By Mark Piesing
“On the subway you will see everyone is looking at their phones and the same is even true even in elevators, as you can get high-speed internet everywhere,” says Robert Kim, CEO and co-founder of the South Korea-based company iPortfolio Inc, whose premium ebook platform Spindle Books has been chosen by Oxford University Press ELT as its strategic ebook platform.
“This shows the challenge and opportunity of doing edtech [educational technology] in South Korea, as the kids aren’t playing Candy Crush, they are consuming more sophisticated snap-size content, like webtoons.”
While Candy Crush is a made-for-Facebook puzzle game, webtoons is a global digital platform for comics like The Gamer and Tower of the Gods that began in South Korea before going worldwide.
For Kim, examples like these show just how much his country is “digital ready” and is “the best test-bed for edtech in the world.”
With a population of just less than the UK and the 13th largest economy in the world by GDP, South Korea is widely regarded as having the fastest internet in the world. It has a high speed internet penetration that most of Europe and USA can only dream of (99%) and an equally astonishing smartphone penetration of 83%. What’s more, the internet usage rate in the ten-to-nineteen years age range is an impossible to beat 100% — and doesn’t fall by much when it comes to younger children.
South Korea has the added advantage, Kim says, that education is highly valued. Its famously pushy tiger moms spend about $21 billion on private education — much of which is spent on English language learning.
“The hype has also gone from technology in education, and we are in a new phase of engagement called Smart Education, which is not about the technology but about the content. While the kids are disappearing from schools as South Korea has one of the lowest birth rates in the industrialized world, the amount spent is not going down. So, rather than go after market share, you have to go after wallet share, as it is about revenue per child.”
This future can be seen, he believes, in the success of the Woongjin Book Club, a relatively expensive, flat-fee subscription service which, by May 2015, had 130,000 subscribers.
In the end, Kim says, “if you are going to try something new, try it in Korea and then bring it back home.”