How Koreans get their Web Novels

Yesterday I had a long and fascinating chat with a recently arrived Korean international student about Korean webnovels. Webnovels (books written specifically for the web) are extremely popular in Japan, China, and of course South Korea, and have become a gateway for new and rising authors in those countries. Recently, I’ve found myself reading some (fan translated) Chinese Webnovels (more on this in another post) and so I was curious as to what Korea’s market was like.

The student told me a few interesting things:

  • Her primary reading site of choice is NAVER, which is a popular Korean webportal similar to YAHOO, but which offers Webtoons (comics) and Webnovels as part of its lineup. In 2014 alone, Korean NAVER Webnovels had 3.6 Billion views (that’s BILLION, and remember there are only 50 Million people in Korea!).
  • The comics are more popular than the novels, but the Novels still have a large audience which she said is mostly female.
  • Anyone can write a novel on NAVER, but it sounds like there are three tiers- the stuff that anyone can post, the “Challenge League” and the “Best League”. The latter two being high quality amateurs and professionals who get promotion and profit-sharing with NAVER. (More info here.)
  • Works in the Leagues come out in serialized (chapter by chapter) format, with between 1 and 3 chapters released a week.
  • For the first four days of release, you have to pay for the chapter (using NAVER Coins) but after four days it becomes free for fans to read. (To me, this is brilliant, because human nature says most fans will pay to read early, as apparently the student does all the time. However, the old chapters are still there to help readers catch up and interest people.)
  • Advance chapters cost more or less depending on how popular that story is. So if a story isn’t popular an advance chapter might just be 1 or 2 cents, whereas a super-popular book’s chapter might be upwards of 20 cents.
  • Once a book is finished, after a certain time it is archived, which means the first couple chapters will still be free and access to the rest can be rented (for 1 day/1 week/1 month periods) at a cheaper price than reading chapter by chapter.
  • The Webnovels themselves are mostly written in the Young Adult oriented Light Novel format, which means they’re mostly dialogue driven with lots of spacing and simpler language.
  • The Best League novels not only have covers, but each week there is a piece of art that goes with them showing some scene from that chapter in a slightly iconic style.
  • The Best League novels also have an odd quirk I’ve rarely seen before, when major characters have lines of dialogue without any added exposition they just put a tiny portrait picture of the character. So instead of:
    • Sun-yi said, “I don’t know who I love, Byung-Gin.”
      • it will be…
    • [Tiny picture of Sun-yi] “I don’t know who I love, Byung-Gin.”
      • Which I imagine increases the reading speed a bit, and gets rid of some dialogue tags.
  • They’ve solved the Micropayments hurdles by using NAVER Coins, which is real money converted into NAVER credits. Sometimes it’s a 1:1 ratio, but at certain times of year NAVER will offer better ratios to get people to buy more credits. Users can also win credits through contests, loyalty rewards, and other activities that they can then use for buying digital content on the site.

That was pretty much it, but I thought it was quite interesting. As I said, I especially love the part about offering content early for people willing to chip in a few cents, since most people will do exactly that if they want to read the next chapter badly enough. The student says she spends about (the equivalent of) a $1 a week on buying Webnovel chapters, which doesn’t sound like much, but can add up pretty quickly.

It’s sad that nobody in the English speaking world has made the effort to produce such a scheme, because I think it could be a great platform for authors. Right now your options for getting English Ebooks out is pretty much either give it away for free in some form on a site like Wattpad or sell it as a complete volume on Amazon or Apple iBooks. In theory, you could use Patreon to get readers to support you, and let the Patreon subscribers have chapters a week earlier, but the problem is that Patreon doesn’t work in cents, but in dollars, and it’s pretty clumsy.

What’s needed is a system like this- where vetted authors can make money in a profit-sharing system with the website and not-yet-vetted authors can practice their craft in a place where they get a wide potential audience. (Possibly also having the option of making some money as they write as well, depending on how it was set up.)

In any case, I thought it was an interesting system, and worth sharing. If you’re interested in reading some Korean novel translations, you can find some links here in an older Reddit thread. (There aren’t a lot of them out there, but a few.)

Korean Drama: Ghost (aka Phantom)

I’m now an addict, I admit it.

I’m addicted to sharp, well written, high quality television. It’s true.

In this case, it’s the currently running Korean drama called Ghost (also know as Phantom, which can be another translation of its name in Korean) which is an utterly unique and compelling TV series. I heard about it from my wife, who has friends in Korea, and decided to give it a watch.

What I found was a show which was at the same time both familiar and completely new.

Without giving too much away, the basic premise is basically about a man who comes out of a horrible accident with another man’s face, and now has to solve the mystery of who killed “him” without his true identity being discovered. The result is what could be called a mystery-espionage-thriller, and is really hard to pin down.

The tension and suspense in the show is nail-biting, and the twists and turns can only be compared to something like 24,  Death Note or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. (Yet at the same time, it’s like none of those.)  It’s one of the highest rated things on TV right now in South Korea, and totally deserves it. As a side note, it’s also a fairly realistic (though not totally) examination of how real computer hacking and cyber-espionage is done.

One of the things I also love about the show is how it takes your expectations and then twists them around. Much like Game of Thrones, the writers seem to look at each scene and say “what would happen here if this was a typical story” and then they completely do something else.

Is it perfect? No. It still has what I would called Korean Drama-isms, where characters think and do things that real people wouldn’t, but which happen in dramas all the time. There is also a lack of chemistry between the male and female leads, but since that’s not the focus of the show it doesn’t matter much. The real story is among the male leads anyways.

Right now they’re up to episode 11, with 9 more to go. One of the nice things about Korean dramas is that they’re complete stories. Each is only a season long, and in that season they tell a complete story from start to finish, with no plans or setup for more. I like that, and think they should experiment with that format over here as well.

So if you’re looking for something to watch during the hot lazy days of summer, give Ghost a shot. Each episode is better than the last, and I promise it will be anything but dull!


[M/V] Cabi song (Caribbean Bay) 2PM & SNSD – YouTube

[M/V] Cabi song (Caribbean Bay) 2PM & SNSD – YouTube.

My wife is obessessed with this song/video, and now it’s stuck in my head too! It’s Baywatch meets Korean pop! Although I do have to say, those are some really impressive bodies on those stars. As my wife pointed out, the difference between Korean male stars and other asian stars is that the Koreans tend to be really muscular and built.