Safari Books Online: A Tech Trek for Savikas
Brynko, Barbara, Information Today
Andrew Savikas has plenty to be happy about these days. As interim CEO of Safari Books Online, Savikas was on board for several of the company's coveted milestones in 2011: Safari Books Online celebrated its 10th anniversary in September, it continues to run in the black with double-digit growth, its iPad app has exceeded 40,000 downloads in less than a year, and it still retains its spot as an industry front-runner in the world of digital technology resources. Best yet, Savikas was officially named CEO in early November.
Safari Books Online established itself as the go-to place for career/ professional development right out of the gate in 2001. Today, its library in the cloud stacks up more than 17,000 ebooks and resources from 50-plus major publishers specializing in technology, digital media, and business. Publishers run the gamut from O'Reilly Media and Peachpit Press to Ad di s on -Wesley and John Wiley & Sons. Nearly 100 new books and videos are added to Safari's digital collection each month, and revisions to books are integrated seamlessly as they are released.
But ebooks and e-references are just part of the offerings. Users can also tap into more than 1,300 video tutorials, Rough Cuts (books in manuscript form that allow user commenting), Short Cuts (brief works on emerging technology), learning paths, and test preparation for a host of certifications.
Savikas stepped in as interim CEO in December 2010 to fill the position that Jeff Patterson held. But by November 2011, the 34-year-old Savikas officially dropped the "interim" from his title. "Previously, I was at O'Reilly Media 8 years, and about 2 years ago, I joined the board of Safari Books Online." So Savikas was up-to-date on the inner workings of Safari Books Online long before he took the CEO post.
Being Part of the Conversation
For nearly a decade, Savikas has made a name for himself as the head of digital initiatives at O'Reilly Media and as program chair for the popular O'Reilly's Tools of Change (TOC) for Publishing conference. "I was involved from the very first TOC conference back in June of 2007, and it's been extremely exciting to see the growth and the changes happening in the industry and to be a part ofthat conversation," he says. But as CEO, he admits to turning over much of the conference planning to the TOC organizers, at least for a while.
A graduate of University of IIlinois-Urbana-Champaign (media studies) and Northeastern University (M. B. A.), Savikas often shares his insights and expertise on the O'Reilly Radar blog. He also carves time out of his busy schedule to serve as a director on the boards for the Book Industry Study Group and the International Digital Publishing Forum, as well as on the advisory boards for Bookshare and the University of Michigan Press. He does his best to keep pace with a changing industry.
For the past year as CEO, Savikas has been keeping Safari Books Online on the course it has followed for 10 years. But now that the rest of the world is catching up with digital reading and learning via books, video, and other types of content, Safari Books Online is ramping up for its next foray into cutting-edge innovation.
"It's certainly a fantastic spot to be in," says Savikas. "I think at this point 95% of the computer books that will be published in the U.S. are going to be available in Safari Books Online." He is mindful of how quickly technology changes and that knowledge workers need to stay apace or ahead of the learning curve for their industry. In most cases, the content on Safari Books Online's digital bookshelf is available to subscribers long before it is available in a traditional retail print environment. Safari Books Online caters to the needs of its subscribers, whether as individuals, workgroups, enterprises, public and academic libraries, or government entities.
When it comes to ready reference, Savikas says that Google and Stack Overflow do a good job helping users find answers to specific problems or look up something as basic as an error message. But find-and-grab results don't work well when users need information that requires performing several steps or building skill sets; it's akin to finding a diamond in the rough, says Savikas. Safari Books Online users know that its sweet spot lies in the comprehensiveness of its resources that migrate from simple reference to advanced learning with in-depth tutorials and explanatory content.
'We're trying to provide a service to support that sort of learning environment in a dynamic way and beyond just the reference library model," he says. "We have a better mousetrap when it comes to highquality, curated content that we think can help people learn."
A Better Bookshelf
Safari Books Online has succeeded in building a better bookshelf too. You don't have to choose which book you want to buy, you don't have to remember where you dog-eared some important bits of information, and you don't have to buy an entire book series when you just want a chapter or section from each, says Savikas. He sees that professionals gain added value from Safari's dynamic learning platform by mastering a new skill set or getting up-to-speed on a specific technology for a new project.
Since meeting customer needs is always a challenge, Savikas says Safari Books Online stays close to users through customer service channels, advisory groups, and social media via the company's blogs, Twitter, Linkedln, and Facebook. "We certainly get that grassroots feedback," he says. But he also looks to Safari's customer base as a sounding board for new ideas and directions. 'We certainly rely and value the relationships we have with our publishers and find that they often are a good source of insight into where the market is headed in terms of the types of content people want," he says.
One of the key differentiators between Google's results and Safari's offerings is content. 'We devote time, energy, and resources into curating and developing something publishers were proud to put their name on in the first place and that makes a difference for our customers," says Savikas. "Customers know that what they're getting is the benefit of all of the hard work that the Pearsons and O'Reillys and other publishers put into developing book and video content that we deliver through our service."
Safari Books Online adds another layer by providing a dynamic and guided learning process called learning paths. "If you're looking for the best stuff on Android development or if you really want to get your head around what Big Data means, you want to see what's really sweeping the technology space," says Savikas. Users don't want everything on Android; they want specific titles, sections, and videos if they are new to Android technology, or they may want to dig deeper to understand diffèrent parts of the development, he says.
The success of Safari Books Online's business model speaks for itself. Savikas reports that the company's compound annual growth rate has been averaging about 40% since 2002, although he admits that the final figures are sometimes higher or lower, depending on the year. "But we're consistently well into the double digits in terms of our growth rate," he says.
The EPUB Migration
One of Safari Books Online's big initiatives this year was migrating its content delivery to the new, more modern EPUB standard, a format that's well-suited to a variety of screen sizes, solutions, and devices, says Savikas. He admits to be especially proud of the EPUB initiative. "Because my background is more in the ebook side from the digital publishing end at O'Reilly, there's a special place in my heart for this transition," he says.
"Customers don't really see a lot of the work that goes on behind-thescenes, but being prepared for this EPUB format has made a big difference for us internally," says Savikas. The new EPUB standard offers a very rich, interactive, and engaging way to produce book-style content. Likewise, Safari Books Online's revamped mobile site has given people the opportunity to engage with content wherever they are.
"Certainly, we're continuing to put energy into delivering a great mobile experience," says Savikas. 'We recognize that more and more people are experiencing information depending on how they are connecting with coworkers and friends and family."
What's next? 'We're also making sure that we're extending our reach outside our borders," says Savikas. With 30% of Safari's subscriber base outside the U.S., he would naturally like to see that number increase substantially. There are certainly more opportunities for Safari to deliver English-language content to the global community and to integrate additional languages into the system.
"We've seen no slowdown in demand and interest," says Savikas, "and again, I think as more people become more comfortable with the notion of getting their information and their learning materials from electronic, digital, and web sources, the better spot that we're going to be in."
- BARBARA BRYNKO…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Safari Books Online: A Tech Trek for Savikas. Contributors: Brynko, Barbara - Author. Magazine title: Information Today. Volume: 28. Issue: 11 Publication date: December 2011. Page number: 1+. © 2009 Information Today, Inc. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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