Home WEBTOON Under Criticism After Covenant Author Alleges They Were Barred From Promoting Their Work

WEBTOON Under Criticism After Covenant Author Alleges They Were Barred From Promoting Their Work

WEBTOON found itself under a new wave of criticism after the author of Covenant, LySandra Vuong (also known as explodikid) revealed that the platform has stopped them from promoting the upcoming print edition of the book within the digital comic. Covenant has been serialized as a WEBTOON Original series since August 30, 2020, and has since gathered over 24.8 million views and almost 700,000 followers.

In a post shared on their social media accounts, Vuong alleges that WEBTOON has blocked their attempts to add the news about the print edition in the comic itself even though such practices were allowed in the past. Oni Press will publish the print edition of Covenant on May 14 as WEBTOON only holds the exclusive digital publication rights. The author goes on to make claims about the lack of raises and general support, which has greatly affected their mental health. Vuong had been instructed to post the promotion on the author page (which serves as a sort of social media platform for WEBTOON creators) but they point out the difference in views and followers: compared to the nearly 700,000 comic readers, only around 11,560 people follow the explodikid account directly.

Anime Corner reached out to WEBTOON for comment regarding these allegations and, while the company didn’t directly address the situation with Covenant, they did highlight that they are working to streamline rules on in-episode advertising policies so that they are consistent. Full statement below:

Providing Creators with a platform to build a global fandom and make money is our top priority at WEBTOON. We have a long-standing policy about advertising and promotions within series. We offer multiple spaces within the platform that enable Creators to promote their off-platform work and share important updates with fans, including Author’s Notes and the Creator Profile. Creators can use the Creator Profile to promote any projects as long as the content of the posts adhere to community guidelines. This can include direct sales links in their bios.
We’re reviewing our processes to ensure our in-episode advertising policies are clear and consistent, along with ways we can better support creators to promote their work on and off of WEBTOON.”

The Covenant advertising controversy comes less than a month after an anonymous poster on Reddit claimed that WEBTOON offered them a contract for their work that would allow the company both digital and print publishing rights as well as merchandising rights and the ability to buy rights to intellectual property (IP). In a statement for The Beat, WEBTOON claimed that the post “misrepresents” the way they work with creators. In a conversation we had with them, they once again stated that the post (posted by an anonymous user who has since deleted their account) was misinformation and that no one tried to take over IP rights. The Beat article also includes testimonials by creators who published their work on the platform (or considered doing so).

In addition to the Originals program, the WEBTOON platform also hosts Canvas that allows users to share their content freely without a contractual obligation. Both Originals and Canvas have space for Patreon links, allowing creators to gather donations from readers. On April 30, Canvas introduced the new Super Like program.

The issue with this feature was that the Super Like initially replaced the Patreon button at the end of each episode both on the website and app, leaving creators to advertise Patreon, ko-fi, and similar services in the episodes themselves, like they have been doing so far. However, after an outrage by both creators and readers, WEBTOON promised to reinstate the Patreon option.

To be eligible for the Super Like program, the series must have 500 likes or more and the creator has to be over 18 years old. When a reader buys Super Like (any of the tiered options) and sends it to the creator, the creator makes money, more specifically 70% of the net revenue (gross revenue with a 30% deduction). The wording on the announcement seemed a bit confusing and it was unclear whether the creator gets 70% of the total earnings or 70% of the 70% of the total earnings, so we once again reached out to WEBTOON for comment:

For Super Likes, Creators receive 70% of net revenue for purchased Super Likes, which is gross revenue minus 30% app store fees (WEBTOON does not receive any share of the app store fees). Creators receive the majority share of the net revenue at 70%, while WEBTOON reserves 30% of net revenue to cover operational costs, transaction costs, and other costs associated with running a global creator platform.” 

Although a satisfactory resolution, there still seems to be a growing discontent between WEBTOON, its creators, and users, as evidenced by a lack of communication with creators reflected clearly in the Covenant situation. We reached out to explodikid, who agreed to briefly comment on the statement we got from WEBTOON:

I have never been made aware of any ‘long standing policy’ besides that my title card must not exceed 1000px long.
I just want my colleagues and myself to be treated fairly and to be allowed to promote our books on our episodes to the audiences we worked very hard to build, which has always been permitted on the platform before this incident.

Naver’s WEBTOON has been a go-to place for creators from all over the world for quite some time now. Although originally known for its Korean content (which brought forth hits such as Tower of God), in recent years it became home to many acclaimed English-original works, having also acquired Wattpad. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the publishing industry saw one of its biggest booms, which was especially reflected in digital releases WEBTOON was a leader in.

The webtoon/digital comics industry is still expanding with more readers than ever, thanks to multiple factors including the merging of what was previously exclusive manga/anime fandoms, and while the speed at which this is happening may not be the same as it was during the lockdown, you can not deny that it is there. Yet, creators seem unhappier than ever and the problem doesn’t seem to lie with the lack of support from the fans but in the lack of communications with platforms where their works are serialized and published. The Super Like/Patreon event on Canvas shows that communication and listening to feedback still exist on the WEBTOON platform and it remains to be seen whether that will also be implemented when it comes to Originals authors, who, after all, are the ones bringing in a big chunk of audience to the platform.

Featured image: Covenant, WEBTOON

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