|▲ People are looking at Kakao friends-shaped dolls in "Kakao Friends" pop-up store in Gangnam.|
/Photograph by Kim Ji-seun
Even in hot weather, everyday there is a long line for a new store next to Gangnam station. A huge number of people are waiting outside for one to two hours to enter this store called the “Kakao friends” pop-up store. The store sells a variety of products based on the Kakao Corporation’s emoticons. There are roughly 15,000 visitors per day including foreigners as well as Koreans. This indicates that Korean character industry is beginning to have a huge impact on a wide range of aspects in the world.
Going through constant improvements, taking a huge income
As a high value added business, the character industry is the next generation industry that builds up massive profits by applying characters to diverse fields such as movies, games, products, or theme parks. These days, its influence has become globalized. Economically, Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA) estimates that the world market for character and license will increase from 140 billion dollars in 2010 to 170 billion dollars in 2016. Especially, the “LINE Friends” store, which is distributed in 11 countries with 19 stores, produced significant profits, nearly 78 million dollars in only three months.
The character industry encourages countries to form a new culture
Both economic aspect and cultural aspect are affected by the character industry. Thanks to the characters, each country can create its own cultural characteristics. For example, Japan, a powerful nation of characters, has character tourist attractions located in Akihabara. With animation figure stores, tourists visit there a lot. Consequently, the globalized character industry enables Japan to form its tour culture and make a profit.
Korean society also appears to be influenced by the character industry. Since character shops such as the “Kakao Friends” store and the “LINE Friends” store were built, a host of Koreans and tourists go to a specific location with the purpose of visiting them. Haozhe Zhao, a Chinese living in America, said, “It is my first time visiting Gangnam station. I heard that these days, the ‘Kakao Friends’ store in Gangnam station has become a place that I have to visit and buy goods. Although most of them are expensive, they are quite affordable because of their quality and uniqueness.”
Fragile distribution structure blocked globalization in the past
In the 2000s, the Korean character industry had a huge domestic success. For instance, “Mashimaro,” a character motivated from a rabbit, was introduced in 2000. It became popular through animation and earned 120 billion dollars. Unfortunately, it confronted a limit and failed to enter the global market.
The limit was the fragile distribution structure. Connecting networks between manufacturers and sellers was not secured properly; therefore, imitated products abounded all over the country, which eventually became an obstacle to the globalization of the characters.
Constant endeavor for the globalization of domestic characters
Both corporations and the government are putting efforts into globalizing domestic characters. As an example, the “Kakao Friends” are diversely utilized not only as characters but as products. The “Kakao Friends” Corporation has started promoting characters by collaborating with other fields of corporations, such as cosmetics, clothes, and food. Using characters in designing products induces promotional effects by alluring various customers and tourists. Peyton Summers, an American tourist, said, “In Myeongdong, I have seen ‘Kakao Friends’ characters in several shops and ended up buying some clothes with those characters.”
In addition, the “Kakao Friends” Corporation opened 18 pop-up stores, where they sell products combined with “Kakao Friends” characters. Having their own stores helps the products be stably produced and sold.
The government has also established the foothold for character designers to meet buyers from overseas. This year, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism hosted “Character & Licensing Fair 2016” from July 13th to 17th. This fair was held to invigorate the export of domestic characters and introduce new licensing items to domestic and international buyers and encourage investments. 314 organizations and corporations participated and 2,900 buyers visited this fair in this year. Compared to last year, the number of participated organizations and corporations has increased, and this means interest in the character industry is growing as time goes by.
Other than that, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism sponsors the “International Character Content Contest” with KOCCA (Korea Creative Content Agency) every year so that potential domestic characters could be uncovered.
As world borders are becoming blurred, the Korean character industry accelerates its overseas expansion. Accessing to global market of the Korean character industry would bring not only economic profits but opportunities to introduce our culture and values. Therefore, a more active movement of both corporations and the government would be the key to globalization.
Lee Min-jeong, Kim Ji-seun email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
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