Will Your Company Be Successful in 2208?

I recently spent the day with my editor and his colleagues on the marketing, editorial, and PR teams at my publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. We had wide-ranging discussions about a revised paperback edition of my current hardcover, The New Rules of Marketing & PR (which I’m happy to say has been the top selling PR and marketing book since its release in June 2007); promotional plans for my latest hardcover, Tuned In: Uncover the Extraordinary Opportunities That Lead to Business Breakthroughs (co-authored with Phil Myers and Craig Stull); and ideas for my next book—about viral marketing—slated for March 2009.

One topic we discussed was the release of the Amazon Kindle version of The New Rules of Marketing & PR. With a Kindle rank hovering around 160 (meaning my book outsells all Kindle editions except for 159 other books), I wondered what these numbers mean for actual sales. I was surprised to hear that there doesn’t yet seem to be a way of translating Kindle numbers into sales figures. I reached out to my Twitter network, but nobody had any insight. Perhaps by the time this column is printed, we’ll have more understanding of Kindle sales.

While the Kindle is new, John Wiley & Sons isn’t. It’s been publishing for 200 years. Wiley was founded in New York City when Thomas Jefferson was president. Think about it: Many of the companies we follow in this magazine are startups. A company that sees its 10th birthday without being acquired (or going belly up) is a rarity.

So what’s the secret to longevity like Wiley’s? In particular, how can a company thrive in the publishing business, which is one of today’s toughest markets due to the upheaval online content delivery has caused? Simple—Wiley stays tuned in to its market (readers and the book trade) and develops products and services that people want to buy. Wiley offers its products and services in the ways people want to consume information—be it on paper, online, or via digital devices.

I can point to a number of things that are evidence of how Wiley is tuned in today, behavior that’s indicative of why it has thrived for 2 centuries. Here are just three examples:

First, when I began working on The New Rules of Marketing & PR in late 2006, the professionals at Wiley embraced my ideas of a new publishing model. I was one of the first Wiley authors to blog significant portions of a book as I was writing. My editor, Matt Holt, and his colleagues actually encouraged me to give away a good deal of the book on my blog. Other publishers would have freaked out if an author wanted to put parts of a book out (gasp! for free!) in order to generate comments and to solicit ideas online. Wiley embraced the idea and has seen "free" translate into sales.

Second, Wiley has a group of passionate employee bloggers. One of them is my friend, Joe Wikert (whom I met at an SIIA conference and who introduced me to Wiley). He writes the must-read Joe Wikert’s Publishing 2020 Blog: A Book Publisher’s Future Visions of Print, Online, Video and All Media Formats Not Yet Invented. While many publishers sit in conference rooms wringing their hands about the demise of print and the wild and woolly world of blogs (while their jobs fade away), Wiley editors embrace new media.

Third, Wiley is a global company that understands information is valuable to people all over the world. Unlike many U.S.-centric organizations, many parts of Wiley’s international operation provide thought-leading book marketing. Wiley Europe has an excellent example of an online media room, in which it educates and informs reviewers, the media, and consumers.

To mark the company’s bicentennial, Wiley published a coffee table tome called Knowledge for Generations: Wiley and the Global Publishing Industry. It’s fascinating to page through this massive volume and get a sense of all the changes that Wiley has gone through since 1808. Originally, Charles Wiley and his team would edit a handwritten manuscript, set it in type by hand, and print each sheet on a hand-operated press. Then pages were sewn together and bound between covers. Today, I blog bits of my book and email my finished manuscripts, which are then delivered in a multitude of print and digital formats.

Think about what your business will be like 200 years from now. Will your company even be around in the year 2208? My guess is that Wiley will be, delivering information in ways that have yet to be invented.