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BW Businessworld

‘Right Now, I Think Digital’

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The sixth generation of a family with deep roots in publishing, Peter Wiley is the chairman of the 1807-founded John Wiley & Sons, a company known for its pioneering work. Wiley is known worldwide for its scientific, technical, and medical publishing, for its textbooks, and for its wide range of trade and professional books including such well-known imprints as Architectural Graphic Standards, For Dummies, Frommer's, CliffsNotes, Betty Crocker, Wrox, Jossey-Bass, and Webster's New World dictionaries. Wiley shares trade on the New York Stock Exchange, and over the past ten years, the company's performance has been among the best in the industry. Wiley has been a leader in the use of technology and in global efforts to define and enforce international copyright law. Wiley has publishing operations in eight countries including Singapore where an office was opened in 1978.

Peter Wiley was also a founder of the San Francisco Bay Area Book Festival, has served for many years on the board of the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, is a member of the board of the University of California Press, and an advisor to the now defunct Stanford Professional Publishing Programme. He met BW's Jinoy Jose P. and publishing consultant Jaya Bhattacharji Rose in Delhi to talk about the changing dynamics of the industry. They were joined by Vikas Gupta, managing director, Wiley India. Excerpts:

Your company was established in 1807. It has survived in spite of the Industrial Revolution and tide through so many technological changes, and managed to stay ahead. You would be better placed than most publishers to comment upon where the publishing industry is headed now, especially with the current churn, it is unpredictable for most.
As a company, I know where we are headed in the next five years... more digital. Print will grow, too. We are also looking at deeper engagement with rapidly growing markets. I avoid talking about developed, developing and underdeveloped worlds, as they do not fit the realities of the times we are living in. Traditional large markets are a mature business. Growth is really going to come from India, Brazil, China and Indonesia; we are shifting our focus.

Was a journalist for 17 years. Joined Wiley board in 1984, became chairman in 2002

Yankees In The Land Of The Gods, A Free Library In This City, etc.

BA in English literature and MA in US history

Keeping pace with changing technologies is extremely flexible. The most interesting phenomena have been the Kindle and the iPad. The speed at which they happened was startling, but they did not catch us by surprise. But when you are dealing with tools capability for research or learning experience, you have to be prepared and anticipate as much as possible. So you may have what you think is sophisticated today is not going to be so tomorrow, or two years down. It is the ability to manoeuver within this — it is chaotic.  You have no idea what is coming from where, you have no idea who the major players are going to be. So, adaptability and flexibility are important.  

That means you are accepting that both the digital and the print will co-exist.
Peter Wiley: It is a reading, learning and entertainment experience that fits your way of engaging with the literary world. I read faster on Kindle than on print. Ours is 'knowledge publishing', so the migration to 'e' will be faster, since that is the environment.

Vikas Gupta: Even in hard core traditional publishing, there are many forms, but when it comes to digital, everyone wants a single solution, but it has to be understood that you have a different kind of audience for different offerings. How they perceive digital to be — is it a reference, add on or core or will it be a combination of all three, these are the aspects that need to be addressed. 

Vikas Gupta Managing Director, Wiley India

So how is John Wiley & Sons adapting?
The hot new topics are assessment outcome, adaptation, personalisation and an ability to create a learning experience. So, we have WileyCustom, a customisation tool that is a purchase environment. The customer has the flexibility to create content, plug in other content in any format like videos, add case studies, with the view to create a package for the student. Designed on this page is a counter that gives the customer three options of a printout. Textbook price is a big issue in the US, particularly for low-income students, so the target content, price point and the medium are important. Right now, the stress is on personalised learning or the ability to use technology to assess a student

Given your penchant for innovations, what do you have in store for India?
Wiley: What we need to take into account, as the middle class grows in India, is the blended experience. When we talk about digital, we are also talking about face-to-face interaction. With the Indian middle class growing and the resource base of the government expanding, there can be an interesting shift. I think digital in this particular transition; mass education of low-income people is absolutely essential. Digital is probably the only solution that will work since you can simply not afford the investment in training more teachers.

Gupta: There is a very strong shift to we have to branded, reliability, authorship and repeatability of the books in tier 2 and 3 towns and that is where we have the long standing expertise. We have learned that we create premium content, but price it to the market so that it is not expensive.

So, all this is assuming the content being created and disseminated is legally done, but what happens when the pirates attack? It is a well-known fact that they attack digitally and in print. In terms of content dissemination, probably the pirates are helping strengthen your company's brand, but there is no mistaking the fact that they also eat into the bottom line of a company.
Gupta: Any technology you build you will have the reverse. The bigger issue will be which model works in which market and to which audience, instead of one model. There is a lack of education about pirates and it has to happen at the school and college level for it make a difference. It also raises questions about the models that are easy to download, but pay for something else. For instance in USA, a model is make the book free online or make the basic book free, but the print is available at a cost. We are responding as well. But unless it creates value for all stakeholders, including the author, it will never be sustainable.

Wiley: At the bottom end it is for the economic welfare. You cannot stop a student who can only afford 50 cents to go out and pirate a book that is retailing for US$3 and above. But we have actually built our legal capability to help us manage this issue.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 09-04-2012)