Growing up, just about everything I did revolved around stickers.
If I did well on a homework assignment at school, I’d get a sticker. If I played through a piano piece with no mistakes, I’d get a sticker. If my parents thought I was behaving well, they’d take me to the sticker store … and I’d get a sticker.
This fascination with stickers eventually wore off. I didn’t care much for the sticker residue that would never come off or how easily stickers would crumple up in my pockets or my hand.
But I’ve started to appreciate stickers again in the new digital format they’ve taken on. Messaging apps are making their content more immersive, and stickers, which are larger and more detailed emoticons and emojis, are stealing the show.
Line, a Japanese mobile messaging company, has an eponymous app that belongs to the same messaging niche as KakaoTalk, WhatsApp and WeChat. It’s very similar to all of these other apps, except for one important feature — its stickers.
Only two years old, Line has been hitting exceptional milestones. The company has 230 million registered users, with more than 47 million of those coming from Japan. From its games and the messaging app alone, Line has made $132 million in revenue.
But here’s where the role of its stickers come in: Line makes more than $10 million per month just from the sale of its sticker packs. Yes, stickers.
What exactly makes these stickers stand out from those of its competitor apps? For one, they express a wider range of emotions than the emoticons on, say, your native iOS messaging app. Need a sticker that will convey just how deliriously angry you are? How about a sticker to show how hungry you are? Line has it all, as expressed through stickers of characters turning red with emotion and ravenously tearing into fried chicken.
There’s more wiggle room for customization as well. No, you can’t make your own stickers (though this might be Line’s next project), but there are certainly a number of packs to choose from such as Hello Kitty, Monsters University, Iron Man 3 and more.
Line, however, isn’t dependent on other brands for its source of stickers. The messaging company has its own set of characters from “LINE TOWN” that include Cony the rabbit, Brown the bear and Moon the human. But Line, as mentioned before, also has its share of sponsored stickers, and other messaging platforms are trying to catch up.
A few months after Facebook debuted its stickers for Facebook Home, stickers for Despicable Me were added to the sticker store, which were rumored to be sponsored. Check the Facebook sticker store these days, and you’ll find that there are stickers for Cut the Rope and Candy Crush — two popular mobile games that are likely sponsored, since stickers can also be used on mobile Facebook messagings.
Stickers also give artists a chance to show off their talents to a wide audience. Every preview of a sticker pack lists the artist that designed the character, so these names get recognition and possibly some work. Path, a timeline-inspired social networking app, for instance, offers many beautifully illustrated stickers by independent artists. Even Facebook’s former sticker designer Sophie Xie ended up striking out on her own to design Dolo, a geolocation app that helps people find each other in San Francisco’s Dolores Park.
Yet, despite the number of platforms that have adopted stickers, Line still reigns in revenue from stickers, and there are a number of reasons that can be attributed to this lead.
Line targets a special and profitable audience. As of September, Japan officially spends more money than Americans on their iPhone and Android apps. Another example of this spending is Puzzle & Dragons, a popular strategy game app that climbed the app charts over the summer and generates $3.75 million a day, mostly from Japanese gamers.
Besides its messaging app, Line also offers a number of games such as LINE POP, a cuter and furrier version of Candy Crush, as well as LINE PLAY, an interactive and customizable Sims-like game, that tie in the main characters they use in their stickers as well. In short, Line has strong brand uniformity.
Even big names such as tennis superstar Rafael Nadal and, as of late, Sir Paul McCartney, are jumping on the Line bandwagon, helping boost the reputation of this messaging app.
On the other hand, not everyone has been pleased with the virality of these stickers and Line. In fact, in May, Apple decided to ban the option on Line to send stickers as gifts to friends. Considering that Apple receives a chunk of these profits, it seemed strange that Apple would put a halt on sending sticker gifts. But since younger children also use this app, it’s a possibility that these kids were exchanging and purchasing stickers for each other. After all, who could resist the charm of a winking Hello Kitty sticker?
Just from stickers, Line has made quite a business for itself. It sounds silly, but the company has been able to keep the momentum going. Is Line making enough money to go public? Possibly, especially since Line can definitely look to expand to other international markets. But is it realistic enough for Line to go public? Give it a couple more years, and see if Line is as strong as it was during its peak.
We’ve come along way from “:)” to full-blown illustrations, but there’s still more room to grow. Stickers as GIFs will most likely be next, as will GIFs and stickers with sound. With so many options and possibilities, keep your eyes peeled: These evolved emoticons are sure to “stick” around.
Sara Clayton is a junior majoring in public relations. Her column “Tech Today” runs Tuesdays.
Follow Sara on Twitter @saraclay15