Consider these figures: This is the country with the fastest Internet speed in the world at 13.3 Mbps (against 8.7 Mbps in the U.S.), and 98% of its households have access to broadband Internet. More than 80% of its 50 million people use smartphones, with penetration among the 18- to 24-year-olds at an astounding 97%. The government is spending 1.6 trillion won ($1.7 billion) to roll out next-generation 5G wireless services, set to be launched at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and for commercial viability by 2020. Is it any wonder then that its largest metropolis, Seoul, is dubbed the “bandwidth capital of the world”?

And now Korea’s sophisticated digital-mindedness has permeated its publishing industry. The younger generation of digital natives is proving to be not only a rich testing ground for but also a discerning group of consumers of anything mobile, cloud-based or media-related. The government’s digital classroom initiative, aimed for 2015 completion, also helps to propel the e-book and e-publishing market. As such, visitors to the London Book Fair on April 8–10, where Korea is the market focus, “will see just how much progress Korean digital publishing companies have made in the past couple of years,” says Eric Yang, president of Seoul-based RHK and Tabon Books as well as director of the market focus executive committee. “We are serious about e-publishing and we are here to stay.”

Inevitably, some will point out that the Koreans are late to the (digitization) party, which was started way back in the late 1970s by India-based digital solutions companies and now dominated by them. For sure, there is no first-mover advantage to be had. But Yang, who is also v-p of the Korean Publishers Association, has a different take on that: “I have nothing but respect for our Indian counterparts. They seized the opportunity presented by the growing market demand for digital products and leveraged their highly skilled yet low-cost labor pool to their advantage. But look at the automobile industry: the prestigious German brands of Mercedes, Audi and Volkswagen have not stopped Korean automakers from competing with them effectively and, in some cases, outstripping them in terms of reliability, engineering excellence and design aesthetics. So while Korea is a relatively new entrant to the e-publishing industry, I would like to think that our digital solutions companies will replicate the success of our automobile industry within the next five years.”

Although Korea is not known for low-cost labor, its strength in technology and its relentless pursuit of innovation are undeniable. How else could its people have turned the poorest country in the world back in the 1960s—and one without natural resources—into what is now Asia’s fourth largest economy with the world’s 15th highest GDP (gross domestic product)? Look at its track record: it has the world’s biggest information technology firm by revenue (Samsung Electronics), the fourth largest mobile phone maker (LG Electronics) and the first service provider to offer a publicly accessible LTE-Advanced network (SK Telecom). In other words, digital technology and innovation coupled with a top-notch infrastructure—supported by homegrown talent and extensive adoption and consumption—has worked in Korea’s favor in the past, and will continue to be its greatest strength going forward.

Beyond developing and creating digital content, there is much work to be done to take local content to the global stage. As Yang points out, “Before we can expect foreign readers to explore our literature and culture, we first have to create awareness and arouse curiosity, something that the Koreans traditionally are not very good at doing. Despite the so-called Korean wave, Westerners’ idea of Korean culture is made up largely of K-pop and kimchee. Little is known about our ancient nation with its proud, and mostly honorable, heritage. So our mission in London is to bring attention to these little-known aspects in a variety of engaging ways. And if we succeed, the rest will follow.”

Domestically, faced with consumers who are accustomed to high-level interactivity, enhanced multimedia and fast connectivity in their mobile content, fresher approaches and new ideas are crucial to get anything noticed (or purchased). The industry’s emphasis is more on ideation, creation and development of new content as opposed to conversion and digitization of existing content. Any conversion and backlist digitization, done in much smaller volume (unlike those handled by India-based companies), tends to mean integrating new assets to rejuvenate the content.

Apps, on the other hand, boast interesting features such as on-site global positioning and personalization. For instance, within a travel book app, users can click on a hotel or restaurant address to get the location map, access a real-time currency calculator or check the local weather forecast. They can also take photos and turn the app into a personal travel journal. Other than content, there are trademarked digital rights management and watermarking solutions designed for multimedia companies and governments, and a cloud-based platform for digital content creation targeted at the self-publishing community.

Starting from ground zero is the hallmark of many Korean digital companies. These start-ups collaborate with publishing houses, domestic and overseas, to develop new content and explore novel ideas. Some are focused on creating ecosystems or platforms to enable content creation and distribution. One company, for example, has been turning travel guides into apps for a major publisher, and the titles shot to the Korean AppStore’s top-grossing apps list when they were launched.

For the Koreans, the industry buzzwords are the same as elsewhere—XML, EPub3, HTML5, apps, cloud, analytics, big data and discoverability—reflecting the homogeneous world we live in today. The challenges, naturally, are no different: pricing, turnaround time, content obsolescence, newer devices, ever-changing standards and fickle-minded publishers (and consumers). Size-wise, the biggest of the start-ups has no more than 40 people, while the smallest, less than 10. Selected for this review, in alphabetical order, are nine of the companies, each unique in its own ways.

BookJam Corp.

Specializing in book apps for smartphones and tablets, BookJam’s business approach is to form alliances with publishing companies “that are not so keen on investing lots of money in e-books,” says CEO Hanyeol Cho, whose team of 32 people has worked with some 50 Korean publishers. “Using our proprietary format BXP [BookJam Xtensible Publication], we can produce highly interactive multimedia book apps with a much more sophisticated layout than any e-book in the market and with more features than what EPub allows. We can add Vimeo video, embed maps, offer social media, enable audio recording and much more. BXP also allows auto-compression of images to enable fast download that is adjusted to the resolution of the device.” More than 200 book apps have been produced so far, and BookJam controls at least half of the book apps market in Korea.

BookJam also produces boxed apps based on an author’s collection of works, as well as store apps with payment facilities. Manga collections and French author Bernard Werber’s sci-fi titles (including his bestselling Le Papillon des etoiles) are among its popular boxed apps. “Our strength is in graphic novels and comics as we can offer highly sophisticated graphic layouts, better readability and faster production turnaround with BXP,” adds Cho, creator of the proprietary format. “User experience takes priority in our R&D efforts. Korean readers are spoiled as they are used to beautifully designed books printed on high-quality paper. Now they want the same aesthetics and experience replicated digitally, and that is the main reason behind the creation and development of BXP.”

Cho and his team also offer publishers a content platform to showcase and sell their book apps. “To focus on their core competencies, publishers have always relied on retailers and aggregators to push their titles. But this means they do not have any statistics on the sales or end-consumers. They would not have the necessary information to improve their product discoverability or plan new products. With BookJam’s e-store and analytics, we can help publishers plan their marketing strategy or product development,” adds content producer Hyunkyung Kim. “For instance, based on such consumer analytics, we decided to offer our boxed manga apps in different volumes and at different prices. It is about knowing the market, how much consumers are willing to pay and how we should offer the product.”

With a new cloud-based content platform nearing completion, the team has already started working on children’s e-books for it, including prenatal care titles. Much attention is also given to expanding its market. So far, its manga collections have been successfully launched in Japan and China. The content platform is also being integrated into a Japanese publishing company’s infrastructure. “We have a great product in BXP, and we are finding new areas where it can be used to provide high-quality content,” says Cho, attributing the company’s success to his team of talented engineers and developers, who love books and have a great relationship with their publishing clients.


While others were still contemplating entering the e-publishing market, CEO Michael Kim took the plunge by setting up i-ePUB in November 2010. As the industry first mover, the company got to produce many of Korea’s first e-publications for domestic clients such as KDB Daewoo Securities, Korean Broadcasting System and Toyota Korea. Barely one year after its inception, i-ePUB became an OverDrive partner and provided Korean e-books to 15,000 libraries and schools around the world. It is also the partner of choice for Publish on Demand Global and Kobo.

Now i-ePUB converts, publishes and distributes e-books of all kinds, as well as aggregates content for local and foreign distributors such as Yes24, Bandi & Luni’s, Aladdin, Amazon and Apple. But the start was tough because “we were doing it very much by trial and error in the new Korean e-book market. Publishers were just beginning to look into digitization, and few were willing to invest in e-books. No one knew exactly what would work or sell in Korea, much less make a profit out of it. So we started with the most basic format—PDF-based e-books—and learned our way around new formats and solutions through relentless R&D. Today we produce various types of e-books in EPub2, EPub3, HTML5 and apps with more than 200 publishers big and small,” says Kim, adding that their business partners also include Samsung, CJ Group, Korea Foundation and radio/TV broadcasting company TBS. “We have created about 200 titles of our own besides converting e-books for various enterprises and government agencies.”

Apps for magazines, user manuals and catalogues are another i-ePUB specialty. It started with user manual apps for Samsung’s launches of Galaxy S3 and Galaxy Note 10.1 back in July 2012. Another client, TBS eFM, contracted the company to produce its annual Digital Magazine app for both smartphones and tablets. “We also created a kid’s app for MIFAFF [Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries], an app for a Robert Capa photo exhibition held by major daily newspaper Kyunghyang Shinmun, and TecKo’s skin-scuba catalogue app. These projects tested our understanding of the technology beyond what is normally used for the publishing industry and contributed tremendously to our development as an apps creator.”

This year, Kim will launch a storyboard portal service that he estimates will reach more than one million users daily. The challenge, he adds, is to find good authors with valuable content from which enhanced e-books, webtoons or apps can be produced. “We intend to start this service in Korea before offering it in selected countries for the first stage of our expansion. With Korea as the market focus at the upcoming London Book Fair, we have a great opportunity to showcase our products and services to the rest of the world. Together with other digital publishers, we can collectively market Korea as a new digital publishing hub for publishers as well as other verticals.”


Here is a company with 12 years of e-learning R&D behind it, although it was officially established only in December 2011. At the heart of iPortfolio is its patented platform Spindle Books for transforming print books into premium interactive e-books. “It provides a unique user interface especially for educational titles, travel guides and children’s books, and our Universal Spindle Viewer accommodates EPub3 fixed and reflowable layouts with enriched features. Our SpinTools for authoring enables a fully interactive e-book to be created under eight hours,” explains co-founder and CEO Robert Kim, who boasts more than 17 years of IT and education industry experience.

“Our goal is to allow publishers to digitize their titles and build their own e-book platform in the most timely and cost-effective way possible. Along the way, we want to add value and enrich the user experience of e-titles while staying true to the original design and page layout,” adds Kim, whose company works on a project-by-project basis or on a revenue-sharing model with publishing partners.

So far, nearly 1,000 titles have been produced for various clients, and its biggest success to-date is a travel-guide series from RHK. “Nine out of the 10 travel guides were among the top 10 grossing titles in the paid travel app category on the Korean Apple AppStore when they were first launched. We have produced around 50 travel guides for RHK, and many are still on the top grossing list,” says co-founder and CTO Jonghwan Lee. “But we are not resting on our laurels as far as this series is concerned. Our team has been developing new tools and features, such as location-based page search as well as a camera function that allows conversion, personalization and integration of a photo album into the guidebooks. We are also in the midst of producing the English and Japanese editions.”

Another major undertaking, the Oxford Learner’s Bookshelf (OLB), is an OUP-iPortfolio initiative to bring to the market highly interactive OUP books, powered by Spindle Books. “We help OUP provide e-textbooks through OLB to Abu Dhabi-based Higher Colleges of Technology for a paperless classroom environment serving around 19,000 students on 17 campuses. OLB is now the de facto OUP platform for ELT titles,” says Kim. (See online article on interview with director Paul Riley of OUP-ELT.)

“When smartphones entered the picture in 2007, we envisioned content converging around an integrated and interactive platform that is neutral and highly mobile. We then set out to ‘transform books and reform education,’ which by the way is our company motto. Education is not limited to the classroom—travel expands it,” says Kim, adding that he and his team “are embarking on a journey to provide scalable publishing solutions and highly functional educational materials to the Korean market and beyond.” With DSC Investment—an award-winner at the 2013 Korea Venture/Start-up Conference—as his financial partner, Kim is setting his sights firmly on the global market for the next phase of iPortfolio’s expansion.

MarkAny Inc.

Fifteen-year-old MarkAny specializes in DRM (digital rights management) and watermarking technology and solutions. “On the Internet, copyrighted content can spread virally and illegally into the hands of unauthorized users if distributed without any protection. This would deal a devastating blow to copyright holders and the company or companies aggregating the content,” says executive v-p David Kim, whose team of 150 people has helped to promote DRM technology both in Korea and abroad. MarkAny’s DRM and watermarking solutions have been adopted in the public, financial, manufacturing, publishing, entertainment, and online services sectors. “In the entertainment business, for instance, our DRM and watermarking solutions are designed to protect music, movies, and interactive e-books.” Kim explains how watermarking works: “It is embedded as digital codes inside the audio, movie or e-book content. So, in a video posting, for instance, our watermarking code would reveal the party or person responsible for distributing it.”

MarkAny started developing core technology for the e-book industry in late 2009, offering CMS (content management system) and DRM solutions for monitoring sales and providing transaction transparency. “Our all-in-one e-book solutions platform—consisting of PC and mobile viewers, an ePub authoring tool, CMS and DRM—prevents the illegal distribution of purchased and downloaded e-books. We use media content DRM technology to block access to users without a content license. The technology also supports screen-capture protection for both PC and mobile viewers so that no one can copy or distribute the content. By preventing illegal copying or distribution, content can then be sold at a reasonable price,” says Kim.

Given that there are few watermarking companies in the world, it is not surprising that MarkAny has close to 130 registered patents, of which around 30% are for the global market. Another 142 patents have been filed.

In recent months, MarkAny has launched many new trademarked products, including SmartDetect (for mobile verification of document forgery), Media-Plus (for auto-recognition of content), AegisSAFER (a mobile device management solution) and AppSAFER (mobile application security solutions). SmartDetect is developed to address loopholes in QR codes—the open codes being vulnerable to forgery and phishing—by utilizing a 2D secure barcode system the company developed that does not require a PC scanner or dedicated software. MediaPlus, on the other hand, applies either watermarking or fingerprinting to recognize and identify content. (Fingerprinting identifies content by analyzing unique properties of the original content and comparing the result with a stored database.)

Internationally recognized, Mark-Any’s technology is used in the U.S., Canada, Japan, Europe, China, and many countries in the Middle East and ASEAN. “With online information and business growing rapidly, preventing leakage of confidential data and illegal copying and distribution of copyrighted works has become a major concern,” adds Kim. “MarkAny will do its utmost to help protect clients’ property, and we aim to turn Korea’s #1 security solution provider into a global one.”

Naver Corporation

The first Korean web portal to develop its own search engine, Naver was officially launched in 1999 and now has 3,000 staff working in different divisions such as book, email, shopping mall, news and children’s (Junior Naver). With 70% of the market share in Korea, Naver is the fifth most popular search engine in the world.

Naver’s book and academic search services cover published books as well as academic theses. “There are currently 7.3 million print titles in our database, of which 1.5 million are published by Korean companies. The book information comes from the publishers, but we have 40 special reviewers and 20 professional recommenders to provide a balanced commentary on each title. At the end of the day, we want to provide our users with the most accurate and up-to-date information,” says team leader Chongsou Yun, adding that the service is crucial in view of the lack of advance book information in the Korean publishing industry. “Publishers are heavily reliant on bookstores—traditional and online—to promote and sell their titles. But the declining reading habit and lower birthrate require publishers to find different ways to reach potential readers and promote reading. Naver offers one such channel, and it reaches more than 4.5 million visitors per month.”

Trend-wise, self-healing, self-help, how-to and humanities titles were popular at Naver in the past six months. “We regularly select an author to recommend, such as British author Julia Golding’s YA titles last November and French author Bernard Werber’s sci-fi titles two months ago.” Self-publishing, Yun adds, “is still in its infancy in Korea. If a self-published title is promoted or mentioned on Naver’s blog or community post, our portal users may pick it up, but it would not be maintained in our title database. As for e-books, they are not as popular as they should be, but the segment is growing at Naver, and readers generally prefer light e-novels and e-comics.”

Speaking of comics, no other platform (or company) offers more support or promotion than Naver Webtoon. When comics publishing declined steeply in the 1990s and early 2000s, Webtoon was created as an alternative platform for comic illustrators and artists to publish their works. “The initial goal was to recruit new comic readers, and we succeeded beyond our imagination. Starting with around 10,000 readers, it soon hit 6.2 million per day, and the popularity of Webtoon and its artists rose. In a way, the comics industry survived the turmoil and has become stronger in the process. We now offer comics, web novels/fiction and webtoons, with the first two categories being paid services,” says Junkoo Kim, head of the Webtoon unit, adding that Naver bears the production costs of the free webtoons and decides which, and when, to broadcast through its portal.

Popular Webtoon artists may have their series or characters turned into video, games and merchandise, according to Kim. “This single-source multi-use approach gets Naver, publishers and artists working together to help develop the comics industry. Advertising agencies and consumer product companies also help by licensing webtoon characters. Ten years after Naver Webtoon was established, our unit has grown to about 36 people.” Its meet-the-author session at the 2013 Frankfurt Book Fair drew 20,000 fans, convincing Naver to venture beyond Korea. “Our focus will be on the English-speaking territories first.”

As for web novels (designed as cartoons), a new service launched in January, 40 titles are now available. It is a profit-sharing venture in which “Naver provides the infrastructure along with customer management and marketing services, while publishers produce the web novels and set the price. While webtoons achieved mass popularity quickly but took a long period to be profitable, the contrary is true for web novels. Nevertheless, both services are designed to promote reading and develop the publishing industry through different channels and models,” adds Kim.

Orange Digit

For CEO and founder Louis Byun of 14-month-old Orange Digit, digital publishing goes beyond producing e-books and apps. He also develops technology to expedite digital content creation through an open-ended platform. “We have packaged our R&D and knowledge into products such as ViewPorter and Orange4D. ViewPorter Sun edition, for instance, is a truly WYSIWYG EPub editor that supports both EPub2 and EPub3, and is XHTML 1.1 and HTML5 compliant. It can generate output in both app and EPub formats, and is compatible with iBooks, Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Sony and other EPub-based e-readers,” says Byun, adding that trademarked ViewPorter supports CSS2/CSS3, EPub validation check and thumbnail/page/code views besides automatic TOC (table of contents) generation. Currently available in English and Korean, ViewPorter will be released in other languages, including Italian, Chinese and Japanese.

Orange4D, on the other hand, is a place for content contributors from around the world to connect, where “digital content such as photos, illustrations, video footage, fonts, 3D objects, audio files and templates can be created, shared and sold. Authors can purchase these elements and combine them to create their own content using Orange4D. They can also buy widgets with hundreds of interactive codes at low prices from our Widgetore. The ecosystem of ViewPorter, Orange4D and Widgetore allows content creators to make interactive e-books fun and easy to use,” explains Byun, who now has his head office in Pennsylvania in addition to a design lab in Seoul. ViewPorter, a free download launched last November, already has around 1,000 users. “We have just launched Sun 1.1.3, which allows editing, dragging, moving and resizing of multimedia components.”

Moreover, authors can distribute their e-books globally through Orange Digit’s e-bookstore and earn up to 70% of each book sold. Referring to his company’s slogan of “Build Your Story,” Byun says, “Our products and solutions are perfectly suited to self-published authors. They can realize their dreams of creating not just text-based but highly interactive e-books and selling them through the biggest retailers in the world.” His team also offers additional e-book services such as cover design and conversion.

Among the outstanding titles published by Orange Digit using its ViewPorter ecosystem are Cultural Corps of Buddhism’s TempleStay Summer 2013 (a unique cultural program that offers a look at the life of Buddhist practitioners in traditional Korean temples), Tyler Wallace’s Storytelling Algebra 3, Yongja Kim’s Korean Cuisine and Yeolsu Yoon’s The Handbook of Korean Art. These highly interactive illustrated English titles with photographs and slide shows are available through iBookstore. “We also started an evolving title called Time Travel in which authors can use Widgetore to change the story line and advertisers can promote their products.” Byun intends for Orange Digit to be a place where digital publishing and advertising come together. And he is well-placed for this, with his decade-long marketing experience at companies such as Samsung, Ericsson and ST Microelectronics, and his passion for digital publishing.


Less than three years after kick-starting its digital publishing division, RHK has released 750 titles (excluding app books). The most successful is the RHK Travel Guide series with titles such as Romantic Trips by Train (19,600 downloads), Weekend Travel Companion (6,360) and Enjoy Europe a Hundred Times (2,830). There are now 48 apps in the series, and president Eric Yang plans to have 120 by the end of this year. (As a comparison, RHK publishes 450 print titles annually with over 4,000 titles in its catalogue, the largest list among Korean publishers.)

Interestingly, the RHK apps are priced the same as its print books. “Our rationale is simple. Apps can do certain things that print books can’t, and this adds significant value to the travel book genre. For instance, they can deliver on-site information to users via GPS [global positioning system]. Judging from the number of downloads, our pricing strategy works well and our customers appreciate the added value they are getting from the apps.”

Piracy will always be an issue with digital products, Yang adds. “No digital product can be 100% secure. So the trick, as I see it, is to make them secure enough to deter all but the most determined and ingenious hackers, at the same time pricing them at such a level that it is simply not worth pirating them. Take a look at iTunes—most of the music there is free if one knows where to look, but many listeners would rather pay a relatively small fee for a service that is legal, reliable and virus-free. So digital publishers can take heart and learn from iTunes’ experience.”

Down the road, Yang intends to build RHK’s reputation as a world leader in terms of digital product innovation and quality. “All our homegrown products will be reconfigured for the global marketplace. At present, we are placing more emphasis on educational content, as this is a segment in the e-book market where we can play a significant and increasingly valuable role.”

For Yang, publishing of all types has to adapt to a crowded marketplace where the Internet, social networking, instant messaging, virtual pinboards, video streaming and video on-demand are all vying for people’s attention and time. “Publishers need to find their place in it. Many people will still like to read the good old print book, particularly for certain genres. As for e-books, their role will grow quickly because of their capacity for interactivity, multimedia delivery and instant feedback. Their potential as vehicles for pure entertainment is perhaps limited. But there will always be a need for informative and educational material—not just among school- and college-age readers but people at any stage of life who wish to improve their knowledge and skills. Here, I believe, e-books are certain to come into their own.”

Tabon Books

Established nine months ago as a joint venture between book publisher RHK (see page 14) and Korea’s top home-shopping outlet GS Shop, Tabon Books aims to make life easier—and more profitable—for e-publishers. Despite its young age, Tabon already counts Chicago-based World Book among its clients. “World Book wanted an integrated and future-proof solution that facilitates direct selling to U.S. schools and libraries, and allows online browsing for end users,” says CTO Wiki Lee. “We came up with a portal, WorldBookOnline, that provides access to securely encrypted and rights-managed e-books on Android and iOS devices using our in-house EPub3 Viewer, along with online access via any major web browser. We believe we were the first to offer this capability.” Hundreds of World Book titles were converted from InDesign to interactive EPub3 using Tabon’s highly automated process, and WorldBookOnline went “live” this January.

“EPub3 is the format of the future,” explains Lee. “Our goal is to use it to create a single e-book file good for all devices and operating systems, with built-in security and rights management systems, so that publishers are free to try new business models and add all the interactive features that content creators could wish for without worrying about compatibility. Three years ago, few in the industry thought it was possible, but we have proved otherwise. Now we urge all content creators to go with EPub3. I say to them, ‘If you can think of it, we can deliver it.’ ”

Nevertheless, Martin Preston, head of created content at Tabon, says, “With e-books, our experience is that just because you can does not always mean you should. We have exciting projects of our own in the pipeline, all of which make use of EPub3 specifications in different ways. But before we go ‘live’ with any of them, we want to know what our customers think. E-publishers and app developers have produced some great stuff over the last three years, but sadly there has not always been a market for them. We do not intend to fall into that trap.”

Meanwhile, Tabon is reaching out to both e-book publishers and readers with the Tabon eBook Shopping Mall concept, which was recently launched in Korea. As Tabon CEO and president Eric Yang explains, “Through my presidency at the Asia Pacific Publishers Association, I discovered that e-publishers in Asia are not too keen on the ‘one world’ approach taken by Amazon and, to a lesser extent, Apple. Publishing in Asia, and in many other parts of the world, is inextricably linked to cultural and national identity, which publishers want to preserve. We responded to this need by developing an online mall for e-book sellers in which every publisher has their own ‘storefront’ identity. We give them the freedom to sell their e-books the way they want—and if it works, we share in their success.” It is a win-win situation for all, he concludes.

Y Factory

Highly interactive books and apps for children are the specialty of Y Factory. “We deliver educational and entertaining experiences via smart devices with the goal of helping children develop a love for learning and remain curious about our amazing world,” says CEO Ryan Kim, whose seven-member team has produced 85 titles through collaborations with overseas publishers. “We differ from other companies in the way we look at content. To us, content needs to appeal to children’s emotions and be designed in a way that invites them to explore, learn and be entertained. Smart devices’ touch features can make content come alive, but this is not enough. The content itself is the key.”

Kim cites the app Exploring the Solar System, which is filled with information about the solar system. “We don’t simply stuff it with pretty pictures of the stars and night sky or lots of information about space. Rather, we want to communicate facts and information at a level that is appropriate for young children but not dumbed down. Our biggest challenge was finding resources suitable for the app. Half of our time was spent on researching, identifying sources and obtaining permission,” explains project manager Bohyeon Lim, adding that the app was among last year’s best 10 digital titles selected by KPIPA (Publication Industry Promotion Agency of Korea).

Then there is iLeoBooks, which offers app publishing services for picture books, fairy tales and storybooks. “The apps developed will have features such as multilingual support, text and audio synchronization, auto-play and games. Our one-stop solution includes developing new content, repurposing existing content, licensing special characters or animation, sourcing illustrators, launching the app and marketing it in various e-bookstores,” adds Kim. About 50 iLeoBook titles have been released in a partnership with children’s publisher Yearimdang, and the plan is to add 5–10 new titles annually. Recently, Y Factory launched a unique app with hand-crafted woolen dolls in a story called Biber and Red Boots HD. “The app’s most unique feature is a special function that allows kids to control each scene’s animation frame by frame. This beautiful app and its titles are now available in iOS and Android, and for Samsung SmartTV as well soon,” says Kim.

A cloud-based reading management system (RMS) is also in the works. Explains Kim, “It helps children grow their vocabulary, hone their understanding of the storyline, and improve their thought and creative processes through solving questions hidden in each story. This system will help parents guide their children’s reading progress through user-based recommendation algorithms. It will allow them to uncover their children’s abilities or find out specifically where their kids need more help. We want to make reading interesting and cultivate a healthy reading habit in young kids. This is very important given the universal decline in reading habits.”

Project Showcase: BookJam

Among BookJam’s many complex manga projects was the Naruto collection, the Korean AppStore’s top-grossing comic app in December 2013. For this, the team’s top priority was image resolution. “Most people expect e-books to have lower image quality than the print edition. But we think differently. There are many considerations that need to be looked at when turning a manga title into an e-book, such as the display ratio, landscape or portrait mode, image capacity and UI/UX design. Japanese manga fans are very particular about image quality. So we make every effort to ensure fast-loading, high-definition images for different screen displays,” says CEO Hanyeol Cho. For Open Books, the Korean publisher of sci-fi author Bernard Werber, the team provides more than a white-label e-bookstore. “The publisher wanted to sell some older Werber titles at a special discount and at the same time gauge his fans’ interest and knowledge of his titles. To make it fun, we created a hidden store within the app. To get to the hidden store to enjoy the $100 discount, visitors had to solve a series of quizzes on Belokan, the imaginary city in Werber’s Ants trilogy. It generated a great deal of interest among fans and general readers, and it made us realize the vast potential in ‘hidden’ or embedded marketing,” adds Cho.

Project Showcase: MarkAny

While it is known for DRM (digital rights management) technology, MarkAny has also been developing custom-built e-book platforms for publishers, content aggregators and service providers. Naturally, these platforms combine essential content- and sales-related functions with MarkAny’s trademarked DRM technology, named ContentSAFER, to improve the security of e-book distribution. ShinSeGae, one of Korea’s largest retail chains, for instance, adopted MarkAny’s e-book platform model for its e-book distribution service, Ododok. MarkAny built this all-in-one turnkey system with functions such as EPub3-compatible authoring tools, PC and mobile e-viewers, shopping malls, customer management system and DRM. In another project, the client KPC (Korea Publishing Contents), a group comprising more than 200 local publishers, wanted transparency in the sale and distribution of e-books through third parties. The team linked KPC’s licensing system (secured with MarkAny’s DRM technology of course) to the aggregators’ sales management systems so that the publishers can obtain real-time critical information such as sales performance and consumer analytics to guide their publishing programs and marketing activities.

Project Showcase: Tabon Books

When its vendor was unable to produce a viable architecture for a custom-made online B2B platform, Chicago-based World Book turned to Tabon Books. “The eventual WorldBookOnline portal, which services more than 1,000 schools and libraries, allows end users to browse or download titles with rights managed dynamically by World Book using a secure system. It is fully integrated with the publisher’s existing online system,” says CTO Wiki Lee. The team had to contend with some pre-conversion issues such as the extent of enhancement to each series or title, fonts to be applied (and licensed by the publisher) and the format of the viewer user interface. “Extra features were added following consultation with their school and library clients, and still more were added after beta testing. In December 2013, roughly one year after our initial meeting, full control of the portal was handed over to World Book. We continue to be responsible for specific key technical functions.” The source code for the entire platform is placed with a secure third-party escrow service to protect World Book’s interests in any unforeseen circumstances. The second phase, which will see the platform expanded with features such as a learning management system and teacher support, commenced early this year.

Project Showcase: Y Factor

At first glance, Y Factory’s Biber and Red Boots HD appears to be just like any other normal storybook app. However, the special interactive and animation features embedded in the heartwarming story of friendship tell a different tale. “Most of our apps are developed based on research into children’s growth and mental development. For instance, studies have shown that direct response interaction is not good for children’s brain development, while cooperative interaction produces a more positive impact on both social and mental development. So in Biber and Red Boots HD, there are no touch buttons to allow immediate responses or immediate interactivity. Instead, children are given more control over the story as they literally ‘animate’ the scene as they go along. They imagine and think about what the next scene will bring and how the rest of the story unfolds. This engages their thought and creative processes,” explains CEO Ryan Kim, adding that children can enjoy the professionally narrated story as a movie or read it themselves and have fun with the stickers, coloring and the puzzles. Similarly, for the app Exploring the Solar System, natural phenomena such as lunar phases, earth’s tides and solar eclipses are explained and further illustrated through interactive activities. “Kids have to understand exactly how each phenomenon happens and then simulate the effect using the on-screen interactive functions. This creates a more lasting impression and deeper understanding,” says Kim.

2012 Korean Book Industry in Numbers 2013
4.191 trillion won ($3.8 billion) Value of total book market 4.254 trillion won* ($3.9 billion)
190.671 billion won ($178 million) Value of e-book market 244.821 billion won* ($228 million)
42,157 No. of publishing houses 44,196
39,767 No. of titles published 43,146
86,906,643 No. of copies printed 86,513,472
10,224 No. of translated titles 9,301
13,885 won ($12.98) Average book price 14,678 won ($13.72)

* estimated figure

Source: Korean Publishing Research Institute