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Sticker is a serious business at Line

They say a picture is worth 1,000 words but perhaps this classic idiom needs an update. Let's go with, "a Line sticker is worth 1,000 words and some cash too if you know how to make them". Mouthful, I know, but read on and all will become clear.

As stickers become the new universal language, an industry built around it provides an opportunity for aspiring illustrators to make it big on local and international scales. Just think on a personal level first. How many times a day do you convey your thoughts with stickers? You congratulate someone with a picture of Brown throwing confetti or ask for a favour with a picture of Moon holding his hands together while twinkling his eyes. You may even know how tempting it can be to buy new sets of stickers every now and then to further kawaii your conversation with friends and fam. I'm a 30-something proud owner of all Rilakkuma sets, btw.

What if you can cash in your doodling talent in the sticker industry and live off your cute creations? You may not think of stickers as a serious business but the following insider info suggests otherwise. We recently visited Line office in Shinjuku, Japan, along with 10 Thai winners of the fourth Line Creators Market Sticker Contest 2018, to find out how big the sticker industry is and what makes a sticker, well, stick.

Naotomo Watanabe, chief manager of Line Corp.'s Sticker Planning Team.

The numbers speak for themselves

At the risk of sounding business-ey, I sat down with three Line execs -- two from Japan and the other from Thailand -- to gain some insight into the sticker market.

Japan, Thailand and Taiwan are the top countries in the world when it comes to Line stickers usage, while usage of Line stickers continues to increase worldwide, according to Naotomo Watanabe of Line Corp.'s Sticker Planning Team.

As of May 2018, there were 1.5 million registered creators. As for Thailand, the growth of number of paid stickers downloaded in Q1 of 2018 increased by 52% compared to the same period in 2017, while the number of paid sticker users increased by 28% in Q1 of 2018 compared to Q1 of 2017. Moreover, the number of Thai creators reached 340,000 and counting, a jump by 204% from May 2017 to May 2018, while the number of creators stickers soared by 700% during the same period. Thailand come out on top in term of growth in sticker section.

According to Kanop Supamanop, Line Thailand's director of Stickers Business Office, the number of Thai creators made 9% of the total number of creators worldwide last year and rose by 23% in the first half of 2018. Number of paid stickers downloaded for the first half of 2018 increased by 78% year-on-year, too. A lot of big numbers, I know, but they point to a very fast-growing industry with opportunities that Thai doodlers can tap into.

Japanese and Thai sticker creators at a brainstorming session.

What make stickers stick?

Trends of popular stickers in different countries were also discussed during the visit. Heed them as creators can choose markets where their stickers are available via the Line Creators Market. Thus, your made-in-Thailand stickers can go inter. Why not aim high, right? Also, you may be surprised to learn that you don't have to be the best illustrator to make your stickers stick.

According to Yung Ai-Chen, Line Corporation's global sticker manager, Indonesian users prefer humorous, less-text and American-style stickers in their everyday communication. Cute character in white and stickers related to seasons are popular among Japanese users, while the Taiwanese dig designs based on local festivals or big fonts surrounded by cute frames. For the Thai market, characters like little girls and play-on-word stickers are among the best-sellers. But the rule of thumb for sticker design is cuteness and easy-to-use. That perhaps, explains why females between the ages of 25-29 make up the biggest group of sticker buyers. Creators can further improve their stickers by developing new sets of an existing popular character or, now that the sticker approval period is around a week, incorporating what's currently relevant into their stickers. Watanabe added that religion also plays a role in sticker usage as, in Islamic countries stickers with animal characters aren't popular.

In Japan, creators are ranked and grouped in different categories and popular creators will be offered official accounts to communicate with their fans among other support. As for the Thai market, Line offers creators full-on help in order to make it big, as well.

Support for Thai creators

Kanop aims to make sticker-creating a new and legit career in Thailand, enabling creators to live-off their stickers, through various supports and activities. He credited wider distribution channels of Line stickers to Thailand's Line Creators Market achieving highest growth in the world. According to Line Thailand's survey, more than 35% users don't know how to buy stickers.

"We have to put ourselves where the users are so that's why our stickers can be purchased through top-up machines [in addition to online payment via the Line Store]. 80% of mobile phone users use prepaid phones. And one-third of them use top-up machines like Boon Term and Sabai Plus," he explained. This means there are 170,000 distribution points where people can buy stickers across Thailand.

"Creators often tell me that people doubt what they do as a real career," he added. Not only does Kanop believe sticker creation is a great opportunity for uni students and first-jobbers to make extra cash but also a potential life-changing opportunity. "We have had several people who quit their jobs to become sticker creators full-time."

The ten winners of the fourth LINE Creators Market Sticker Contest and three LINE execs, from left to right; LINE Corporation's global sticker manager Yung Ai-Chen, chief manager of Line Corp.'s Sticker Planning Team Naotomo Watanabe and LINE Thailand's director of Stickers Business Office Kanop Supamanop.

To make sticker creation a legit career, Line Thailand organises year-round activities. Sticker-creating workshops are held to drum up interest among potential creators in different provinces before Line Creators Market Sticker Contest accepts applications. Selected winners will get to make their sticker dream come true and enjoy a trip to Japan as an educational bonus. Connect Days are held so fellow creators can mingle, learn from top creators and be updated on trends. Top creators are recognised at the Line Sticker Awards. The fourth Line Creators Market Sticker Contest last year saw 2,200 entries, up from 800. Every month, a top best-selling creator receives B50,000 to turn their creation into merch and a chance to become official stickers. Line matches them up with a manufacturer but the creativity control is with the rising star creator, who gets to sell their merch via Line Gift Shop for free. Pop-up stores where creators can sell their merch is in the pipeline for this year, too.

Who knows what a sticker set can take you to until you make one? There are 40 million Line users in Thailand who are potential customers so, go get 'em! 

Pro Tips

Kanop Supamanop, LINE Thailand's director of Stickers Business Office

"Perseverance is important. You never know which set will be a hit. I always tell creators that if you hit it big with your debut set, you're lucky but if not, that doesn't mean you fail. Think of stickers as content. It doesn't resonate with everyone. You should know who you make your stickers for. Know your target and know what they like. Be creative. Play-on-word stickers are unique to Thai market. Text-driven stickers can top the best-selling charts, too so long as you're creative about it. You don't need to be the best drawer. It certainly helps but that alone doesn't make your stickers stick. Also, think about how people would communication with your stickers in real situations. Stickers with phrases that are often used in daily situations like 'thank you', 'good night' and '555' tend to do well. Not all minute details will be obvious because the screen size so your sticker should be able to communicate clearly at a glance."

Koranan "Place" Chuenpichai Illustrator and creator of six sticker sets

"After meeting with Japanese creators [as part of being a winner of the fourth Line Creators Market Sticker Contest], it reignites my enthusiasm for sticker-making. There's no fixed ways to succeed, it seems. Some creators follow trends while some do what they love. I think it really comes down to keep trying. Sticker-making is my passion project as I dreamt of seeing my stickers on Line since they first introduced creators stickers. I like it when people use my designs and get some joy out of them. My latest set [Animal Addict] is inspired by people complaining about traffic jam but I turn vehicles into different animals and add catchphrases to make it more fun. You can be creative with something that's unpleasant."

Mueanfun "Pink" Sap-anake, illustrator at Plan for Kids

"My main job is illustrating children's books but personally I like to create something more edgy and fun. I thought about things in everyday life first, especially things that come in pairs. At first, I wanted to make a rabbit and a fox but after, browsing through the sticker market, I realised there are so many cute animals out there already. I thought cuteness alone doesn't cut it so I opted for something no one else does in order to stand out. I arrived at a female electronic socket and a male plug and thus, "Plug & Pudgy" was born. They come with catchphrases based on office life."

Pomprom "Aum" Ruksasirikuk, graphic animator

"I submitted my first animated sticker last year but it's my second sticker set. At first I went back and forth between following examples of what sells well or following my gut. After doing stickers for a while, I found myself in need of a new direction. I met a Japanese creator, who does what she loves and believes in. And that's enough to make her creations stand out. With 'Hard Life', I make fun of mistakes or mishaps in real life like running out of tissue while in the toilet or not having enough cash to pay for things at the cashier. I think you should put yourself into your designs. I would love some day to make stickers full-time but first you need to make your characters memorable. Stickers can be a platform to make your characters well-known and that's a starting point. If you want to try your hand at sticker-making, just do it. You only gain from it."

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