For global publisher Oxford University Press (OUP), close connections with the markets that it operates in have afforded plenty of opportunities to establish partnerships with different technology companies for its products and services. “It is a question of finding the right partner at the right time for our specific needs—whether it is in Korea, India or elsewhere,” says Paul Riley, director of channels and partnerships at OUP-ELT, adding that OUP has been operating in Korea for over 20 years to provide support to its third-party distribution partners. “Korea, an important market for English learning, is at the forefront of efforts to integrate technology into education. We currently partner with several Korean companies to distribute our content in both print and digital formats. We also license content to Korean companies and in some cases partner with Korean developers to create digital learning solutions featuring our content. Apps and online video-based instruction are two examples of such collaboration.”

The OLB (Oxford Learner’s Bookshelf) initiative is one such project, in which Riley works closely with Robert Kim, co-founder and CEO of Seoul-based iPortfolio. To-date, over 250 titles are available from this platform, and more are coming. PW sits down with Riley to find out more about OLB and his collaboration with Korean companies, specifically iPortfolio.

What is the OLB project all about, and what does it offer?

It offers a compelling experience to learners and teachers with the digital format of our ELT textbooks. These books, which are highly designed and interactive, are used in wide-ranging classroom environments. OLB is a cross-platform e-book reader application with many content- and software-related features that make it well suited to its purpose. It also comes with a scalable content conversion model that can be easily applied to our large list of books.

How does this conversion model work?

It allows faithful reproduction of pages from the physical book, including double-page spreads, which is important for our texts because they are quite thoughtfully designed for language learning. During the conversion process, we can also embed on-page interactivity, including audio and video. Users can directly tap through to audio on the listening exercises without leaving the page, and use fine audio controls such as slowing of speed and looping to help with their comprehension. They can also record and play back their own speech, and annotate the page in various ways.

What else is special about OLB?

Another critical success factor is the stability and speed of page turning. It has the sort of responsiveness that users of printed books are used to, which is very helpful and reassuring for those making the leap to digital consumption. We have also built in an EPub3 reader to ensure that the product has a long evolutionary life and is capable of handling digital-first publishing.

Why did you choose iPortfolio as your Korean partner for OLB?

OUP works with many technology partners globally on its products and services. The choice of iPortfolio was driven by the fact that the company had an existing technology that was particularly well suited to the needs of the English learning e-textbook, but it had not yet extended its technology to such an application. So this provided both OUP and iPortfolio an opportunity to create a real competitive advantage. Additionally, iPortfolio’s founder has a deep understanding of the English learning market and the needs of the typical English learning environment.

Is this a long-term partnership?

Right now, we are at version 2.1 of the OLB app and working on new client services. So, yes, this is an ongoing project with iPortfolio as our key partner, working on both software development and content conversion.

How long did it take for the OLB app to get off ground?

We first met iPortfolio at the 2011 Frankfurt Book Fair and saw something interesting in their services. But it was not until we worked with them on a couple of smaller projects around a year later that we appreciated the real potential. From then on, there was a period of around six months when we sized up the opportunity, built a business plan and obtained buy-in from relevant stakeholders. Once that was accomplished, we were able to get to market within six months, which is a testament to a successful partnership.

How would you summarize the OUP-iPortfolio collaboration?

It is a marriage of pedagogical know-how and relevant technological expertise. Through this, we are able to deliver e-books that have lasting value to English learners and teachers.

What is your advice for those thinking of working with Korean companies?

The best way is to spend time in Korea meeting with potential partners and vendors. If that is not possible, then I would advise visiting major events such as the Frankfurt Book Fair or Mobile World Congress and take a good look at what is available at the Korean collective stand.

Finally, what is your personal experience dealing with your Korean partners?

Korea is very fast paced. You have to be prepared to work quickly and be responsive to your counterpart.