Magazine article Information Today

Safari: Creating a Real-Time E-Reference Solution

Magazine article Information Today

Safari: Creating a Real-Time E-Reference Solution

Article excerpt

Jeff Patterson was recently appointed CEO of Safari Books Online, a joint venture between O'Reilly Media, Inc. and The Pearson Technology Group. When I caught up with him recently, we discussed some of his first impressions in his new position. Here are a few of the edited highlights from our conversation.

Q: I know you have not been with Safari long, but in your previous career, were you involved with electronic information, ebooks, and all the other things you are now doing at Safari?

A: Not in book publishing, but I ran businesses that had substantial news and information Web sites as part of the brand. So, for example, think of InformationWeek magazine. InformationWeek had a rich Web site of news, events, and so forth. You can think of it as an integrated media brand. I had overall responsibility for a number of brands that had that level of print, online, and event integration.

Q: Are you finding Safari a new, expanding, and exciting opportunity?

A: The reason I joined Safari was because I think we have the opportunity to take professional learning to an entirely new level of effectiveness for the user. The pace of technology change can be overwhelming for these folks to try to keep abreast of new product developments, new designs, new systems administration techniques, new developer tools, and the like. The opportunity to create a real-time e-reference solution that gives them what they need when they need it is exciting. And I think we have just scratched the surface.

Q: There is another company that I'm sure you are aware of that has much the same philosophy and that is Knovel. I imagine that you consider it one of your major competitors?

A: Actually, we don't think of Knovel as a competitor. The reason for that is that Knovel has a content offering focused on a different audience segment. As I understand it, the firm is mainly more routed in engineering than in IT. I spoke with two representatives from Knovel at the SLA conference in Denver, and I get the impression that our served audiences and the type of content that we offer are quite distinct from one another.

Q: You are serving the IT/PC user programmer and developer. That audience is everywhere because everyone has PCs, and everyone needs development work done in one form or another. I think Knovel has the unique features of taking numerical handbook data it started that way) and doing manipulations on the numbers, plotting graphs, and things like that. So who is your major competition?

A: Our principal direct competition is SkillSoft and its Books24x7 brand. We often find ourselves competing head-to-head with Books24x7. The company tends to go in with soup-to-nuts courseware and a library kind of solution. We come from the publishing side, so our complete focus has generally been on content, although we do have some resellers who offer courseware as part of their offering.

Q: And you have certainly expanded your offerings by your partnerships with Pearson and others.

A: Yes. If I can engage in a moment of competitive zeal and look at objective third-party data such as Nielsen BookScan data and look at the top-selling titles in computing, Internet technology, etc., we tend to have far more of the best-selling titles in our service. That is because of the strength of the O'Reilly and Pearson houses in creating the books that feed into our service. That material is not available through Books24x7. With the exception of a few Pearson titles that predate Safari Books Online, we are the exclusive e-reference outlet for the Pearson and O'Reilly content.

Q: With the growth and the rapid change in publishing, the growth of ebooks, etc., have there been any surprises?

A: We might say that one of the most immediate surprises for me was when SkillSoft bought NETg, because NETg was one of our leading resellers. In terms of good surprises, I am delighted with the level of brand affinity that our customers express for our content, the user interface, and the general experience that they have. …

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