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37 posts from April 2007

The Holy Grail of Community

Bullseye_2When I first saw Dan Blank's post, "I Have Seen the Future, and It's Fluffy", in my RSS in-box I almost skipped right past it.  I'm glad I didn't.  In it, he describes the community experience kids enjoy when they play with Webkinz.

My favorite part of Dan's post is where he says:

How much more profitable is a customer who doesn't simply purchase a product - but one who logs onto a brand’s website everyday to interact with that product, and build relationships with other customers? Is the plush animal simply a gimmick to build an online community?

That model is something that would not only benefit any content publisher, but most companies in general.  When was the last time you bought something and then went online to enjoy the community platform that product offers?  Think about the sites and online services you tend to use the most.  Google comes to mind.  Have you bought anything from them?  I haven't.

How about a model that's closer to the publishing world?: Amazon.  I buy stuff there and I post reviews there, but that's still nowhere near the type of community interaction you'd find on Webkinz. It makes me wonder why Amazon doesn't do more on this front; why not offer a platform for local (and not-so-local) bookclub discussions, for example?  They could easily tie in a commerce component: "Free hosting for your neighborhood bookclub on Amazon, plus, get an additional xx% off orders for more than xx copies of each club book."

Regardless of whether Amazon ever tries something like that, Webkinz is an interesting study on how the benefits of online communities are being enjoyed at a very young age; as this customer base ages, it will no doubt raise the bar even further for community expectations.


Booksquare on Phantom Markets

Books2The Booksquare blog comes through again with this great post on why some "can't-miss-hits" become big flops.  Blogger Kassia Krozser's example is a book for moms that she feels is better delivered as a blog than a book (more on that point in a moment).  Kassia goes on to distinguish niches from trends by saying "By way of example: moms arguably comprise a massive portion of the reading audience, while so-called “Mommy books” comprise a small portion of the book-buying audience."

Great point, and any publisher who tells you they've never fallen into this trap is lying!  I'll give you an example from the technology publishing world: Books on antivirus solutions.  Everyone knows they should be running antivirus software on their computer.  In fact, most do, but who really wants to go out and spend even $10 on a book telling you why/how to do it?  The unfortunate reality is that nobody cares about the subject of antivirus until their computer gets infected -- at that point, they're much more likely to look for immediate online/neighbor solutions than run out to a bookstore.

To Kassia's point, the audience of potential customers is huge but what percentage of those people are really going to buy a book on it?  (Full disclosure: My group recently co-published Simple Computer Security with CA.  The product includes a special version of the CA Internet Security Suite, all for $24.99; we figured we'd try a new angle with this market by basically distributing the software itself and wrapping a small book around it.  Only time will tell whether we really found a new approach or are still kidding ourselves.)

The question I've sometimes asked when new titles are pitched at an ed board meeting is, "do customers really want a book on this topic or would a nice magazine article suffice?"  As Kassia accurately alludes to, I need to get more in the habit of asking whether a blog, wiki or other online resource is the better delivery mechanism for this book's content, not just a magazine...


Crosley, by Rusty McClure, David Stern & Michael A. Banks

CrosleyI don't read very many biographies but I made an exception with Crosley and I'm glad I did. I just finished it last night and it was one of the most enjoyable reads I've had in quite awhile.  The book covers the lives of two brothers, Powel and Lewis Crosley, and their remarkable careers; Powel was the creative genius and Lewis was the hard-working, reliable partner who made everything happen.

So what exactly did these two do?  Not a whole lot, other than create radios "for the masses, not the classes", build one of the leading AM radio stations in the country, pioneer and build home refrigeration systems, manufacture explosive devices that helped win World War II, design and manufacture automobiles and own the Cincinnati Reds.  (I left a few of the smaller items out, btw.)

If you're from the Cincinnati area you're probably familiar with the Crosley name.  The Reds used to play at Crosley Field before Riverfront Stadium opened in 1970 -- that was the extent of my Crosley knowledge prior to reading this great book.  Now I feel like a bit of a Crosley expert, primarily because the authors did a fantastic job of assembling the facts and telling the story.  There's also a companion website for the book where you can find more information about the authors and loads of Crosley family pictures, including several that aren't in the book.

Even if you're like I was and aren't that familiar with the Crosley family, you owe it to yourself to grab a copy of this and read it cover to cover -- you won't be disappointed.


Our 8th Hit of 2007: Pro XNA Game Programming

Pro_xnaOur editorial team continues to produce bestsellers.  I mentioned in earlier posts here and here how we've had 7 new books hit Amazon's Top 25 Computers & Internet list in calendar 2007.  Our total has now reached 8 with the new WROX book, Professional XNA Game Programming.  The book is just hitting stores but it's currently #22 at Amazon and has been climbing fast all week.

Congratulations to executive editor Chris Webb and the rest of the editorial team on this latest hit!


Killing Community Support

DangerCountry Living magazine made a number of mistakes recently in the midst of a blogging competition.  Some would argue the biggest error was changing the rules of the contest.  I agree that was pretty bone-headed, but I think the biggest screw-up has to do with the magazine's expectations.

The editor pointed out that she chose the finalists, "who despite only posting a small number of times demonstrated 'quality over quantity' and 'showed real potential.'"  What's the problem with that?  The magazine is looking for a columnist in the midst of a blogging competition.  The best bloggers, as measured by things like frequency, brevity and popularity won't necessarily be the best columnists.  The editorial team should have decided early on whether they wanted a great blogger (as determined by the community) or a great columnist (as determined by the magazine's editor).  They weren't likely to stumble upon someone who happened to be both and they made things worse by changing the rules in mid-contest.

P.S. -- Intervening because "posters...did not have the time to read all the blogs and then vote" was also the wrong move.  Why not just extend the contest deadline?


The Harry Potter Knit-Along Blog (and Book)

Charmed_knitsNo, I'm not a knitter and I'm sure I never will be...but, I was recently told about a very interesting knitting book and blog project that's underway elsewhere at Wiley.  The book Charmed Knits is due out next month and will be loaded with patterns for sweaters, scarves, mittens, etc., that were worn by characters in the Harry Potter movies.  (Btw, even though it's not yet available it's already got a pretty darned respectable ranking on Amazon.)

What really got my attention on this one though is the companion blog, which has the headline, "Welcome to Our Knit-Along, Harry Potter Fans!".  The blog is a great way for fans and other community members to come together and participate in a knit-along project.  My favorite part of all: The goal of the knit-along is to provide Warm Woolies (a non-profit organization whose volunteers knit warm clothing for poverty-stricken children) with a bunch of hats for needy kids.  How cool is that?!

Kudos to Wiley's very own Eva Lesiak for making the blog happen as well as Amy Sell and Claire Griffin, the marketing duo that tipped me off to this great project.  Well done!


Author Shares Publishing Secrets

4_hour_workweekMy thanks to fellow blogger Noah Kagan for e-mailing me about this great post on his blog.  In it, his friend Timothy Ferriss explains how as a first-time author he managed to secure a deal with Random House for The 4-Hour Workweek.  Btw, it's important to note that this book is currently #8 on the Amazon bestseller list!

Tim's story is filled with lots of great information nuggets, but here's the one I found most interesting: He managed to hook up with a big-time author to get connections to a top-notch agency.  I love the way he made the initial connection: through volunteer work.  I've been volunteering more of my time over the past couple of years and am amazed at the results.  Not only are you helping a cause, but the networking effects are remarkable; Timothy obviously had the same experience.

If you're an author searching for a publishing deal you owe it to yourself to read Timothy's summary.


Teen Lit Growth

TribuneMaybe there's hope for the next generation after all.  Despite the distractions of video games, online services, cell-phones and more, this article in the Chicago Tribune says that "teen literature is one of the fastest-growing segments in publishing."

Here's one of the more interesting tidbits from the article: "Participation in library programs for people under 18 has increased more than 50 percent over the last 10 years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, part of the U.S. Department of Education."  The skeptic in me figures it's growth off a very small number, but hey, growth is growth!

I'm also thrilled to hear that publishers are looking beyond traditional books as they tap into this segment.  According to the article, "Harper Collins launched HarperTeen, a new publication aimed at 12- to 17-year-olds.  It will relaunch a Web site this fall to connect kids through books."  It will be interesting to see if it's got real appeal for the target audience or is just another website for kids, poorly designed by adults; I'm not a fan of focus groups, but this is one case where it would be very smart to have representatives from your target audience closely involved in design and development.


Books24x7 Interview with John Ambrose

John_ambrose_3John Ambrose is Vice President and General Manager of Books24x7, one of the leaders in online reference content.  Books24x7 is an important partner with my employer, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.  I've gotten to know John a bit over the years and, despite his allegiance to the evil Boston Red Sox, I've always felt he's one of the sharper minds in our business.

John was kind enough to let me ask him a few questions about his business.  Here they are, along with his insightful answers:

JW: How is the online content world doing these days?

JA: Joe, that's a very broad question. My sense from working with organizational development professionals in Global 5000 companies day-in and day-out is the online content world is alive and very well. But there is a paradox. Corporate professionals are suffering from both content overload and content underload at the same time.  It is important that content be relevant, trusted and delivered contextually to be useful.  We think we do this very well.

JW: Is the Books24x7 platform attracting a lot of interest?

JA: Books24x7, in partnership with the best professional reference publishers like John Wiley, has unlocked the information contained in great books and delivers it in a way that serves the administration and integration needs of corporations; the flexibility and ease-of-use needs of users; and the licensing and security needs of publishers.  Our parent company, SkillSoft, has relationships with more than 1,700 global corporations and Books24x7 continues to be a key component of the overall offering.  Clients who adopt Books24x7 as part of their corporate learning strategy often report that they are achieving between 3-6 hours per employee per month in increased productivity.  That’s powerful.

JW: You have a wealth of content available for your customers at Books24x7.  Are there particular topics or segments that are more popular than others?

JA: We launched our ITPro offering in 1999, and quickly discovered that corporations wanted to provide tools that can develop the "total IT professional" which led to BusinessPro. Today, most clients licensing ITPro also license BusinessPro. We've also broadened into more than a dozen collections in response to clients. Our EngineeringPro and FinancePro were introduced two years ago and have been growing nicely. More recently corporations have been asking for more executive content which has led us to ExecEssentials, ExecBlueprints, ExecSummaries and AnalystPerspectives. Our newest collection called Well-BeingEssentials is now introducing the power of e-reference to HR departments. 

JW: How much emphasis do you place on usability for the Books24x7 interface?  Is this something your team is often experimenting with by adding/changing features?

JA: Our UI may be the e-reference industry's most widely field-tested. We get extremely high marks from clients for maintaining the difficult balance between simplicity and feature richness; between ease-of-use and power tools.  We are continually iterating with new features. Most recently we've introduced new innovations such as downloadable chapters, custom topic trees, and search-within-a search.  We also offer what I believe is the first robust e-reference database for mobile users which we call "Books24x7 on the Go."  Michael Bleyhl, who heads up sales training at EMC, leverages our mobile solution for their sales "road warriors."

JW: Occasionally I hear from an author who's concerned about the possible cannibalization of their print sales from services like Books24x7.  I've looked at the numbers on several books and can't find anything to support the concern but I was wondering if you (or any of your other publishing partners) have ever done more in-depth research on the topic.

JA: Frankly, Joe, I haven't heard that from authors since the early days of 1998-2000 when we were just starting to bring the publishing industry together.  Today, I am proud to say we have a very symbiotic relationship with nearly 400 publishers.  Interestingly, many titles in Books24x7 are not found in your typical Barnes and Noble store.  Authors and publishers want their content in Books24x7 because they recognize the importance of exposure to the corporate market. Every page of our site has a "purchase this book" link and we drive a great deal of traffic to Amazon.com for books that might have otherwise languished in obscurity.  I know clients sometimes order printed books in volume for special projects or live training programs.   Plus, our model ensures that publishers (and subsequently the authors) are paid every time a page of book content is used.  Everyone wins.

JW: Where do you see your business heading in the future?  Are there any new and interesting developments you can share with us?

JA: Corporations want one-stop shopping. So we will look at new opportunities to grow our suite of content collections in new disciplines.  We are also seeing demand for greater variety of delivery modes -- online, offline, mobile and audio.  We find rich video interesting and see opportunities to link video to drive usage of book content.  Watch this space, no pun intended!


Two Interesting New Titles

Dice PuzzlesAs you can see from some of the previous posts on this blog, I'm very proud of the new and innovative titles our team publishes.  Two of the more interesting ones that just hit my desk are The Official Dice Technology Job Search Guide and Puzzles for Programmers and Pros.

The Dice book covers everything you need to know for the IT job space, regardless of whether you're just entering it or are a seasoned professional.  Helpful hints for your resume, cover letter and interviewing/negotiation tactics are presented throughout, all from Dice.com, the leaders in the tech job arena.

The Puzzles book is also for IT professionals and offers a great way to stay sharp and test your analytical skills.  It's a WROX book, but it's not like any other WROX book out there...  If you're a programmer you'll find plenty of interesting challenges in this one.  But it's not limited to programmers; my son is heading off to college in a few months and the engineer-to-be in him loves figuring these things out.

Neither of these are in stores yet but they should be shortly.  Congratulations to Carol Long and the rest of the editorial team that put these two together.