will attract more users or alienate them.” Users driven to collect virtual stickers reside in Asia for the most part, where for years they have lapped up Japanese exports such as manga, and “Hello Kitty” characters culture more readily than elsewhere.
What really sets Line apart from other globalised formats such as Microsoft’s (MSFT) Skype is that it has come out of the Galapagos-like conditions of the Japanese tech scene: its wares rarely find fans abroad.
“What’s remarkable about Line is that is the first online service coming from Japan ever to become an international success,” says Serkan Toto a technology consultant based in Tokyo.
“Faster than email, more creative than text and cheaper than calling, what’s not to love,” says one Spanish fan on the company promotional video. Line is a slickly designed product that has garnered awards, including a prestigious Nikkei Superior Products Service Award 2012.
So far, Line has some 41.5 million subscribers, mostly under 30 years old, in Japan alone.
They are called “stickers,” and are intended to help users get their message across in amusing ways.
Sales of such stickers, though many are free, are earning Line’s creators NHN Japan healthy profits of about $4 million a month, according to sources familiar with the company. While other revenue comes from about 30 companies who pay several million yen a month for advertising on the service, such as distributing coupons.