John 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!