Marketing 101 : How O'Reilly Could Make More Money from Safari
Last updated: 7/29/2002; 7:43:44 AM
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Marketing 101 : How O'Reilly Could Make More Money from Safari

Since I'm just easing my way back into these Marketing 101 pieces, here's an easy one – – how (well at least I think) O'Reilly could make more money from Safari. Here's a little bit of background for those who don't know about O'Reilly and Safari.

Possible Bias Disclaimer : I am an O'Reilly author but I didn't get an advance.  I don't know if my book will be available via Safari or not.  I don't really have a bias but, theoretically, they might someday pay me money for something. I will confess to owning an unbelievably large # of O'Reilly books.  My stack is measured in the tens of pounds, not just pounds.

The Background:

  • O'Reilly,, is a leading provider of print technical books or as I refer to them "they make their money by killing trees day in and day out"
  • O'Reilly has been trying to make real $$$ from online publishing since at least the early 90s. Anyone remember Viola, an early, early, early browser? If memory serves me correctly, O'Reilly put a bunch of money into this once upon a time (I remember being a speaker at "Online Publishing '92" and seeing it there with Dale Dougherty promoting it.
  • I have no evidence to support this conjecture at all: I doubt they make much money from online publishing of existing book content.
  • Safari is O'Reilly's latest push into making money from online book content. What it amounts to is a web site with the full content of every book online. The books are searchable, well organized and actually really, really nice.  I spent some time on it at OSCON since they had it turned on for all the attendees.
  • Apparently it's not selling.  Or at least it's a long term, missionary sell. 

So what can O'Reilly do? The rest of this article focuses on just that question.

Here's a picture of Safari:

One of the really cool things about Safari is that it's NOT just O'Reilly books.  Great books like Lincoln Stein's Network Programming with Perl are also here (start of unpaid plug; and that book is just plain awesome, you'll learn more about network coding in that one book than in a university level computer science class; end of plug; return to your marketing 101 article now).

1. Simplify the Pricing for Year 1

Here is the pricing model:

The Safari points system Safari books are valued in points. Most Safari books are worth 1 point; some are 1/2 point, 2 points, or 3 points. Let's suppose you own a 10-point subscription for one year. If you choose only 1-point books, and swap aggressively, you can use 120 1-point books during the course of the year. But if your mix favors 1/2-point books, you can use more than 120 books during the year. Likewise, if your mix tends toward 2-point or 3-point books, you would use slightly fewer books.

This just plain feels complex.  I strongly suspect that O'Reilly has a revenue maximizing pricing model here.  They are really smart people and they seem to know how to make a buck (hey – they got 6+ authors for the blogging book to do it without an advance – that's knowing how to make a buck).  Still people hate complex pricing models.  Look at how the Internet just exploded past the online services when ISPs didn't charge by the bit but just by the month for unlimited access.

2. Make Access to the Source Code Easy

I don't know about any other developer out there but I find that many, many programming books often blow this critical step. The the otherwise excellent PHP Cookbook which is a great book – except that I can't find the code online and I have to cut and paste it. If I was O'Reilly I'd make sure that this was a key selling point.

NOTE: O'Reilly may make this possible but I haven't seen it in the marketing literature for Safari. And it's not just cut and paste. I want to be able to suck down all code for something from a book and make use of it easily.

NOTE2: And I do know that in at least one O'Reilly book, the absolutely wonderful Perl Cookbook, the way they handled the source code, at least initially, was just bad (a big gz archive with 1 file for each chapter, not 1 file for each script).  Just simple access to the source code would make me very happy.

3. Donate Use of It to Open Source Project Leaders

Given that O'Reilly books are the gold standard for any type of Open Source development, and that O'Reilly is trying to promote a fundamentally new thing (books are common, reading books online, not web pages isn't), it makes sense to me that O'Reilly would want to get other people evangelizing it's use.  Why not donate subscriptions to open source project leaders.  People like Bram Moolenar (VIM), Brian Behelendorf (Apache), Rasmus (PHP) are leaders in their own communities and could well help evangelize it.  If O'Reilly is worried about use of it escaping into the wild, and that's a valid concern, they should read a forth coming essay "Protecting Content" (and, no, it's not ready yet).

4. Integrate It Into Open Source Development Tools

There is absolutely no reason why open source development tools like VI or Emacs or the more sophisticated tools can't have direct access to the safari content.  O'Reilly could write a tool level plugin that let the user contextually jump right into Safari.  Additionally they could use any revenues generated from this type of integration to donate back to the project that led to the revenue.

5. Tie it Into Komodo and MS Visual Studio

Beyond tying into open source development tools, O'Reilly could also tie it into two commercial products, ActiveState's wickedly awesome Komodo 2 (yes I am a fan here) and Visual Studio (I know, I know).  If I was going to do this myself then I would also want to negotiate a revenue sharing agreement with both of these companies so that if any sales occurred, they would be compensated.

6. Drop the .ASP Scripts

If you look at the Safari urls, they look like this:

Now this may seem like a minor point to some, but when you want to market open source things, do you really want to use Microsoft technology?  My guess is that something approaching 90% of the Safari potential users don't really like Microsoft and know that .ASP scripts = IIS.  To me using Microsoft technology to sell books about Open Source feels like a betrayal.  And I know that's just as dumb as a slime covered rock.  So what?  This is what marketers would call a "perceptual disconnect".  Our perceptions of something cause us to disconnect from it.  We may not even be aware of why we disconnected — and I'd bet that any kind of market research wouldn't show it.  It's an embarrassing thing to admit so people won't admit it but it could well influence purchasing at a unconscious level.

7. Make the User Interface NOT Turn Users Off

When I look at Safari, it turns me off right away.  Why?  Well I work in PHP, Python and Perl mostly.  PHP and Python aren't listed as supported while Java and Perl are.  Sure there is a "Programming" category which lists them but I'm an Internet user and I have the attention span of a rabid gnat.  If I don't see immediately what I need, I may well go somewhere else.  Also it's confusing to the user, at least in my opinion, when the categorization is inconsistent.  If you are going to list languages then list them all or put a text note at the bottom of the list that says "More languages?  Click Programming".  And make it a slightly different color than the current 10 point black type on gray.  I'm a developer.  I have a high resolution screen (as lots of people in the target audience do) that makes this small type hard to read.


Remember above where I pointed out that my O'Reilly books are measured in the tens of pounds?  Well I'm a consultant and I find myself constantly lugging these damn heavy books when I go to my partner's house, a client's or a data center.  For example, I carted my copy of the PHP Cookbook off to the O'Reilly OSCON.  That's 3 pounds I didn't want to carry.  If I was a Safari user then I might not have needed to bring it along.  And, while I realize that people do need disconnected access to content, I'm much less concerned about this.  With so much development today being done server side, I do less and less local coding.  It's just too hard to replicate my servers onto a laptop (sure the laptop runs the same software but the database tables aren't there, etc). 

This to me is the single best thing about Safari: Less Weight.


About the Author

J. Scott Johnson is a, well, serious geek, software engineer and entrepreneur.  He is the co-founder of The FuzzyGroup, Inc. as well as Vice President of Marketing for Evectors North America, a provider of cutting edge content management software -- the IdeaTools family of products.  Despite working in marketing, Scott codes every single day (generally PHP server applications although the occasional excursion into Python and Perl is common) and seems to just plain really like "programming languages that start with P". He lives in Nahant, Massachusetts with cats.

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