Monday, May 08, 2006

Wresponding to Wrox

Over on my post about the technical publishing market on Apress' Ablog, Jim Minatel was kind enough to chime in with his thoughts. I'm responding to them here because I think Jim makes some good points, and they fit in well with my ongoing series of posts about Wal-Mart and the Publisher.

Jim: Great comments. If I can chime in with what I think Wrox has already been doing in some of these areas:

Thanks for responding, and especially for being so open with your thoughts. I'm still a bit surprised at the openness you, Gary, and Tim have shown. I think it's a great sign of your honest interest in improving your chosen communities.

Jim:1. It's not just books:
our discussion forums are a massive and popular developer destination, not just to ask book questions but to have great "how do I do this" or "why won't this work" or "what's the best way to" coding questions and actually get answers from other very good coders.

Discussion groups can be suboptimal if not well executed, though they are a great way to get involved in the community. They can fragment the user community, resulting in multiple isolated groups that are harder to search and confusing for newcomers ("Which one(s) should I join?"). They can be very low traffic, frustrating the users that frequent them. They can dilute your brand, hurting you worse than not having them.

It sounds like you're happy with the results you're getting from, but I see some places you could improve.

  • Some of your forums look very healthy (e.g., the XML pages), others are pretty anemic (e.g., the Ruby pages). Choose your communities carefully, and nurture them.
  • URLs like aren't meaningful. Provide meaningful urls, they're more useful and more memorable.
  • The individual forums aren't well branded to the communities they serve, while they all look like Wrox, you can't tell the Ruby from the Java at a glance. Establishing Wrox Foo branding for the communities you want to be a part of helps make Wrox a part of the community instead of a provider to the community.

Jim: We're in the infancy, taking baby steps, of posting more article length content online, both short nugget size book excerpts and original articles. The links to these are currently featured at the bottom of our home page. As this grows in success, look for more prominent placement and more sophisticated organization of the archives.

That's great news. I'd be interested to learn how your sales are affected as you become more sophisticated in placement. I believe you'll see improvements in sales and in community presence as you have greater cross linking between book pages, online content, and your forums.

Jim: conferences and magazines: I'll happily admit I've got a predisposition against investing in Wrox-run conferences or a Wrox magazine. I know from a couple of year stint working at a company that was a magazine and conference leader how hard it is to do those well and profitably and how easy it would be for a new comer to lose money. However, we are doing small things along these lines like sponsoring more user groups and small conferences like code camp. which brings me to:

I'd meant to throw online content, conferences and magazines up as examples, not as a standard to comply to. I think that each publisher should look for ways to become a part of their communities. For example, the Pragmatic Programmers are very active in the Ruby community mailing lists, irc channels, and even development.

You're right though that magazines and big conferences are an easy way to fail both spectacularly and expensively. It's good to hear that you're involved with user groups and regional conferences. I think these will provide a lot of value to both local groups and the larger community — and to you.

Jim: 2. Community.
I think the areas where we're having the most success, mostly MSFT dev topics, reflect where we've been able to be the most involved in the community too. "Get the best and the brightest to write for you." we've been real lucky in ASP.NET and the rest of the MSFT dev topics to really be building the community relationships and networks to make this possible.

Bravo! I don't have any visibility into this space (I'm a Ruby and Open Source guy), but it sounds like you're spot on to really succeed.

Anyway, I love that this discussion is happening. I'll have to go back and read some of the other posts. I'm a bit slow blog reading the last few days and must have missed the barbs.

I love it too. Thanks again for responding, and good luck with making Wrox a thriving publisher and community member.

You might want to read An Author's Story: a Cautionary Tale

This post is part of a collection of articles about Publishing, Growing Markets, and Books.

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