Naver Corp has beaten China’s ByteDance and U.S. music streaming giant Spotify in an auction for Wattpad, with the Canadian storytelling giant favoring the bid from the South Korean internet company largely because of its digital cartoon business.
Naver said it would be paying $600 million for Wattpad, the world’s largest storytelling platform. The deal is expected to be closed in the first half after regulatory approvals.
Wattpad started to approach potential buyers about a sale last summer, with several high-profile industry players showing interest. Among them were big tech names such as Netflix, Amazon and Facebook, although they all decided to pull out.
The final three bidders for Wattpad were Spotify, Naver and ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, the world’s most popular social video platform.
ByteDance was considered to be at a disadvantage compared with the other two suitors because of a wave of anti-Chinese sentiment that could be an obstacle to sealing the deal. The auction became a two-way battle between Spotify and Naver.
Spotify, the world’s biggest music streaming platform, is also building a podcast empire with major acquisitions and unique content from famous names. It has a $65 billion market capitalization, compared with 56.4 trillion won ($51 billion) for Naver, and the company reportedly had a strong desire to buy the storytelling app.
Naver is believed to have won because of its strong position in the digital cartoon, or webtoon, business. Its subsidiary Naver Webtoon has more than 72 million monthly users, and Wattpad seems to have concluded that Naver’s webtoon strength made it the most suitable partner for the company’s long-term growth, industry watchers said.
“When we started Wattpad in 2006, we understood that technology would democratize storytelling and that stories are the atomic unit of every type of entertainment,” said Allen Lau, co-founder and chief executive of Wattpad.
“In 2021, when every form of entertainment is being transformed, we’ve built a platform that can fuel hits on screen and bookshelves, empowering and rewarding a new generation of diverse creators all over the world. Today’s news is about continuing Wattpad’s journey and taking our business to the next level.”
Kim Jun-koo, chief executive of Naver Webtoon, said, “Wattpad joining Webtoon under the Naver umbrella is a big step toward us becoming a leading global multimedia entertainment company.
“Both Wattpad and Webtoon care most about helping creators tell their story their way, and both represent world-leading collections of inspired, imaginative storytelling intellectual properties,” he added. (Reporting by Hee-yeon Han)