WBTN: Webtoon registers with the SEC to go public

The popular webcomics platform plans to list its stock on the NASDAQ.

Webtoon Entertainment, the parent company of the popular webcomics platform Webtoon, has filed paperwork with the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission to begin the process of becoming a publicly traded company. According to the prospectus, Webtoon would list its stock on the NASDAQ market under the WBTN symbol.

The prospectus is a great read if you’re interested in the business aspects of Webtoon, how it operates and how it views creators, who are vital to its business model. It’s also very readable, compared to a lot of legal/government filings, as it tells the story of the company and its founder/CEO, Junkoo Kim.

 “The project was born out of my own love of comics, which I’ve been passionate about since I was young,” Kim writes in his opening message. “Comics are like a window into another world, capable of transporting readers to distant, fantastic places, and creating new perspectives. I’ve long admired the talented artists who create comics and have the incredible gift of building entire universes on a page. I truly love visual stories and storytelling, which is why I am so passionate about helping a diverse new generation of creators succeed.”

Kim was a search engineer at the Naver Corporation, the South Korean internet conglomerate that currently owns Webtoon Entertainment, when he came up with the idea for it. According to the paperwork, Naver would retain a controlling interest in Webtoon after the public offering. The exact percentage of ownership they plan to offer and the opening price have not been determined and aren’t included in the document. They also don’t plan to offer a dividend for the foreseeable future (which is something my dad will ask about if he sees this).

But what is included? Stat and data on Webtoon, as displayed in this handy infographic and the document itself:

(MAU, a common acronym in the gaming/online space, stands for “monthly active users.”)

While its revenue was over $1 billion last year, it should be noted that the company isn’t profitable — it posted a loss of $144.8 million in 2023, which was larger than the $132.5 million loss in 2022. But maybe 2024 could change things? They posted a $6.2 million profit in the first quarter of this year, which is hopeful, but we’ll see how the year shapes up. Going public would mean we’d see regular quarterly reports on how they’re doing, as they’d be legally required to release them to shareholders and the public.

Some other interesting tidbits:

  • Webtoon has three major sources for revenue: content fees, advertising and IP adaptation, or the creation of films, TV series, games, merchandise or print books from their webcomics and webnovels.
  • In 2023, Webtoon collected $1.03 billion in fees from users to view their content — the bulk of that $1.3 billion number listed above. They have more than 7 million users in North America, with 500,000 of those being paying users.
  • Advertising brought in $145.5 million in 2023.
  • IP adaptations brought in $108.3 million. Webtoon launched Webtoon Unscrolled in 2021, their own print graphic novel imprint, and they also have published their webcomics in print through Amazon Publishing, HarperCollins, Macmillan/Tor Books, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster.
  • In 2023, professional creators on the platform averaged $48,000 in revenue, with the top 100 creators earning an average of $1 million and 483 creators earning over $100,000. There are 24 million creators across all Webtoon platforms, so you can guess the majority are not earning those sorts of numbers. They’ve taken some heat recently for the contracts they offer creators, which you can read about here.

So what happens next? This document filing means they’re now registered with the SEC, but there are still several steps in the process before they can launch an IPO, or initial public offering, of their stock. You can read more about those steps here.

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