When the webtoon platform WEBTOON merged with the webnovel platform Wattpad in 2021, one of the reasons that was cited was that Wattpad would provide intellectual property (IP) that could be adapted into webtoons (see “The Fan-to-Pro Pipeline is Changing”). That is indeed what has happened, and with the announcement of the second adaptation, of Kate Marchant’s webnovel Float, it seemed like an opportune time to ask David Lee, VP of Content at WEBTOON, some questions about how the program works and how it’s going.

First of all, what can you tell me about your program of adapting webnovels into webtoons? How many have been adapted so far?
We’ve been thrilled with our webnovel to webcomic program so far. This week we launched the Float webcomic, based on Kate Marchant’s Wattpad webnovel of the same name. It’s a wonderful summer romance that has also been adapted as an upcoming film starring Robbie Amell and Andrea Bang. 

Our first project adapting a Wattpad webnovel was last fall when we launched a title called Night Owls and Summer Skies. It’s a charming LGBTQ+ summer camp romance that started as a popular Wattpad story and has been published by our Wattpad Books imprint in 2020. The title quickly gained a readership on WEBTOON and we knew this was something we needed to do more.

We have a full slate of webnovel adaptations coming this year, with a mix of webfiction from partner publishers and titles from Wattpad. We’ll have Zogarth’s The Primal Hunter, Paranoid Mage by InadvisablyCompelled, Erratic Errata’s A Practical Guide to Evil, Isabelle Ronin’s Chasing Red, and other titles.

Adapting webnovels is a key part of our content pipeline and strategy this year. Globally, we have done this before to great success, with titles like The Remarried Empress. The titles we’re adapting are all exceptionally well-written webnovels with established fan bases, so they are ideal for a new visual format on WEBTOON.

We’ve been building towards this kind of synergy for years. Our Wattpad acquisition in 2021 was the first step in that long-term plan that you’re now seeing come to life. Pairing WEBTOON, the world’s largest digital comics platform, with Wattpad, the global leader in webnovels, meant a stronger content pipeline for both platforms and a massive 170 user combined global audience that already loves that content.

This is all part of our IP & Creator Ecosystem. We’re a story tech company, and we have the technology and platforms to develop incredible IP across webcomics, webnovels, serialized fiction, TV, film, and print publishing. And every one of these formats help creators make more money and expand their fanbase. We’ve engineered this ecosystem to support creators and give fans new ways to experience their favorite stories, regardless of whether they start as a webcomic or webnovel.

How do you decide which ones to adapt?
We’re looking for well-written titles, with enough story to work in a new format. Stories need to have established storyline and arcs to work as a webcomic. And we also consider how visual the story could become. Lots of beautifully written novels have been notoriously difficult to adapt for new formats, so visual potential is a big consideration.

And then we look at things like audience size, recency, ongoing storytelling potential. Is this story popular now or was it popular five years ago? That’s a genuine consideration when we’re imagining tapping into and engaging a fandom.

Are these creator-owned works?
We’re in the business of supporting creators, making sure they can build fandoms and make money across multiple formats. This business requires creator trust and an understanding that we are business partners with a stake in their success. That’s why creators on WEBTOON and authors on Wattpad maintain ownership of their work. Our companies invest in the creator’s vision and work, then work alongside creators in every format, whether it’s online, in print, on TV or film, or even in gaming.

What are the most popular titles and genres on Wattpad and Webtoon? How do the readerships differ?
There’s an enormous amount of content diversity on both platforms. You can find stories and genre mixing on our platforms that you won’t find on traditional bookshelves.

One of the main points of overlap is our audience: both platforms are majority Gen Z and Millennial, and majority women. Another point of synergy is that romance is incredibly popular on both platforms. We have more diverse romance content, including LGBTQ+ romance like Night Owls and Summer Skies, that just hasn’t been historically well-represented in the print market.

On Wattpad in particular, romance takes many different forms. There is a lot of romance and romance-adjacent fiction, like mafia and bad boy romance, romance with action, horror, fantasy, or sci fi elements. This kind of genre mixing is perfect for WEBTOON, where we can serve our romance readership with different kinds of romance storytelling that lend themselves to visual adaptation.

Have you considered novelizing any webtoons?
This is something we’re exploring, but don’t have any news to share yet. With a webcomic, we’re typically condensing, finding ways to replace words with visuals that can capture a scene. The opposite process is one of expansion: we’d need to add a lot more copy to really represent the tones, colors, feelings, and action that can be expressed visually.

Do you expect that the Wattpad audience will follow the comic to Webtoon, and vice versa? Or do you think it will bring in a new cohort of readers?
It’s going to be a mix of both. We know these audiences will follow their favorite stories, because we’ve already seen it with many of our Wattpad WEBTOON Studios adaptations and WEBTOON Unscrolled publications. Part of today’s fandom is celebrating a story’s evolution across formats, and we’ve seen that proven time and again via our adaptations.

An excellent example is Night Owls and Summer Skies. It’s a popular Wattpad webnovel, but since last fall we’ve seen a higher view count on the WEBTOON webcomic, which is now approaching 20M views. We couldn’t have done that without a built-in fanbase bringing their passion to the new format.

Will Float eventually appear as a graphic novel in print? Is that the end goal for all these adaptations?
The end goal is always the same: creating more opportunities for creators to make money by expanding their IP and audience. That’s the IP & Creator Ecosystem.

Now, every project we invest in for adaptation is a candidate for other types of adaptation. When we see the audience follow a story and embrace its new format, we’ll look at other possibilities for the project.

Float is a great example. It’s been a popular webnovel, print novel, and has a film coming out soon. We’ve already laid the groundwork for this title across formats, so a graphic novel could be a natural next step.

How do you determine whether print editions will be published by Wattpad/Webtoon Unscrolled or another publisher?
Ultimately, we’re looking for the best fit for a title based on a few factors. Most important is the creator’s long-term vision and goals. We also have to consider our goals as a publisher, the genres we’re focused on in a given season, and so on.

This always comes back to the IP & Creator Ecosystem, which means we think holistically about supporting creators as they expand beyond the platform. We can work with creators to bring their webcomics to the print market and make them a bestseller, while also helping them understand different entertainment opportunities.

Ultimately, we need to give a creator the best offer for their work. We have to show them that if they publish with us, we can make sure it sells. So far, we’ve sold in an incredible 200k for the first three titles from WEBTOON Unscrolled in just over six months. This is a massive achievement and something we’re very proud of.

We’re unique in that we can support creators across WEBTOON and WEBTOON Unscrolled. This means powerful marketing that leverages our platforms, communities, and social channels. We can also advertise directly on WEBTOON and Wattpad, getting directly in front of 170 million fans. No one else can offer that.

We offer strong tie-in opportunities for titles that are published and adapted for AV under the same banner. And finally, we’re building out our merchandising business, which we expect will create more opportunities for creators in our ecosystem.