What Makes a Bestseller?
Publishing Passions (#2)

Publishing Passions

I was recently asked "What do you love about your job? "  To be honest, I hadn't thought about the answer in quite awhile.  (Btw, I recommend you ask yourself this question every so often...you might be surprised where it leads.)

As I gave this more consideration, several different responses came to mind.  I love my job because it gives me the opportunity to:

  1. impact the future of publishing,
  2. build a new business,
  3. become the  #1 publisher in a topic area,
  4. pitch a new idea and see the light bulbs go on, and
  5. help someone develop new skills.

I plan to cover each of these in future posts, but let me give you some details on #1 here.

OK, I acknowledge it's pretty ambitious to say that I can have an "impact on the future of publishing".  But, as Jim Collins explains in Good to Great, "Big Hairy Audacious Goals" (BHAGs) are a good thing.  As Publisher of WROX, I have the opportunity to look to the future every day.

WROX is all about "programmer-to-programmer", meaning the books are written by developers in the trenches, not professional writers.  But WROX is also about community: Go check out our programmer-to-programmer forums to see what I mean.  This community site exists for the sole purpose of bringing developers together: they can ask questions, provide solutions, share code, etc.  Our goal is to be more than just a provider of printed materials.  We want to extend the customer relationship beyond the bookstore transaction.

When I think about the future of publishing, I also try to keep an eye on my own kids (ages 17, 15 and 10) and how they find answers today.  While my generation is used to looking things up in a book, my kids are always online and rarely reach for a book.  All of them are quite comfortable Googling and would probably consider a printed book as something other than their primary resource.

Speaking of printed books, I've gone so far as to read a couple of e-books on my PocketPC. It's effective, but not a great experience.  Nevertheless, I can see where even a tiny screen like this could one day be a useful way to read a book, with one caveat: the way the content is presented cannot be the same as in a printed book.

I wasn't around, but I've heard the early days of TV featured shows which were nothing more than radio programs where you could see the actors.  The medium was so new that it took awhile for the true benefits to be leveraged.  I think we're at the same stage today with e-books.  Simply taking the contents of a printed book and putting it into .PDF format, for example, doesn't really take advantage of all the benefits of delivery on a computer screen, PocketPC, etc.  The content has to be layered and presented differently but nobody has found a cost-effective way of porting from one platform (print) to the other (electronic)...yet.

How do we get past this and discover the breakthrough approach that I'm certain is out there?  I think the answer to this is (a) experimentation and (b) looking at other businesses and their models to see what might work.  As I look outside traditional publishing for ideas, I plan to test out the "flipping it" model covered in an interesting book I'm currently reading entitled Why Not?   In it, the authors talk about how to completely reverse current assumptions.  Priceline is one of their examples: Rather than having the seller state the price, why not let the buyer do it?  It's this sort of out-of-the-box thinking that will help us take the publishing industry to the next level.

Comments

Ellen Gerstein

Being in publishing, I always wonder about the future of books. When I was growing up, books were "sacred". Still are, at least in my home. My 5 year old daughter has gotten a time-out only a handful of times - the first time was when she was 2 and she ripped a page in a book. My husband thought I was crazy, but I thought that was definitely a time-outable offense. Will her generation feel as passionately about books as we did? Is the library going to be her special and magical place, or is it just going to be a place to play the "Dinosaurs dance" game on the computer? You can't stop change, especially change that brings progress, but some things, like books and a fine red zinfandel, are fine just the way they are.

Scott

I believe Andy Hunt and Dave Thomas (http://www.pragmaticprogrammer.com/)
have written a number of books using a XML book format. They are then able to directly convert that XML file to their printers format, or to PDF for their online sales.

Sounds like this is what you need for:
"...a cost-effective way of porting from one platform (print) to the other (electronic)..."

This assumes the book is writting into the XML format to begin with though. Converting existing books is another story altogether though.

Joe Wikert

Thanks Scott. Yes, it's great to see so many people experimenting with this today. The problem is, most of the results are nothing more than a simple port of the paper version to an e-book. The book looks exactly the same in both formats. Although this is probably consistent with the original goal, I'm suggesting that we need to look at each platform differently.

VHS tapes and video DVDs are a great example. Remember how the early DVDs were nothing more than the VHS tape in a digital format? It took awhile for everyone to leverage the advantages of a DVD. Now videos on DVD come with multiple languages, numerous camera angles and other special features. My son plays the drums and has a DVD of a Rush concert (Rush in Rio). Thanks to the DVD options, he can play back Neil Peart's drum solo from several different angles. Try that with a VHS tape!

If printed books converted to an e-format are two-dimensional, I guess I'm looking for the three- or more dimensional approach, much like what we're seeing with DVD videos.

Rebecca Pack

As an ebook publisher, I can tell you people LOVE to read ebooks from those tiny little devices. I read my ebooks directly from my Macintosh computer.

The last fiction paperback book I purchased was in 2001. Unfortunately many tech books and school textbooks have not yet made it to electronic copies, but I can tell you that when these gems hit the market as PDF files, I'll purchase them in a flash.

Paper does me no good. It's wasteful and messy. I'm always on the go with my laptop or PDA by my side. I can fit hundreds of books on a PDA. I can only fit 1 paperback in my purse.

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