Joe Wikert is General Manager & Publisher at O'Reilly Media, Inc., where he manages the sales and editorial groups. He's the author of the Publishing 2020 blog where he's provided industry insights for the past 4+ years. Joe is also a Kindle owner and blogger; you can find his thoughts about this device on Kindleville. Prior to joining O'Reilly Joe was Vice President and Executive Publisher at John Wiley & Sons, Inc., in their P/T division. He and his wonderful wife Kelly have 3 great kids: Sarah, Craig and Hannah.
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The only certain thing in publishing nowadays is that everything moves really fast. If you should describe the actual situation with three adjectives, which ones would you pick and why?
The three I would use are transformative, exciting, and alarming. I say transformative because we are seeing a move from print to digital that will have a profound impact on the future of our industry. Print won't go away but the capabilities of digital, especially when content is developed in a digital-first model, are exciting…and that's why I used the word exciting. I think publishing would be dull if all we were doing was to create the next set of print titles. We have a blank canvas in front of us now that is capable of so much more than just print. Lastly, I say alarming because of all the walled gardens that are being erected. Amazon is the perfect example here. Customers are attracted by the irresistible deals but will eventually realize they're locked into the Amazon platform, or at least the content they purchase is locked into it.
Could you point out an example of innovation in publishing that is worth to look at in the next future?
One of the more interesting areas I'm seeing right now is the notion of content subscriptions where you rent your ebooks rather than own them. Some have referred to the eventual coming of a "Spotify for ebooks" and I think that's going to happen. I'm not sure it will be a broad, general subscription package though. As a consumer I'm more interested in specific genres with a great deal of depth, not a broad list of titles, many of which I don't really care about. So a sports subscription, a history one or a biographical one would be very appealing to me. Many consumers (myself included!) scoffed at the idea of a music subscription program before Spotify. That mindset is changing rapidly. Even my own habits are changing. I used to buy tracks but haven't bought one in months and yet I listen to Spotify every week. We'll see the same model emerge with ebooks.
Which are in your opinion the three unavoidable steps for publishers today?
First, they need to not only embrace technology, they need to immerse themselves in it. How can you get a sense for the customer's point of view if you're not using a tablet and/or eInk device on a regular basis? Second, they need to think beyond just the portable, packaged formats like EPUB, mobi, and PDF. Streaming content (see answer to #2 above) is going to become more and more important and that's going to be delivered through HTML5; so HTML5 is a technology publishers need to fully embrace. Lastly, they need to abandon DRM. It's time to start trusting your customers and do away with the restrictions of DRM. This will also help tear down those walled gardens I talked about in point #1.