How Stickers Are Earning Millions for Messaging Apps

After the social network revolution comes the instant messaging revolution: the one-to-one method of communication so popular during the early Internet boom is back. Google has Hangouts, Apple has iMessage and, thanks to a $19 billion investment, Facebook has WhatsApp. Within this rising trend is an intriguing boom in a new source of digital revenue: stickers.

Essentially, stickers are oversized emoticons. They enable users to place cartoons, icons and other drawings in the midst of their instant message conversations. These virtual sketches add humor, personality and variety, and users love them. Last year, messaging app LINE announced that it was making $10 million every month from sticker sales.

It’s a growing market of which all the big players are starting to take notice. Facebook is adding new sticker packs to its Messenger chat tool on a regular basis, though they remain free for the time being. In December, the company introduced a LEGO-branded pack for users to download. According to Lars Silberbauer, Global Director of Social Media at LEGO, the move is a way for LEGO to test the waters. “We listen as much as possible on social media and would like our fans to come up with ideas for what they’d like to see in our sticker packs,” says Silberbauer.

Now Path, Viber and many other services are bringing out sticker functionality of their own. It’s a trend that first emerged in Asia, particularly in Japan — the home of anime and manga — giving users a more visual way of expressing emotions and interacting with friends. In some ways, stickers fulfill the job of a video chat without the high bandwidth, and of course, they require less typing, too. They’re the natural next-generation versions of the text-based emoticons we’ve all been using for years in email and text messages.

Sticker packs are often free, but some apps offer premium content for a small payment, and it’s here that the money is made. As the Facebook-LEGO tie-in shows, they also offer an opportunity for brands and advertisers to get their products in front of users. Hit television show The Walking Dead recently released an official sticker pack for LINE, available for free to anyone who added the branded account as a friend on the network.

As the explosive popularity of WhatsApp, WeChat, Kik, Viber and others show, one-to-one apps are the hottest way of keeping in touch at the moment — and stickers are a major part of monetizing that user base.