100% Digital: Lessons From Korea’s Publishing Goals

In mid-April, I’m scheduled to talk at K.E.Y. Platform 2014, a global business conference organized by Money Today Media. It takes place in Seoul on April 23 and 24.

Broadly, I’m presenting my thoughts on how traditional publishing business models must evolve as content consumption migrates to mobile platforms. I am also part of a panel addressing the nature of journalism as formats and audience expectations evolve.

To guide my participation, I’ve been researching the current state of Korean publishing. One of the interesting links I uncovered was posted by the World Bank in 2011, when Michael Trucano wrote, “What happens when all textbooks are (only) digital? Ask the Koreans!

Around the time of the post, the government had announced its plan to convert all Korean-language textbooks to digital formats by 2015. As Trucano points out, “In no other education system (that I know of) has there been serious talk about getting rid of paper textbooks entirely.” His post left me curious about how far Korea had come in the last three years.

Adapting Education to the Information Age“, a series of annual reports from KERIS (Korea Education and Research Information Service), proved useful. The most recent overview notes that:

Digital textbooks were developed in 2007, were applied to 132 model schools and have been advanced while continuously reflecting the demands of the schools. A digital textbook combines the currriculum of the existing paper textbook with various reference resources and learning support functions, and it can be run on PCs, smart pads of TV, and other digital devices. Digital textbooks can be used anytime and anywhere for the convenience of students and will be used together with paper textbooks. In addition to this, the nation is pursuing to develop and apply a proper teaching model using a digital textbook, and is trying to secure a legal status for the use of digital textbooks, change the distribution method, and revamp copyright.

An accompanying table (the first in the report, on page 13) shows the progress from e-textbooks to digital textbooks, with a target introduction of the latter in 2014.

Three things jumped out at me in reading the KERIS report. The first is the continuing value of looking globally for both markets and digital developments around content consumption. The second is the importance of considering not just format but a transition plan (making changes over time) as well as the way that new products will be delivered.

The third is the impact that both formats and delivery methods have on our standing agreements about copyright. This is not news, at all; Stewart Brand’s declaration that “information wants to be free” was followed by 75 words that included a reference to “endless wrenching debate about price, copyright, ‘intellectual property,’ the moral rightness of casual distribution, because each round of new devices makes the tension worse, not better.”

More recently, copyright scholars like William Patry have actively campaigned for copyright reform that specifically considers the way that content acquisition and consumption take place today and in the future. As we move from the sale of objects to the licensing of access, the rules need to be reconsidered.

A review of the KERIS report suggests that Koreans see how these areas are inter-related. It will be interesting to learn more about what things look like on the ground when I am in Seoul on April 23.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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