O'Reilly's Joe Wikert on Publishing Technology and Public Libraries

By Patrick Hogan |

Joe Wikert is General Manager & Publisher at O'Reilly Media, Inc., where he manages the sales and editorial groups. He is also Chair of O'Reilly's Tools of Change for Publishers conference (TOC). TOC 2012 is February 13-15 in New York City at the Marriott Marquis Times Square. ALA TechSource readers can save 15 percent by registering with coupon code AMLIB, in addition to discounts offered to librarians.

Joe follows new developments in publishing technology and emerging platform. ALA TechSource asked a few questions to get his perspective on public libraries.

ALA TechSource: Some public libraries are looking at ways they can be developers of content, helping people in their communities publish content of interest to their communities. The "hyper-local" approach. Drawing from your knowledge of start-up publishing platforms, what opportunities do you see for libraries?

Joe Wikert: Just as publishers are being forced to reinvent themselves in the digital age I think it's important for libraries to do the same. Part of that means being prepared to completely abandon any/all of the services you provided before. I like the thought of libraries helping their patrons learn how to effectively develop content, but it shouldn't end there. I think they should also serve as a resource to help them distribute that content. This is a big hole that's missing in the self-publishing space, and libraries have an opportunity to step in and do something about it. Authors who want to self-publish are scratching their heads over which platform to use (e.g., Lulu, AuthorHouse, etc.) Wouldn't it be great if your local library morphed into a resource that helps authors figure that out? And let's not forget about the workshop opportunities that could result from this. Local libraries could have regular sessions covering all aspects of content authoring and distribution (e.g., contracts, rights, writing skills, hiring an editor, cover design, etc.) Thanks to the self-publishing phenomenon we're seeing a lot more people get into the area of content creation and libraries are well-suited to play an important role in it.

ALA TechSource: What is your perspective on the state of social reading? Some libraries are using Goodreads for book clubs, for example. Do you think startup social media platforms might be useful tool for public libraries?

Joe Wikert: I see three issues currently with social reading. First, prospective users need to be convinced there's a reason for it. There's a lot of skepticism out there. I can't tell you how many times I've heard someone say, "reading is a solitary activity...I don't want it to be social!" There's no question that a great deal of anyone's reading should be out of the social sphere, but what about the rest of their reading activity? There are plenty of times when I'm reading a book about WWII where I'd like to ask someone what they might know about a certain battle or leader. I'd love to be able to ask that question right within the book I'm reading and not be forced to hop out to a browser and search Wikipedia, for example. At other times I'd love to ask someone else who's reading the same book for clarification on something. Nothing beats being able to ask a classmate for help with a problem and the same applies to reading a book. I'm convinced social has a role in reading but we're not there yet. Second, there are too many option. Do I go with Goodreads, as you suggest or Librarything, for example? I've used both and there are plenty of other ones out there. Finally, one of the biggest obstacles I see with social reading now is that it's not built into the ereader app. I read a lot on my Kindle and for me to really engage with social activities while reading I'd need it to be built into the app or device.

ALA TechSource: O'Reilly publishes its ebooks without digital rights management (DRM) and offers subscriptions to a collection (including other publishers' books) in the Safari Books Online. Can you offer a general perspective on this model, its rationale, and results? As a publisher, what's your view of the library marketplace?

Joe Wikert: First of all, I love the library marketplace. As I noted earlier, I think this is a great opportunity for libraries to reinvent themselves and I truly hope they succeed in doing so. Regarding DRM and the Safari model, I'm obviously a big fan of no DRM and digital content subscriptions.

Publishers who are using DRM are saying they don't trust their customers. What an awful message to send. And let's not forget that a DRM model that can't be cracked has yet to be built. DRM is nothing more than false security. Look around at all the ebooks available on torrent sites. Most of them were originally "protected" with DRM. Many others were never even officially released as ebooks but someone took the time to scan in the print version and create an e-version. So even if an uncrackable DRM could be developed, and it can't, illegal ebooks would exist thanks to simple scanning technologies. Given all this, why should publishers use DRM? Not only does it say they don't trust their customers but they have to pay extra for the feature and they limit what the customer can do with that content. What an awful formula. I'm sure you now see why I think DRM needs to completely go away!

Safari is a great model for content subscription. It's mostly based on technology and business content but I could see the same model being successful for other genres too. Amazon is testing this out with their Kindle Owner's Lending Library program. It's a great deal for Amazon and their customers but an awful one for publishers and authors. Why? Amazon has acknowledged in their own press release about the service that they're paying most publishers a simple flat fee for use of their content. So regardless of how popular a given book is in the program that publisher/author's income is capped. I'm as opposed to revenue and royalty caps as I am to DRM. Amazon's model should be like Safari's, which is a pay-for-performance one. The more use a particular book gets the more income that publisher/author receives. It's uncapped, like it should be.

Note: The O'Reilly Radar blog recently posted on web discussions around the mertis of publishers' DRM srategies and the possible threat of being beholden to Amazon. See also Joe's post "The problem with Amazon's Kindle Owners' Lending Library." and his Joe Wikert's Publishing 2020 Blog.