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
Key LINE Statistics
- 194 million LINE users globally at the beginning of 2019
- 164 LINE MAU in key markets of Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, and Thailand in Q2 2019
- 80 million LINE MAU in Japan
- 79% of MAUs are DAUs
- 2.5 million LINE users in the US
- LINE Pay users numbered 7.4 million in Q2 2019 – a 118% year-on-year increase
- 5 million LINE Pay users in Japan
- LINE Pay transaction volume stood at ¥286 billion in Q2 2019 – up 10% year-on-year
- 11 million LINE Music users, with 32 million app downloads
- LINE Manga downloaded 23 million times
- 7.8 users read one of 2,900 original works on LINE Manga’s Free Service every second
- LINE Manga revenue came to ¥6.3 billion ($59 million) in Q2 2019, while LINE MUSIC generated ¥2.6 billion revenue ($24 million)
- 78.8% growth year-on-year in LINE shopping transaction volume reported in Q2 2019
- Food transaction volume increased 76.3% year-on-year in Q2 2019
- Travel related transaction volume grew 85.4% quarter-on-quarter in Q2 2019
- LINE revenue for Q2 2019 came to ¥55.4 billion ($518 million); a 9.5% increase over Q2 2018
- 55% of LINE revenue in Q2 2019 came from advertising, 32% from communication/content/other, and the remaining 13% from ‘strategic business’
- As of Q2 2019, 74% of LINE revenue was generated in Japan, and 26% overseas
- Q2 2019 LINE ad revenue came to ¥30.7 billion ($285 million), a 12.9% increase year-on-year
- Total LINE revenue for 2018 came to ¥207.2 billion ($1.9 billion)
- LINE shares were trading at $38.61 on the NYSE in September 2019, giving LINE a market cap of $9.4 billion
- The contemporaneous LINE price on the Tokyo stock exchange was ¥4155, with a market cap of ¥1 trillion
LINE User Statistics
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 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 behind 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. Yet LINE user stats show continual growth, with 80 million MAU reported as of Q2 2019.
This represents a 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 MAU Q1 2013 – Q2 2019
LINE users by country
Between Q2 2018 and Q2 2019, LINE user numbers in its four key markets remained set at 164 million. We saw low levels on growth in LINE user numbers in Japan and Thailand, unchanged user numbers in Taiwan (albeit this is a market with 91% LINE penetration), and a significant contraction in user numbers in Indonesia, where LINE seems to have lost a quarter of its users in a single year.
Across these four markets, we’ve seen a small increase in the proportion of DAUs, who now account for 79%, up from 77% in Q2 2018.
LINE users by country (key markets), Q2 2019 vs. Q2 2018
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 has enjoyed phenomenal user growth, with users nearly doubling between Q1 2019 and Q2 2019. In total user growth stands at 181.1% year-on-year. LINE Pay users totalled 7.4 million users in Q2 2019. This compares to 2.6 million merely 12 months before; incredible growth showing the payments app’s huge potential.
LINE Pay global MAU, Q2 2018 – Q2 2019
As we might expect, growth in LINE Pay users has been driven by user growth in Japan. In Q2 2019, LINE Pay registered just short of 5 million users – with 3 million growth logged between Q1 and Q2 2019. A ¥30 billion ($278 million) giveaway campaign ran in the second quarter is pegged as a driver of growth.
LINE Pay Japan MAU
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 in the Q2 statement LINE usage in ‘strategic growth’ areas on the increase. These demonstrate LINE’s increasing role as conduit to increasingly diverse functions in users’ everyday lives.
We’ve seen a 78.8% growth in shopping transaction volume year-on-year, with LINE SHOPPING GO released in December 2018 allowing offline shopping. Food transaction volume has increased 76.3% 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 85.4% quarter-on-quarter, with new restaurant search and reservation app Odekake NOW released in June 2017.
LINE commerce transaction volume growth, Q2 2018 – Q2 2019
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 ¥286 billion ($2.7 billion) in Q2 2019 – a year-on-year increase of 10.1%. The largest quarter over the last year came in Q4 2018, with total transaction volume coming to ¥375 billion ($3.5 billion).
It is, of course, not illustrative to compare Q4 with Q2 in terms of transaction volume, but we can certainly take the year-on-year figure as a sign of its growth.
LINE Pay transaction volume, Q2 2018 – Q2 2019
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 Q2 2019 came to ¥55.4 billion ($518 million). This represents a 9.5% increase over Q2 2018. The increase over Q1 2019, however, is marginal. If we take operating income into account as well, however, a deficit of ¥14 billon ($130 million) means that year-on-year we see a decline of 6%.
Total LINE revenue 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.
Annual LINE revenue 2013 – 2018
Of the revenue generated in Q2 2019, 55% came from advertising, 32% from communication/content/other, and the remaining 13% from strategic business.
As of Q2 2019, 74% of LINE revenue was generated in Japan, and 26% overseas.
LINE revenue sources, Q2 2018 – Q3 2019
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 Q3 2018.
LINE net income, Q2 2018 – Q2 2019
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.
In terms of annual LINE profit/loss, the stats show it has been up and down. Most years in the run-up to the IPO saw figures in the red, with the exception of the ¥2 billion ($19 million) profit posted in 2014.
The heaviest losses to date were reported the following year, with LINE 2015 losses standing at ¥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) and looks set to be continue in 2019.
LINE profit/loss 2012 – 2018, billions of yen
LINE advertising revenue
‘Account ads’ are the most lucrative source of LINE ad revenue generating ¥15.6 billion; a 11.6% increase year-on-year was reported in Q2 2019.
The strongest year-on-year growth (24.8%), however, was reported in display ads, which account for ¥11.5 billion in total. ‘Other ads’ – that is from LINE Corp’s other business areas such as Livedoor, Naver Matome, and LINE Part Time Jobs stayed level at ¥3.6 billion from Q1 2019 – and is in fact down year-on-year.
Total Q2 2019 LINE ad revenue came to ¥30.7 billion ($285 million), a 12.9% increase year-on-year.
LINE advertising revenue, Q2 2018 – Q2 2019
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
Breaking out some individual LINE revenue streams, we can see that LINE Manga and LINE MUSIC are both in rude health. LINE Manga transactions came to ¥6.3 billion ($59 million) in the quarter in question, while LINE MUSIC generated ¥2.6 billion ($24 million). Both are well up on 2018 figures, with the former posting incredible growth of 76.5%, and the latter the nearly as impressive 57%.
LINE Manga and LINE MUSIC revenue, Q2 2018 – Q2 2019
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.
LINE spent a total of ¥13.1 billion ($121 million) on marketing – ¥11.3 billion ($105 million) of which was spent. This represents a significant increase not just year-on-year (threefold), but quarter-on-quarter.
LINE marketing spend
Outside of employee compensation, marketing costs were the biggest expense for LINE in Q2 2019. In previous quarters, outsourcing has been the biggest LINE expense, followed by marketing and payment processing & licensing (and other operating expenses).
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
At the time of writing, LINE shares were trading at $38.61 on the NYSE, giving LINE a market cap of $9.4 billion. They reached their fetched their highest price in late July 2019, at which point they were selling for $48.40.
Since that point, 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 a low of $27.57 reported in June – though prices did seem to recover after this point.
LINE share price, NYSE, IPO – September 2019
LINE stock price at the time of writing was ¥4155 ($38.44) on the Tokyo stock exchange. LINE IPO share price was ¥4345. We see a pattern broadly similar to stock performance on the NYSE, albeit the high point in LINE stock price in its native Japan was July 2018, with shares going for ¥5188 ($47.99). Back in 2017, the FT identified stickers as driving a boost in stock prices in Japan.
Again, we see what looks like a difficult 2019, with below average stock prices, coming to a low of ¥3010 in June ($27.85) – and also the recovery thereafter.
Current market cap is ¥1 trillion ($9.25 billion).
LINE share price, NYSE, IPO – September 2019
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.