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9 posts from August 2005

Jack Welch – Winning

I just finished reading Jack Welch's Winning. My one-word review is…disappointing. I was a big fan of Welch’s previous book, Jack: Straight from the Gut. It was very inspiring and full of fascinating insights and techniques. You really got the feeling you were getting an insider’s look at GE in his earlier book. That’s simply not the case with this one.

Given how wildly successful Winning has been, I decided to take another look at some of the reviews over on Amazon. I have to agree with a couple on the first page: “A lot of effort for the reader for a few insights” and “Insightful at times, but mostly superficial.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. In fact, I almost put this one down after reading the first couple of chapters. Despite the never-ending gratuitous references to many of his former GE colleagues, how they’ve gone on to bigger and better things, etc., I fought my way through to the end of the book – I guess I can at least say Jack taught me something about perseverance.

If you haven’t read Jack: Straight from the Gut, get it. If you haven’t already bought Winning, don’t.


Marketing's Role -- Part One

One of the goals of this blog is to offer a forum where we can talk about the various responsibilities of each of the key areas and job functions within a publishing house.  Over the past few months we've had posts on the author's role, the acquisitions editor's role, the development editor's role and the sales rep's role.  The rest of this post is Part One of marketing's role, brought to you by our Director of Marketing, Ellen Gerstein:

Marketing - The View From 30,000 Feet
Part One

Ah the life of a marketer! 

Remember the Dilbert cartoon several years back where Dilbert was being transferred from engineering to marketing?  The final frame of the cartoon shows  Dilbert walking amongst these ethereal white-robed creatures in marketing, below an enormous banner that proclaims: "Marketing Department: Two Drink Minimum."

Admit it.  That's what you think when you hear marketing.  Most marketers when asked to talk about what he or she does on the job will fall into the trap of compensating for, or worse apologizing for what they do - that's it's really a lot of hard work, it's not all sunshine and swag, and you really don't know the half of what we have to do...blah...blah...

Well, I'm not going to do that.  Well, maybe just a little.  Because in my most humble opinion, because I am in marketing, I have one of the most exciting jobs in the building.   And yes, it's really a lot of hard work, it isn't all sunshine and sway, and you really *don't* know the half of what we do.  My team and I often hear from other employees that they want to come into marketing "because we have so much fun."  I'll admit through it all, we do have fun, but it's still a job. 

So what does a marketer do?  Traditional marketing talks about the Marketing Mix or the 4P's - product, price, place (distribution) and promotion.  These are the parameters that the marketing manager looks to control, subject to the external constraints of the marketplace.  For the most part, even if we are not conscious of it, we go about our planning in these parameters.  For me to get into that mindset, when I think about a new book, series or project, I always ask myself three questions:

1. Who is the customer?

2. Do they want/need a book?

3. How do we reach the customer?

With every proposal, if I cannot answer those questions, there is a problem.  If I don't know the answers, I can't tell the sales reps the right pitch to use to sell the book to the bookstores, and I can't truly support the book in the marketplace.  Once we have these questions answered, everything else falls into place. 

Wiley's unique in the industry, at least based on my experience in other publishing operations, and talking to my friends who are also in the business.  We operate in a collaborative model, which means that marketing works with editorial, production, sales and publicity together on a project from the get go.  When an editor is working with an author on a proposal for a book, we're right there with editorial, talking about who the customer is, what the size of the prospective market is, and how we are going to get the word out about the product to the marketplace.  At other houses, it's been more of a relay race.  Think of a book as a baton - the starting runner is the editor, who then passes it to the next runner, and so on and so on.  That doesn't work for me, for a number of reasons.  In our model, we're collaborative, and the book becomes OUR book.  Taking ownership of something is empowering for a book.  You know that you have the ability to affect the success of a book, and that makes you work harder.  You also know a lot more about a book which is also good for everyone involved. 

So, how do we go about market planning?  Our group publishes over 400 books per year.   For the purposes of selling to accounts, we divide the calendar year into 3 "seasons"- Fall, Winter and Spring.  No, that does not mean we take the summer off.  June and July books are considered Spring, August books are considered Fall.  Each season, we produce a catalog that lists all our titles.  These, along with other selling materials, are used by sales people  to present books to accounts, from major chains like Barnes & Noble and Borders, to online accounts like Amazon and The Bookpool, as well as independent stores like SoftPro and Quantum. 

Used to be that we would look at every season as a list, and try and slot books so that we had books spaced nicely through the months and that we were not publishing too many big books in one month.  For the most part, the marketers on the general interest and business programs still do that.  They can look at a business book and say that November is a bad month to publish it, and if it cannot come out sooner, it should be moved to February for better sell in and sell through potential.  In tech, we do not have that luxury.  Tech books can be like corn - once you pick them, they start to turn to starch fast, so you want to get them out in the market as soon as possible.   The other lines have more "shelf stable" product.*

*Note - Most marketing metaphors, and we have a ton of them, involve food.  Marketing is all about our next meal.

In the seasonal selling, this is where the "universal translator" function in marketing come in.  It's up to us to take what the editors tell us about that book, and craft that into something that conveys the true benefits to the customer of a book for sales to use with their accounts.  This is our chance to influence the sell in, as much as it is possible.  It's our opportunity to convey the excitement we have for a title to the sales force and start laying out what we want to do in our marketing activities.  If you get this right, it's a great way to kick off a successful book campaign. 

Next up - To market to market....How we promote books in the marketplace and set our go-to-market strategies.

eBay Insanity

I admit it. I’m a complete eBay novice. I’ve only bid on two items up to now, but the results have me scratching my head. I wanted to get my son a set of drum practice pads because they’ll enable him to keep playing while the rest of us want some peace and quiet. These sets are often available on eBay, so I started bidding a week or so ago…

I guess the bidding pattern is pretty common: The initial price is well below the true value and doesn’t budge a whole lot till the bidding is about to close. Suddenly, within the last 10-15 minutes people go absolutely nuts and wind up paying a price that’s at or above retail value! For example, the last set I bid on was hovering around $100 until the final 15 minutes. It closed at $177.50. Guess what? I found a comparable (and new!) set on Amazon for $9 more. In fact, when you roll in the shipping charges for both, it’s a wash.

Why in the world do people pay sticker price for a used product?! I can see where it’s possible to make good money selling things on eBay, but I wonder how the buyers feel when they figure out they overpaid? Does the winner of this particular auction even realize their boneheaded move, or are they mindlessly walking around talking about the “great deal” they just got on eBay?

Amazon Shorts: The Leader Keeps Inventing New Customer Options

Amazon is at it again. If you haven’t heard about it, check out Amazon’s new Shorts program. They tout it as “never-before-seen short works from a variety of well-known authors, available only on” Customers can buy these 2,000-10,000 word works for $0.49 each. Sounds like a great way to offer customers short stories, follow-ups to existing books, etc. It’s also why Amazon just keeps getting stronger and stronger. They’re not afraid to experiment and even though I don’t personally take advantage of all their new programs (see Amazon Prime), I like how they continue to explore new territory.

Bookscan – Week Ending 8/14/05

I thought I’d take a different approach to the Bookscan summary this week. Rather than just looking at the Top 25, I decided to expand it to the Top 50. The topic and publisher shares change a bit when you go further down the list, but as I mentioned last week, these numbers can often shift because of store promotions, new releases, etc.

When you look at the Top 50 for the week ending 8/14, the top 5 topics are (by units sold):

  1. Microsoft Office (27%)
  2. Programming/Web Development (18%)
  3. Windows XP (14%)
  4. Photoshop/Photography (9%)
  5. Mac (9%)

As you can see, the programming/web development area grows in importance when you look deeper into the list. This category also includes a lot of subtopics (e.g., Java, HTML, PHP, etc.), so it’s fairly splintered. Although Windows, Photoshop/Photography and Mac all become a bit smaller this week when you look deeper into the list, Office remains strong. In fact, it’s 2 points higher than it was last week through the Top 25. Also of note: When you look at the Office books in the Top 50 this week, it’s a Wiley and Microsoft Press world – no other publishers had an Office book in the Top 50. This helps support Juliana Aldous Atkinson’s point from my previous post, specifically that Microsoft Press is one of the key players in what is arguably one of the most important topic areas.

Speaking of publishers, here’s how the Top 50 breaks down by publisher for this past week (by units sold):

  1. Wiley (34%)
  2. Pearson/Penguin (25%)
  3. Microsoft Press (17%)
  4. O’Reilly (16%)
  5. Henry Holt (2%)

This is the same order as last week, which is pretty typical. As you can see, once you get past the top 4 publishers the numbers really drop off.

Wanted: Acquisitions Editor for Open Source Topics

Due to a recent change on our team, we’re currently interviewing candidates for an acquisitions editor position focusing on open source technologies. If you’re an open source enthusiast or an experienced acquisitions editor, send me your resume and let’s see if this might be a good fit for you (click on my e-mail link in the left panel). If you’re not currently in the publishing industry, but always wondered if it might be an interesting business, be sure to read Jim Minatel’s earlier post about the acquisitions editor’s role.

Bookscan – Week Ending 8/7/05

Bookscan is a very valuable service and reporting tool used by publishers and retailers alike. It provides point-of-sale information from approximately 4,500 retailers across the U.S. As you may have seen in previous blog posts by O'Reilly, the data is very useful.

I thought it would be interesting to provide a weekly snapshot of the top 25 computer books according to Bookscan data. Here’s a breakdown of the top publishers and topic areas from last week’s report (all percentages are based on sell-through units):

Leading Publishers                       Leading Topics

#1 Wiley 30%                                #1 Microsoft Office 25%

#2 Pearson 22%                            #2 Windows XP 17%

#3 Microsoft Press 19%                 #3 Photoshop/Photography 16%

#4 O’Reilly 16%                             #4 Mac  13%

#5 Penguin 6%                              #5 Web Development 7%

By the way, although they show up separately in Bookscan, Penguin is owned by Pearson, which means the Pearson total goes up to 28% in this list.

As you’ll see over time, share splits and topic importance tend to fluctuate due to seasonality, new product releases and perhaps most importantly, promotional efforts by publishers and retailers. Also, although you can’t extrapolate data for the top 25 titles for the entire market, they are a good indicator of what’s hot and who’s doing well.

Wiley Sales Conference: August 2005

It was sales conference time again this week. I posted about our previous sales conference and thought it would be a good idea to mention some of the most interesting books that were talked about at this week’s session.

I might as well start things off right and mention a book from my own group which happened to get a lot of attention: Naked Conversations, by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel. This book, of course, was the reason why I launched my own blog. Anyone who follows the authors on their book blog knows that this one is coming along quite nicely. I can’t wait for it to publish in January.  (Robert and Shel: Our sales force is equally enthusiastic about this one.)

Patrick Lencioni is one of Wiley’s most well known authors. Death by Meeting and The Five Dysfunctions of a Team are two of his most popular titles. His next book is called Silos, Politics and Turf Wars. Ouch. I can already feel the pain of this one hitting home.

Another interesting upcoming management book that caught my eye is called Blueprint to a Billion, by David Thomson. The book promises to uncover the success pattern of many of America’s highest growth companies. Thomson is going to focus exclusively on companies that IPO’d after 1984 and have grown to $1 billion in revenue.

Finally, a fun children’s book from the Discovery Channel called MythBusters: Don’t Try This at Home. It’s positioned as a companion to the TV series with the same name and the featured experiments look like a blast.