of illegal content and punish spreaders. Forensic watermark is the technic of inserting copyright information into images or images themselves. There is no damage to the original image because it is inserted into the image with fine pixel values that are difficult to visually distinguish. By scanning an image, you can know the source and owner of the image, etc. so forensic watermarks are suitable for webtoons as the original image is not damaged because the image can not be checked with the eyes even after inserting the water marking. This technology is sometimes applied to VOD movies. An unauthorized distributor connected movies paid by VOD to a computer, recorded them, and shared illegal videos. The police were able to identify and arrest the distributor using forensic watermark technology.
3) Improving writer's unfair treatment
Fortunately, the platform is expected to significantly reduce its unfair treatment. The Fair Trade Commission has corrected the unfair treatments after reviewing the webtoons serial agreement used by 26 webtoons platform. As a representative example, it corrects the contents of the contract that requires the platform operator to have all copyright on the secondary content. Even though the secondary content was profitable, the author had little to gain. From now on, it revises separate contracts for the secondary content. It also removes the provisions of late fees. A unilateral termination of a contract by a business owner is also prohibited. In the past, a business owner unilaterally suspended a contract in case of a problem, but now the contract can be canceled only if the reason for contract termination is not fulfilled for a considerable period of time after specifying the reason for contract termination. And if the standard serial agreement recommended by the government is not used, the platform should be disadvantaged. In order to prevent those unfair contract agreements between webtoons artists and platform companies, the fair contract statements should be widely used in the industry not as an option.
The webtoon industry has been growing tremendously over the past decades, but the system is not yet in place. The fame and income of the seemingly popular webtoon writers are shining, but the minor writers suffer from unfair treatment. To make matters worse, the illegal webtoon sharing site is stealing revenues because they are getting bigger and bigger than the official platform. If this is not resolved, the growth engine will gradually be switched off.
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