• Print

Failure is a digital prerequisite

Jesse Wiley on how a 200-year-old publisher is making its way in the digital world.

This post is part of the TOC podcast series, which we’ll be featuring here on Radar in the coming months. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.


In the following podcast, Jesse Wiley (@jcwiley), who works on digital and new business initiatives at John Wiley & Sons, Inc., and is a seventh-generation Wiley family member, talks about the challenges the 200-year-old company faces in the digital age. Wiley says that success and innovation depend on learning how to fail — and expecting to fail.

Highlights from the full video interview (below) include:

  • Some lessons learned: Wiley discusses treating authors and partners as brands unto themselves. He also says the company is learning that traditional print practices don’t necessarily translate to digital practices, particularly in terms of discoverability: “As bookstores become less and less of a channel, you don’t have an opportunity to have your brand physically represented in a store the way it has been in the past.” [Discussed at the 1:25 mark.]
  • Coping with the changing landscape: Wiley says the company is constantly adapting to stay ahead of the game: “We’re continually reorganizing our people and our businesses to adjust to the markets, which I think is essential — things are changing so fast, you can’t just expect what worked even a year ago to work tomorrow.” He says they’re adapting incentive plans for editors and investing not only in technology but in the things that make technology work, such as project management. [Discussed at 10:28.]
  • Dealing with revenue streams and knowing when to make a move: Finding a balance between the print and digital business is a challenge, Wiley says, and in a way, the areas that still are doing well in print are funding the new digital projects. He also says it’s important to learn to fail: “Learning to fail is not an established concept in publishing, but in the technology world, innovation is built on doing pilots and testing — learning to fail and expecting to fail, and learning from both the successes and the failures.” [Discussed at 11:55.]
  • For more of Wiley’s thoughts check out the full interview in the following video.

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    • Kathy Sierra

      There was some interesting stuff here, especially the part about publishing innovation and learning from failure. Still, given a 20+ minute interview (and good questions asked by Joe Wikert) there was almost no discussion about the two most important people in publishing: authors and readers. With so much innovation around devices, formats, tools, and even marketing, it is easy to postpone the deeper problems. All the platform scalability on the planet will not fix the most broken parts of publishing… the too-small overlap in the Venn diagram of what authors want, what publishers want, and what readers want.
      The technology and market changes in publishing are exciting, I think, because they give us an opportunity to break free of the inertia that was holding back real progress in designing and creating new products (books and book-like “things”) that enable people-formerly-known-as-readers in powerful, meaningful ways. I hope we spend as much effort and energy on reader and author experiences as we do on the publisher’s perspective.