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Korea Herald aims to reshape mobile news

Multi-platform strategy helps the country’s top English newspaper strengthen its competitiveness

iPhone news apps are no longer a novelty that cater to early adopters or tech geeks. They are actually charting a new course for a newspaper industry faced with a growing list of challenges, one of which is a declining offline readership.

The debut of Apple’s iPhone in December 2009 changed the game dramatically. A host of Korean newspaper companies have jumped into the iPhone app market, expecting to secure a footing in the massive shift toward online and mobile news. Although the bulk of their revenues come from paper-format subscriptions ― at least for now ― Korean newspapers, as with other newspapers across the globe, are in no position to turn a blind eye to the new wave of innovation sweeping the mobile phone and tablet PC sectors.

The Korea Herald, the country’s top English-language newspaper in terms of offline and online circulation, is currently reconfiguring its platform base. Previously, The Korea Herald newsroom was largely focused on producing quality print journalism. But the fast-paced changes that are powered by smartphones and tablet PCs are pushing the company to adopt different platforms including the iPhone. 
The Korea Herald is set to launch its iPhone app to join the drive to produce digital news customized for smartphones. (The Korea Herald)
The Korea Herald is set to launch its iPhone app to join the drive to produce digital news customized for smartphones. (The Korea Herald)

The Korea Herald’s iPhone app is set to make a formal debut in January this year, on a monthly subscription basis. Targeting college students, business people and foreign readers interested in Korea, the app will provide not only Korean news in English in real time but also selected English education content on the go.

Programmers and designers are putting some final touches to the app, which will compete with a handful of other newspaper apps in the paid app category. The paid app, especially subscription-based newspaper app, is still new in South Korea. The dominant force that shapes the iPhone app market for local users is free apps, and users are reluctant to open up their pockets for paid apps, unless they are extremely cheap.

Despite this obstacle, The Korea Herald is determined to boost its status in the app market by launching a paid app based on the vision that people will pay for quality content, regardless of format. After all, The Korea Herald has long been the No. 1 English-language newspaper in the South Korean market, outsmarting its rivals by a wide margin, and the brand recognition is also greater than its competitors in cyberspace.

The forthcoming debut of the Korea Herald iPhone app, however, is just part of the company’s strategy to diversify its platforms in the face of a new era of online journalism.

As Apple’s iPad was introduced in November last year, The Korea Herald is getting its iPad news app ready for the domestic market. Although the specific schedule might change, the iPad app will hit the market not long after The Korea Herald’s iPhone app debuts.

The new Tablet PC segment is important for Korean newspapers. Unlike smartphones, which are restricted by small screens, tablet PCs boast a bigger screen and better user experiences when they want to enjoy multimedia-rich content.

Some of the iPad features will be the same as the iPhone’s, but there will be a defining difference when it comes to multimedia content. The Korea Herald plans to incorporate more multimedia content into the iPad app in a bid to help its readers enjoy not only English news but also other English education content.

The iPad news app market is in its infancy, with only a small number of local dailies available in the tablet PC format. The majority of iPad news apps are also free of charge, reflecting the cautious stance of newspaper companies when it comes to the new platform that promises to offer a new business opportunity.

The iPad app, when released, will mark the fourth new-media platform for The Korea Herald. The first new media platform was Samsung Electronics’ e-book reader launched in early 2010, with its content mostly limited to text. The second was also Samsung’s tablet PC, Galaxy Tab, which provides Korea Herald news through its Reader’s Hub platform. The third will be the iPhone app, and the fourth is reserved for iPad app, though the news content remains the same throughout the different platforms in a way that keeps the paper’s identity.

The strategy for diverse platforms, meanwhile, is based on the constant updates and upgrades of the main homepage. Back in April 2010, The Korea Herald overhauled the entire homepage. What was more important, though, was a drastic upgrade of the news content delivery system, as the company adopted what is called “content management system” to manage news articles and photos and distribute them to different platforms efficiently.

The streamlined news distribution system, coupled with a redesign of the homepage, is currently bolstering the company’s multi-platform strategy. For instance, if a new platform for delivering news is required, The Korea Herald can respond to it swiftly through the new system, reflecting its resolve to adapt to the new media environment characterized by rapid changes and innovations.

The Korea Herald also introduced the country’s first English mobile news alert service named “Herald Topic” in September last year. The service sends three text messages a day, in the form of an English headline and a Korean translation of a key word, a format aimed at students and business people who want to learn English through real-time headline updates. Nearly 3,000 people have so far signed up for the service, which has a monthly charge of 2,000 won.

By Yang Sung-jin (insight@heraldcorp.com)
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