LINE is a Japanese instant messenger app, produced by an eponymous corporation – the Japanese subsidiary of Korea’s Naver Corporation.
In Asia, the most popular instant messenger apps have evolved to become platforms in their own right. On these, users can play games, send money, and shop – and much more. WeChat in China is perhaps the most prominent and diverse example. Across the Sea of Japan, LINE offers a similar service.
The app was originally developed as an emergency solution for company (then known as NHN Japan) employees during the Tōhoku earthquake of 2011.
LINE as it is now offers much-expanded functionality compared to this practical beginning. LINE Pay not only lets users send money peer-to-peer, but can also be used in shops, like Apple Pay. LINE Taxi allows users to order taxis and LINE Delima to order food (or if they want to pick it up themselves, LINE Pockeo). And LINE MUSIC offers an alternative to Spotify or Apple Music.
And of course, there’s the actual messenger app, through which LINE users can send each other stickers. These cute illustrations, utilised as a visual language, have long been one of LINE’s key revenue drivers. These proved so popular that LINE even earned a fair chunk of revenue through merchandising and licensing deals for these characters.
LINE continues to grow and diversify. At its annual conference in June 2019, it announced LINE Score, an AI-driven social credit rating system (such have been banned in the EU), AI chatbot LINE Duet, and LINE Mini App – a platform on which third parties can host pared-down versions of their apps (similar to a service offered by WeChat in China).
LINE went public in a dual US-Japan listing in 2016.
How many people use LINE? What do LINE revenue stats look like? What are LINE’s key markets? Read on to find out these and more LINE stats.
Table of contents
|Parent company||Naver Corporation|
|Key people||Takeshi Idezawa (LINE Corporation CEO)|
|Company type||Public (TYO: 3938 / NYSE:LN)|
|IPO date||14 July 2016|
Key LINE User Statistics
|LINE MAUs in top markets, millions|
|Japan||Taiwan||Thailand||Indonesia||Taiwan, Thailand, and Indonesia||Total Line users in top four markets|
|Percentage share of LINE MAUs in four top markets|
|Japan||Taiwan||Thailand||Indonesia||Taiwan, Thailand, and Indonesia|
|LINE Pay MAUs by region, millions|
|LINE revenue by section, JPY billions*|
*October 2020 exchange rate: $1 = ¥104/¥1 = $0.0096
|LINE annual revenue, JPY billions|
|LINE core revenue (ads), JPY billions|
* pre-2017 agency ad calculated net; gross from Q1 2017
|LINE core revenue (non-ad), JPY billions|
*Pre Q1 2017 ‘other’ core business revenue section includes LINE Pay, Clova, LINE Friends, LINE Man, LINE Mobile, LINE Baito etc. From Q1 2017 onwards ‘other section’ includes LINE Baito etc, only; LINE Pay, Clova, LINE Friends, LINE Man, LINE Mobile moved to strategic business.
|LINE content revenue by section, JPY billions|
|LINE Manga||LINE MUSIC|
|LINE strategic revenue, JPY billions|
*Pre-Q1 2017 figure is ‘other’ revenue. This includes LINE Pay, Clova, LINE Friends, LINE Man, LINE Mobile, LINE Baito etc. From Q1 2017 onwards, LINE Baito etc moved to core ‘other’ revenue (see above). Remaining business areas filed under strategic revenue.
|LINE Pay transaction volume, JPY billions|
|LINE operating income by section, JPY billions|
|LINE net income, JPY billions|
|LINE stock price|
|TYO, JPY||NYSE, USD|
|All-time high: 31-Jul-20||5590||52.54|
|All-time low: 14-Jun-19||3010||27.57|
|LINE market cap, USD billions|
|All-time high (29-Jul-20)||12.87|
|All-time low (13-Feb-17)||6.46|
Other Key LINE Statistics
- 194 million LINE users globally at the beginning of 2019 (Hootsuite/We Are Social)
- 80% of Line MAUs are DAUs, as of Q3 2020 (Line)
- 3.15 million LINE users in the US as of September 2019 (Statista)
- 4.2 billion LINE messages were being sent daily, and 16.2 billion messages received in Q1 2016 (Statista)
- 11 million LINE Music users as of June 2019, with 32 million app downloads (The Verge)
- LINE Manga downloaded 23 million times as of April 2019 (Line)
- 7.8 users read one of 2,900 original works on LINE Manga’s Free Service every second (Line)
- 20.1% growth year-on-year in LINE shopping transaction volume reported in Q3 2020 (Line)
- Food transaction volume increased 66.8% year-on-year in Q3 2020 (Line)
- Travel related transaction volume grew 44.7% year-on-year in Q3 2020 (Line)
- 57% of LINE revenue in Q3 2020 came from advertising, 28% from communication/content/other, and the remaining 15% from ‘strategic business’ (Line)
- As of Q3 2020, 73% of LINE revenue was generated in Japan, and 27% overseas (Line)
LINE User Statistics
LINE does not publish global users statistics. It does publish MAU stats for its four top markets of Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, and Indonesia.
As of Q3 2020, there were 167 million LINE MAU in these four markets. 80% of these were DAUs, up from 77% in Q1 2018.
LINE MAUs in top-four markets, millions
Data source: Line
According to We Are Social and Hootsuite’s Digital 2019 LINE stats, LINE counted 194 million global users as of the beginning of 2019. This made it the 20th most popular social app in the world at this time.
LINE MAUs vs. other social apps
Source: Hootsuite/We Are Social
As well as being big in Japan, LINE is the most popular messenger app in Thailand and Taiwan. LINE is also big in Indonesia, though increasingly plays second fiddle to WhatsApp.
Countries in which LINE is most popular vs. other messenger apps
Source: Hootsuite/We Are Social
LINE Japan user statistics
In its home market of Japan, LINE has always enjoyed – and continues to enjoy – very steady quarterly growth. Since Q1 2015, we haven’t seen more than one or two million growth in MAUs per quarter. Yet LINE user stats show continual growth, with 86 million MAU reported as of Q3 2020.
This represents a more doubling of LINE user numbers seen in 2013. The total population of Japan in 126.8 million, it should be noted – so this is an extremely high level of penetration.
LINE Japan MAUs, Q1 2013 – Q3 2020, millions
Data source: LINE
LINE users by country
Looking at the top-three non-Japanese markets, we see three different stories.
In Taiwan, we have seen a steady 21 million LINE MAUs since 2018. Given that Taiwan’s population is 24 million, this steady figure represents a triumph. In Thailand, as in Japan, we have seen solid but steady growth, reaching 47 million in Q3 2020.
Indonesia, however, represents a disaster for LINE, with users falling by nearly two thirds since Q2 2017, from 38 million to 13 million. We can ascribe this to WhatsApp’s now seemingly undisputed primacy in the market. The decline in Indonesian users has seen overall international LINE user numbers fall sharply.
LINE MAUs by country (key international markets), Q1 2015 – Q3 2020, millions
Data source: LINE
In percentage terms, we can see Indonesian users have gone from a 22.5% share in Q2 2017 of LINE MAUs in the top-four markets, to 7.8%. Thailand, on the other hand, has climbed from 24.3% to 28.1%.
Since Q4 2019, Japanese users have accounted for over half of LINE top-four market MAUs. Back in 2016, the figure had fallen as low as 38.5%.
Percentage share of LINE users in top-four markets, Q1 2015 – Q3 2020
Data source: LINE
As of June 2019, there were 2.5 million LINE users in the US.
30 million LINE users were reported in India in October 2014, following a period of initial success. It has since been superseded by WhatsApp in the nation, with the absence of more up-to-date figures suggesting a drop off in user numbers.
LINE Pay user statistics
As is the fashion for messenger apps from WePay to WhatsApp, LINE has moved into the mobile payments space through LINE Pay.
LINE Pay MAU totalled 5.64 million in Q3 2020, 2% growth year-on-year. This is something of a comedown. LINE Pay has enjoyed phenomenal user growth in the past, with users nearly doubling between Q1 2019 and Q2 2019, with 181.1% year-on-year growth. We might note the latest figure still represents more than twice the figure seen in Q1 and Q2 2018.
Q2 2019’s 7.41 million LINE Pay MAUs continues to represent the peak month for usage. A ¥30 billion ($278 million) giveaway campaign certainly played a part.
Japanese users may have driven the peak figures, but we might note a steady increase in international LINE Pay MAUs. The latter outnumbered the former in the first three quarters of 2020.
LINE Pay MAUs, Q1 2018 – Q3 2020, millions
Data source: LINE
LINE Pay has set up or is in the process of setting up an alliance with other key payment apps in other Asian markets, These include Payco in Korea and – importantly – WeChat in China. A partnership has also been stricken up between LINE Pay and Visa. This will allow users to apply for digital Visa card that is stored within LINE Pay, and which can be used just like a normal Visa card, around the world. Vendors will not be required to accept LINE Pay for the Visa card to function.
LINE Pay certainly does not mark the end of LINE’s interest in the finance sector. Indeed, it seems merely to be a first step in moving towards becoming a fully-fledged fintech company.
LINE registered as cryptocurrency exchanger in September 2019 so we may well see more payments innovation in this department in the near future. A subsidiary LINE marquee has already been operating in the same capacity in international markets outside of the US and Japan.
A couple of months before LINE was granted a permit to establish an internet-only bank by Taiwan’s Financial Supervisory Commission.
Between the two launches, LINE launched LINE Securities – a mobile investment service.
LINE MUSIC user statistics
LINE MUSIC users numbered 11 million in Japan at last count, with 32 million downloads recorded as of May 2019.
A spate of new features were announced in June 2019; these include a freemium library of 54 million individual tracks (subscribers have access to full albums and playlists), music videos, and the ability to import playlists from alternative music services.
Other LINE User statistics
LINE’s partnership with Starbucks Japan has given rise to the LINE Starbucks Card, a prepaid digital card for use in the coffee chain.The card attracted 2.5 million users within one month of its launch in April 2019. Users can also sign up for Starbucks Rewards. The introduction of the LINE Starbucks card has swelled the number of Starbucks Rewards members to 4.3 million. Starbucks Rewards launched in Japan in 2017.
As of April 2019, LINE Manga had been downloaded over 23 million times.
Two million users, over 230 countries (as of May 2019) have signed up for LINE Creators Market – a platform through which users can create stickers, which can then be sold through the official LINE store. A total of ¥69 billion ($638 million) was generated through stickers created on the platform between 2014 and 2019. A total of 4.9 million sticker sets are available in all.
LINE Usage Statistics
Unfortunately, up-to-date LINE usage data is somewhat hard to come by. The most recent figures that to which we have access date back to Q1 2016. At this point, 4.2 billion messages were being sent daily, and 16.2 billion messages were received. This was, to that point, the highest level of daily LINE usage reported.
Daily LINE message volume
Confirming LINE’s status as a multi-use app, we see LINE transaction volume in ‘strategic growth’ areas on the increase in the Q3 2020 statement. These demonstrate LINE’s increasing role as conduit to increasingly diverse functions in users’ everyday lives.
We’ve seen a 20.1% growth in shopping transaction volume year-on-year. LINE SHOPPING GO was released in December 2018 allowing offline shopping. Food transaction volume has increased 66.8% year-on-year, with LINE Pockeo (a non-delivery takeaway service) released in April 2019. Delivery business LINE Delima reported 118.7% year-on-year growth in Q4 2018.
Travel related transaction volume has grown 44.7% quarter-on-quarter, with new restaurant search and reservation app Odekake NOW released in June 2017.
As we might expect, 2020 has seen slowed growth for travel and shopping, while gourmet transaction volume has grown apace.
LINE commerce transaction volume growth, Q3 2019- Q2 2020
7.8 users read original works on LINE Manga’s Free Service every second. 2,900 titles have been published through this (380,000 titles are available in total).
89% of LINE Manga users read titles in the Free Series, with 80% of these reading original works.
Announced in June 2018 and launched later that year, Smart Channel is an ‘information area’ which appears at top of chat windows, providing personalised information to users based on location and history.
Impressions in this area came to nearly two billion in June, after climbing rapidly since April.
Smart channel impressions, April – June 2019
LINE Pay usage statistics
LINE Pay transaction volume stood at ¥459 billion ($4.4 billion) in Q3 2020 – a year-on-year increase of 60.1%. This makes it the largest quarter ever, ahead of Q4 2018, when total transaction volume came to to ¥375 billion ($3.5 billion).
Strong figures in Q1 and Q2 2020 suggest that LINE Pay remained popular through the coronavirus pandemic (though there was no hard lockdown in Japan). In previous years, Q4 2020 has seen the greatest transaction volume in LINE Pay.
LINE Pay transaction volume, Q4 2016 – Q2 2020
Data source: LINE
Retention for LINE Pay has seemingly also been on the up, with all three payment methods logging retention rates of 80% or over in 2019. This compares to logged retention rates of 43-74% in May 2018 (or 53% in November in the case of the then newly-introduced QUICPay).
LINE Pay retention rate
LINE Revenue Statistics
LINE revenue for Q3 2020 came to ¥62.9 billion ($602 million). This represents a 12.4% increase over Q3 2019. This comes on the back of a small decrease in revenue in Q2 2020 (see below).
Total LINE revenue for 2019 came to ¥227 billion ($2.2 billion), and for 2018 came to ¥207.2 billon ($1.9 billion). This compares to ¥167.2 billion ($1.6 billion) in 2017, and ¥140.7 billion ($1.3 billion) in 2016.
In 2013 and 2014, App Annie reports that LINE generated more revenue than any other non-gaming app. It fell to second in 2015 and 2016, and fifth in 2017, before being muscled out of the top-five by iQIYI.
Annual LINE revenue 2013 – 2019, JPY billions
Data source: LINE
Of the revenue generated in Q3 2020, 57% (¥35.6 billion) came from advertising, 28% from communication/content/other (¥17.9 billion), and the remaining 15% (¥9.5 billion) from strategic business. Broadly speaking, the share claimed by advertising and strategic business are slowly encroaching on that of core non-ad revenue.
As of Q3 2020, 73% of LINE revenue was generated in Japan, and 27% overseas.
LINE revenue sources, Q4 2015 – Q3 2020, JPY billions
Data source: LINE
Both Q1 and Q2 2019 saw negative net revenue figures posted by LINE. ¥10.7 billion ($99 million) in Q1 and ¥17.3 billion ($161 million) in Q2. This compares to $3.7 billion ($34 million) in the black in Q2 2018.
Negative net revenue figures have been posted by LINE since Q1 2019. Q3 2020 saw the figure come to -¥11.33 billion. LINE had previously enjoyed a long run in the black, between Q2 2016 and Q3 2017.
LINE net income, Q2 2015 – Q3 2020, JPY billions
Data source: LINE
In terms of annual LINE profit/loss, the stats show it has been up and down. Most years in the run-up to the 2016 IPO saw figures in the red, with the exception of the ¥2 billion ($19 million) profit posted in 2014. Heavy losses were reported in 2015, a total of ¥7.97 billion ($74 million).
The two years following the 2016 IPO were substantially more robust, with increasing levels of profit reported. This trend was bucked, however, in 2018, in which losses of ¥5.79 billion were posted ($54 million). This pales in comparison to the ¥51.42 billion ($0.5 billion) lost in 2019.
LINE Pay-related costs have been blamed for this dramatic figure.
LINE annual profit/loss 2012 – 2019, JPY billions
Data source: LINE
LINE advertising revenue
Display ads are the most lucrative source of LINE ad revenue generating ¥19.2 billion in Q3 2020. This represents a significant increase on Q2 2020’s ¥16.4 billion, and a near quadrupling of Q1 2017’s figure. Display overtook account ads (¥14.5 billion in Q3 2020) as the biggest source of ad revenue for LINE in Q2 2020, after a weaker quarter for account ads. This looks like it may be the new status quo, post pandemic.
‘Other ads’ – that is from LINE Corp’s other business areas such as Livedoor, Naver Matome, and LINE Part Time Jobs came to ¥1.9 billion. We have seen a steady decline in this revenue since 2017.
Total Q3 2020 LINE ad revenue came to ¥35.6 billion ($340 million).
Note that pre-2017 agency ad revenue was calculated net, while a gross figure was used thereafter.
LINE advertising revenue, Q4 2015 – Q3 2020, JPY billions
Data source: LINE
LINE continues to innovate in its advertising platform, adding video ads to the Smart Channel section of the app in June 2019. Such ads have a daily unique reach of 47 million, reaching 90% of the 15-29 demographic.
Other LINE revenue streams
LINE defines ‘core’ non-ad revenue as that generated from communication, content, and some other areas that don’t come under strategic business. In Q3 2020, these revenue areas accounted for ¥17.9 billion, a second consecutive decline – albeit a small one. This trend may well be coronavirus related.
Communications (¥9.8 billion) accounts for most of this revenue (we might assume this includes the famous sticker revenue). LINE announced a new sticker subscription option in June 2019. Users can access as many stickers as they like for ¥240/month ($2.22). Digital Trends calculate that to buy access to all of the stickers available on LINE would set you back a tidy $3.5 million.
Content is next, at ¥17.9 billion in Q3 2020, while a limited ‘other’ revenue section brought in ¥0.5 billion.
Note to read the below figures. Pre 2017, the ‘other’ core business revenue section included LINE Pay, Clova, LINE Friends, LINE Man, LINE Mobile, LINE Baito etc. From Q1 2017, the figure is for LINE Baito etc, only.
LINE Pay, Clova, LINE Friends, LINE Man, and LINE Mobile are now classed as strategic business areas (see below).
Line core revenue (non-ad), Q4 2019 – Q3 2020, JPY billions
Breaking out some individual LINE content revenue streams, we can see that LINE Manga and LINE MUSIC are both in rude health. LINE Manga transactions came to ¥8.2 billion in Q3 2020, while LINE MUSIC generated ¥3.9 billion.
LINE Manga, at least, seems to be pandemic proof (as a good way to pass the time). But we might note that it has logged impressive growth in previous years also. While LINE MUSIC stalled in Q2 2020, before logging strong growth for Q3, it has also been growing robustly in previous years.
LINE Manga and LINE MUSIC revenue, Q2 2016 – Q3 2020, JPY billions
Data source: LINE
LINE’s strategic business areas brought in ¥9.48 billion in Q3 2020. This is the second-highest figure logged, only a whisker behind Q4 2018’s ¥9.49 billion.
This revenue is divided into two areas: fintech/AI/commerce and LINE FRIENDS. Recent years have seen the former category grow rapidly, reaching ¥6.88 billion in Q3 2020. This marks five quarters of growth. On the other hand, LINE FRIENDS has had mixed fortunes since reaching a high of ¥6.9 billion in Q4 2018. 2020 has seen greatly diminished revenue for LINE FRIENDS, with Q3 2020 generating ¥2.6 billion.
The Pre-Q1 2017 figure we use here is ‘other’ revenue. This included LINE Pay, Clova, LINE Friends, LINE Man, LINE Mobile, LINE Baito etc. From Q1 2017 onwards, LINE Baito etc moved to core ‘other’ revenue (see above). The other business areas mentioned here were filed under strategic revenue.
LINE strategic income, Q1 2016 to Q3 2020, JPY billions
Data source: LINE
While strategic revenue may be have been high in Q3 2020, we might note that in terms of operating income, it is deeply in the red (due to LINE Pay related costs, we might presume). In Q3 2020 these losses came to ¥15.36 billion. Only Q2 2020 (¥19.52 billion) and Q2 2019 (¥23.5 billion).
Core revenue on the other hand is most definitely in the black. Indeed, operating income for core LINE revenue areas came to a record high of ¥12.48 in Q3 2020. Q1 and Q2 2020 also saw figures north of ¥10 billion logged.
LINE core/strategic operating income, Q1 2017 – Q3 2020, JPY billions
Data source: LINE
In Q3 2020, LINE’s largest costs outside of employee compensation (¥20.31 billion) were incurred in relation to outsourcing (¥10.97 billion), closely followed by payment processing and licensing (¥10.24 billion) and more distantly by marketing (¥7.13 billion).
LINE went public in July 2016, listing on the NYSE and the Tokyo Stock Exchange. 22 million shares were offered on the former, and 12 million on the latter.
LINE shares were offered at $42 on the NYSE. Shares reached a high of $44.49, giving the company a market cap of over $9 billion.
LINE share price
In mid-October 2020, LINE shares were trading at $50.95 on the NYSE, giving LINE a market cap of $12.37 billion. They reached their fetched their highest price in late July 2020, at which point they were selling for $52.54, giving us a market cap of $12.87 billion. Clearly 2020 has been good to LINE in this respect.
Prices have been up and down, staying for the most part in the $30-45 range. The first three quarters of 2019 were a little weaker, with a high of $38.73 reported in early February, and an all-time low of $27.57 reported in June – though prices did seem to recover after this point.
LINE share price, NYSE, IPO – October 2020
In mid-October 2020, LINE stock price on the Tokyo Stock Exchange was ¥5370. LINE TYO IPO share price was ¥4345. We see a pattern broadly similar to stock performance on the NYSE, with the all-time high of late July 2020 at ¥5590, and a low of ¥3010 in June 2019.
Back in 2017, the FT identified stickers as driving a boost in stock prices in Japan.
LINE’s TYO market cap was ¥1.31 trillion in late October 2020.
LINE share price, TYO, IPO – October 2020
Finding up-to-date information on LINE – in English at least – can be tricky. We’re left to rely largely on earning statements and what we can glean from conferences.
While we do know that LINE has been up and down in profit over the years, it is a little harder to put our finger on what precisely might be driving these trends.
What do we know? Well, perhaps the closest equivalent to LINE is the mighty juggernaut of WeChat. It too dominates its domestic market, with around two thirds of the Japanese population LINE MAUs. Somewhat like WeChat, there is a clear focus on core markets (with an emphasis on the domestic), and not much evidence for an appetite to compete with WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger beyond that.
The huge drop off in users in Indonesia, where WhatsApp is the most popular messenger app, in Q2 2019 perhaps suggests that this focus will become even tighter in the not too distant future.
Like WeChat it too boasts a diverse range of functions that go far beyond the initial function of a messenger app – and these are growing. Indeed, the introduction of WeChat-like mini-apps will perhaps have the similar result of making LINE more of a platform than just an app in itself.
LINE-branded apps feature in many aspects of Japanese (and Thai and Taiwanese) life – reading Manga, listening to music, shopping, ordering food, travel, calling taxis, banking…a lengthening list, whose growth shows little sign of slowing.
Financially speaking, LINE has been up and down – with no easily discernible pattern. We might assume that the costs incurred by R&D as the business diversifies have been eating into revenue. Perhaps in years to come we can expect a stabilisation and growth as the new business areas take hold. A wider slowdown in app spending in Japanese could potentially prove a challenge for the growing business, however.
So, what can we expect to see from LINE in the near future? At the 2019 conference, a new strategy was unveiled: “Life on LINE”. Perhaps this only makes official what we already could see what was happening – that LINE aims to provide, in their words, “life infrastructure” for its users.
The focus will be on three areas: finance, offline, and AI. Finance we know all about (LINE Pay, the investment platform, the online bank etc). The offline offering will build upon things like the food delivery/takeaway services, to “[unite] the digital and real world”.
AI is, of course, one of the buzzwords of the app space at the moment: and set to be a key battleground of the second decade of the 21st century. LINE’s virtual assistance is called Clova. In the near future, Clova will be working as a concierge in your hotel and helping you navigate during car journeys, among other things.
LINE will also be launching LINE BRAIN – a consolidation of its AI tech to date, various elements of which will made available to third parties – and working with JSAT and Itochu to design a next-gen AI-powered television.
To us in the West, LINE may have an air of mystery about it. In Japan, Taiwan, and Thailand, however, the app is a corner stone of the quotidian. And looks set to consolidate this position through diversification. Whether this is the path to further dominance, or a loss of focus will be the key challenge facing LINE over the next decade.