Interview with Joe Wikert, Vice President and Executive Publisher of the Professional/Trade division of John Wiley & Sons, and author of the 20/20 Blog.
Do you see hardware readers (Kindle, Sony) as critical to increased industry ebook sales in the future, despite rapidly dropping laptop prices and increasing wireless Internet access?
Yes, I think the real momentum in this area is going to be from devices other than backlit-display computers. We’ve all had access to e-content on our computers for many years now and, despite advances in how that content can be presented, there’s little movement in the PC as a delivery platform. The problem comes down to not just portability (do you want to lug your laptop everywhere?) but also long-term readability. I find I can read from my Kindle for hours and hours with no eyestrain or discomfort, just like reading a print book/magazine/newspaper. Reading from a backlit computer screen, however, becomes uncomfortable for me after only about 5 minutes.
I'm a recent convert to PDF e-book publishing without DRM after years of offering more restrictive solutions, and in a couple months have netted sales in 35 countries. What are your own thoughts on DRM, and do you fear that less restrictive solutions could put large trade publishers in the shoes of music publishers?
I see the problems with DRM and I’m not a fan. That’s why two of the more recent e-content initiatives from my group at Wiley have been done without DRM (WROX Blox and Chapters on Demand). Although most publishers and authors don’t want to see their paid content released in the wild and being freely distributed, we need to focus more on our customers and less on the bad guys. I have yet to see a DRM solution that’s truly customer-friendly.
In a post on your own blog last summer, you expressed regrets about publisher websites being divided into catalog or personalities. My own view is what publisher websites lack (especially nonfiction publishers) is useful content, like draft books and original and useful supplementary material. Do you think publishers need to worry about giving too much away, or was your post primarily addressing the specific issue brought up on Booksquare?
My post was mostly a response to the insightful piece on Booksquare. You’re absolutely right that we (publishers) need to figure out how to add more and more content to our sites. What’s the compelling reason for customers to visit it if we’re not offering something more than catalog pages for our books? And no, I don’t think publishers should worry about giving too much away. We’re too far on the other end of the spectrum, focused on being way too protective and not willing to offer more content as a service to our readers. That’s one of the reasons I like the Smashwords model. It lets authors/publishers decide how much of the work is freely accessible, well before a penny is spent. If you want to make 90% of your book freely available Smashwords can accommodate.
You mentioned being impressed by Authonomy which to me looked a lot like an iPublish clone, the Time Warner website for manuscripts that dangled contract opportunities based on community voting and which lasted all of eight months back in 2001. Do you remember the iPublish fiasco and do you see Authonomy as doing something different, or just their timing being better? (I feel sorry for the smart guys who bet against house prices a year too early - they were right and they still lost a bundle).
I have to admit I don’t recall iPublish, but I wonder if it was simply ahead of its time. I don’t know what the HarperCollins expectations are for Authonomy but I think it’s a fantastic idea. First of all, it’s a great way to encourage up-and-coming authors to post their content and let others critique it. As a publisher I like that it creates yet another platform where new products are being built and tomorrow’s authoring stars might be found. Secondly, I’m a huge advocate of community-based web initiatives. Even if Authonomy never produces a hit title I’ll bet countless authors will get loads of valuable feedback (and encouragement) from the experience.