Publishing Mysteries, Part II

Why aren't all publishing houses doing what O'Reilly does?
Jul | 19 | 2010

Jul | 19 | 2010

I’ve ranted before about why so many traditional publishers have yet to embrace Web 2.0 and emerging technologies. Yes, I understand that today the onus is on individual authors to “get the word out” for their books. I honestly don’t have a problem with this. I’d also argue that authors are uniquely positioned to explain the content of—and intended audiences for—their books. But I’m reminded of my basketball-playing days at college. Often during our games, the ball would wind up in an adjacent court, interrupting it in the process. I’d apologize to the fellow hoopsters and say, “A little help here?”

The O’Reilly Model

I really just don’t get why all (yes, all) publishers don’t do what O’Reilly does. Aside from hosting real-world and virtual conferences, they understand the importance of concepts such as community and social networks. Check out this interview by Mac Slocum with the authors of the the upcoming book Gamestorming. Is it a coincidence that the book’s Amazon pre-sales numbers are a very respectable 2,500 give or take? Perhaps most fascinating for this interview is Mac Slocum’s role at O’Reilly. Check out his brief bio:

Mac Slocum is O’Reilly’s Online Managing Editor. At heart, he’s a web guy. At various times and and at a variety of outlets, he’s been a web editor, a web producer, and a web writer. He’s also taught journalism courses and helped organize conferences.

How many traditional publishers even employ an online managing editor? I’d bet that few do.

Simon Says

O’Reilly is just plain smart. Sure, maintaining a web site, employing writers, and creating meaningful content all cost money and take time. But there appear to be pretty significant rewards for both publishers and authors. Increased book sales and fees from conferences certainly come to mind. More than that, though, it appears as if O’Relly views its authors as partners, not merely as independent contractors who need to generate their own buzz. It seems that most publishers take the provincial, short-term view that these types of things just don’t pay off. Focusing on short-term costs instead of long-term benefits is typical of companies in industries in decline. Rather than fight the inevitable future, O’Reilly seems to be embracing it. Kudos to them.


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  1. Mac Slocum

    Wow! Thanks for this, Phil!
    The best part of my job — and believe me, I *love* this job — is that I get to talk to interesting people (our authors and folks in O’Reilly’s ecosystem) about the things they’re most passionate about.

  2. Julian Schwarzenbach

    The divergence between old and new media seems to becoming more polarised. Shortly before reading your post, I read this article predicting the likely failure of The Times newspapers attempt to get readers to pay for content by putting it behind a ‘paywall’. If, as seems likely, this is a failure, then it will be both high profile and very costly for the Murdoch empire. More and more free news services are cropping up, such as my local one The Lichfield Blog, which now easily beats the print media on speed and is as good on accuracy.
    We live in interesting times……

  3. Douglas Moran

    What you’re missing is that most publishers are still trying to figure out a way to continue to cling to an (essentially) 19th Century business model.  O’Reilly as a publisher was started by writers–i.e., Tim–and not all that long ago.  So it’s not like they have a long history of doing things a different way to throw off.  If you started by doing things in troff, publishing electronically probably feels like a dream come true.

  4. philsimon

    Thanks for the comments, all.

    @ Mac – someone in the publishing industry who loves his job. Refreshing to hear.

    @ Julian – interesting article. Going to a paywall model midstream is always risky.

    @ Doug – well put. Newer companies are almost always capable of redefining themselves easier and quicker than their larger counterparts.


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