Line To Open Its Sticker Market To All Designers, Launch Skype Competitor

Line announced today at a press conference in Tokyo (covered by TechCrunch Japan) that it will open its sticker marketplace to all designers and companies. The platform was previously available only to Line’s partners. The open marketplace, called the Line Creators Market, will launch in April. Revenue will be divided evenly between designers and Line.

Line Game, the messaging app’s gaming platform, is still its biggest moneymaker and accounts for 60 percent of total revenue. But stickers make up 20 percent of Line’s revenue and 1.8 billion are sent per day. Opening up the marketplace is a good way for Line to serve users who have not installed Line Game, as well as companies that want to create stickers for tie-ins and other promotions.

Line also announced that it will release a voice-calling service, similar to Skype, that will let users call landlines and cellphones. It will be available first in the US, Japan, Mexico, Spain, Thailand, and the Philippines.

While Line’s messaging app already offers voice and video calls, the new service will be separate, but integrate with Line. It will also allow enterprise users to connect the apps directly to their CRM and direct marketing channels.

One thing that is particularly interesting about the timing of Line’s announcement is that several of its competitors have already added voice services to their apps (or are planning to). For example, WeChat just released a major update of its iOS app that includes real-time location with its Walkie Talkie voice chat feature. WhatsApp plans to launch voice messaging in the second quarter of this year, while FB Messenger and Viber both already have voice functionality.

Messaging apps have already forced carriers to rethink how much they charge for SMS. Now it appears that the top players are planning to disrupt voice calling, too.

Before the conference, Line and its parent company, South Korea-based Naver, denied that it is in acquisition talks with SoftBank. But with the recent $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp by Facebook, as well as the earlier $900 million acquisition of Viber by Rakuten, it would make sense for Line to seek a buyer as the messaging app market starts to consolidate and major players begin to compete more aggressively in key markets.

Alternately, Line may prep for an IPO and take on SoftBank as an investor instead. If so, it would follow in the footsteps of Sina Weibo, which is reportedly preparing to go public as the microblogging platform, whose growth has slowed, figures out new ways to compete with messaging apps.

Ken Nishimura contributed to this report