Web 2.0 For Dummies
In the course of its history, John Wiley and Sons Inc. has seen 40 presidents come and go. Forty U.S. presidents, that is, in the span of more than 200 years in the publishing business. From humble beginnings in a print shop in Lower Manhattan, through eras of momentous change and extreme economic ups and downs, the company has stuck by its core principles: building relationships and meeting customer needs.
“The overarching goal for us is not about books and journals or the Web, it’s about promoting knowledge and understanding, continuously adapting to change, and meeting the needs of the customer,” says William Pesce, president and chief executive officer. “You need to give them what they want, and satisfy their expectations.”
While keenly aware of its history and heritage, Wiley is by no means stuck in the past. The company is a world leader in the science, technical and medical (STM) book and journal trade, with its February 2007 acquisition of Blackwell Publishing expanding its roster of scholarly, peer-reviewed journals to 1,400. High-profile brands anchoring the company’s professional/trade business include the “For Dummies” self-help series and “Frommer’s” travel guides. Wiley’s higher-education business has proven to be an industry leader in developing integrated, online teaching and learning tools.
Headquartered in Hoboken, N.J., since 2002, with offices in Europe, Asia, Canada and Australia, Wiley reported revenue of just over $1.23 billion in 2007.
“You’ll hear this recurring theme from me about adapting, evolving and changing, which is an important ingredient in Wiley’s success over the past 200 years,” Pesce says. “It’s particularly relevant when we talk about multimedia strategy.”
The Right Tools for the Job
Digitizing content has proven a core strategy for Wiley, though the company does not rush to put simply any materials online. An early leader in moving STM content online, recognizing the Web’s potential for research and discoverability across multiple channels, the company maintains a healthy mix of print and electronic materials across its professional/trade and educational businesses.
Pesce uses the term “enabling technology” to describe the potential of Web 2.0 tools, and strategies to connect audiences and drive user-friendly product development.
“One of the exciting aspects of [using] Web 2.0 [tools] is that our relationship with customers is [now] much more collaborative and much more dynamic,” he says. In STM, for instance, having the capability to derive information on how publications are used—which parts are most accessed and when—is essential to enhancing the publications’ functionality. The “Frommer’s” travel guides have benefited tremendously from upgrades to the “Frommer’s” Web site, which, in addition to blogs, customized PDF guides and interactive maps, takes full advantage of travelers’ passion for sharing stories and information through forums, trip journals and other community-building features.
“Some think that online cannibalizes print. No doubt, in some cases, you lose print revenue. But we’re finding, in many cases, we have rapidly growing Web sites along with best-selling books. [The “Frommer’s” Web site] reinforces the brand of “Frommer’s,” often ending up with users buying the print version … and of course, we also are beginning to generate a stream of online ad revenue,” Pesce says.
A Big Plus
Wiley’s fastest-growing digital initiative and media platform, and one of its most ambitious digital initiatives to date, resides in the company’s higher-education business. WileyPlus, a sophisticated suite of online and print products, provides customizable content and course materials across 16 academic disciplines.
According to Bonnie Lieberman, senior vice president of Wiley’s higher-education business, the WileyPlus concept originated seven years ago with eGrade, a
homework-, quiz- and exam-grading system for calculus, and expanded as Wiley recognized the need for faculty to have an integrated suite of products to facilitate classroom multimedia and online instruction—sort of a Microsoft Office for coursework that also delivers content and pedagogy as well as the environment and tools.
“[Calculus] students really learn best if they do homework and are proactive, but faculty don’t have time to grade it,” Lieberman says. “Because of our focus on quantitative disciplines, we were able to create a system early on where doing homework and getting [instant] feedback [on it from the system] really helps [the student] with the course.”
WileyPlus came along at the right time, with college campuses cutting back on teaching assistants, students clamoring for better online study aids, and faculty deluged with a dizzying array of new teaching tools—a problem WileyPlus solved by integrating multiple tools into one product. The company’s expertise in textbooks allowed for the seamless integration of text and online features. Wiley’s e-textbooks are in XML, which links well with WileyPlus features.
“The solitary action of reading a textbook is not as appealing as [interacting] with [programs] that respond and give immediate feedback,” Lieberman notes. “Faculty and students love it—we now have students asking faculty if they will be using the system when they are picking a course.”
From a core group of initial offerings rooted in quantitative disciplines, WileyPlus has moved into anatomy and physiology and the social sciences, areas where instruction benefits from a strong visual element. A new introductory Spanish course allows students to hear words being pronounced as part of an online language lab.
“WileyPlus is helping professors be more productive, but also helping students learn in a more interactive way,” says Pesce, who reports that the product was being used in 13 countries, as of three months ago.
The technology allows Wiley to receive constant feedback regarding which elements of the system work best and are most useful to teachers and students, as well as at what times Web sites are most heavily used. (Pesce notes, with some amusement, an “incredible volume” of student visits occur late on Sundays and very early Monday morning.)
As WileyPlus has grown, it has drawn from strengths in other areas of the company, from adopting journal-pricing models and online platforms established in STM, to working with editorial staff to figure out how to best adapt content to the medium. In the future, Lieberman says, WileyPlus will return the favor, providing a structure that can be adapted to deliver content through other business models within the company.
The service offers a peer-to-peer network of instructors who help each other effectively integrate the technology into courses. Also embedded within WileyPlus is a tutorial feature, “WileyPlus For Dummies,” that can be downloaded in PDF format or ordered as a print edition. The book is identical in style and format to the company’s other “Dummies” offerings.
“We thought it would be great to give faculty a manual in print, and there’s nothing with greater recognition than the ‘Dummies’ brand,” Lieberman says. “People love that book—it’s something we give to faculty so that they can get up to speed quickly.”
Strike Up the Brand
“WileyPlus For Dummies” illustrates the potential for brand promotion across businesses, even in a global company.
“I think branding matters today more than ever, because of the wide array of content choices,” Pesce says. “There are only a certain number of hours in the day, and if I need to gain access to something, I will go somewhere I’ve gone before.”
Wiley’s highly regarded stable of brands, which in addition to “Frommer’s” and “For Dummies” includes the “J.K. Lasser” tax publications, “Webster’s New World,” Wiley InterScience and the medical journal, “Cancer,” are trusted sources that audiences turn to in order to address specific needs.
Maintaining and building that audience, however, requires an attention to delivery modes that coincide with the ways people access and use information today. It also requires an entrepreneurial approach to publishing that can identify consumer needs and build a name around the fulfillment of those needs.
A recent example of this came with the November 2007 launch of Fisher Investments Press, a joint initiative between Wiley and Fisher Investments, a Woodside, Calif.-based money-management firm.
“We did a book with [Fisher Investments CEO] Ken Fisher, which was very well-received,” Pesce says. “We decided to go beyond simply doing another book to building an imprint around the Fisher name.”
By building an “umbrella brand,” Pesce says that Wiley can draw on the expertise of the investment firm and be creative in developing new franchises and platforms for reaching customers. As with the company’s other brands, the franchise can build a level of trust and establish consumer habits that reach across delivery platforms.
“People talk about whether content or delivery matters more, but it’s really not an either-or equation,” Pesce says. “Years and years ago, it was all about content. Today, content is as important as ever, but successful publishers need to have content delivered in ways that are convenient to people.”
Pesce says successful publishing usually begins with editors who know the competition, the trends and the authors, but that not all new product ideas are developed that way.
“One of the things we feel strongly about is that [product development] has to be a collaborative effort between editorial, production, sales and marketing. These are diverse, but complementary skills,” he says.
“When I talk about challenges, I do that in the context of the fact that I’m the 10th president of a company that’s been around for 200 years,” Pesce says. “One of the things I’m particularly proud of … is that Wiley tends to look at challenges and opportunities over the long term, not just quarter to quarter.”
The Blackwell acquisition moves Wiley into a new era, even as the company steps up efforts to digitize scientific journals dating back to the company’s beginnings. Researchers will eventually be able to type in a word and search across the entire body of work from Wiley and Blackwell—a combined total of 310 years of publishing.
It is this commitment to meeting customers’ needs that, literally and figuratively, connects the company to its past.
“Publishing is still a business of people’s relationships,” Pesce says. “As we move into year 201 and counting, what we’re looking at is the opportunity to use technology to serve our customers better. That’s what really makes it special.”