DO THEY or don’t they? The question was perhaps an inevitable one, and there are few more eminently suited to answering it. “Yes, they do,” replied Nick Wallwork, editor (Asia) of publishing house John Wiley & Sons, without hesitation. “People judge a book by its cover.”
Wallwork told StarBiz that publishing business was much like most other industries today. “There’s a lot of sales and marketing involved,” he said, adding that packaging, marketing and publicity could make the difference between mediocre and great sales for the same book. And, like any other business, “the only constant is change.”
Describing Wiley as a publisher which is “sales and marketing driven,” Wallwork said part of the company’s success came from concentrating on niche business areas such as professional and trade books or scientific journals.
Founded in 1807, Wiley, which in the early years was best known for the works of such American literary giants as Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe and Herman Melville, started specialising in the beginning of the 20th century as a publisher of scientific and technical information and later, professional and consumer books. Since then, the company has focused on three key areas (scientific, technical, medical; professional and trade; textbooks) where most of the approximately 22,700 book titles and 400 journals as well as 2,000 new titles it publishes each year come from. Currently listed on the New York Stock Exchange, it chalked up revenues of US$734mil in 2002.
Wallwork said although a relatively small number of new titles (25 per year) came from Asia, the success rate of books published here was quite high. “We cherry pick our titles,” he added.
He said, the company, which concentrates on professional and trade books in the region, was now actively looking for suitable Asian authors to boost the number and variety of titles from Asia. The efforts so far, however, have been “a struggle.” He said the reason was not a shortage of good writers but the topics of the books that were required to have global appeal. All the books published by Wiley in Asia are sold and marketed worldwide, he said.
Nevertheless, Wallwork said, Wiley was now developing a business series on Asia, looking at different aspects of business strategy and skills. “Every book in the series will be adopted by a top business school, Asian company or consulting firm and all the authors are Asian.” The first titles will be published later this year, he said.
Wallwork said there were greater challenges in the publishing industry than ever before. The situationwas more volatile and changes were happening at a faster rate in business and finance. As a publisher, there was a large element of trying to read the market a year ahead, he said.
“The problem is often the time it takes for a book to reach the stands – six to nine months to write and four to five months to publish; you are trying to establish what will sell a year down the line and that’s always tricky.”
In terms of demand, however, Wallwork said the situation was a little easier to predict as trends in Asia were very similar to that experienced elsewhere.
“Judging by the book titles which sell well here, Asian management and business trends follow closely those in the US and Europe,” he said. “The names that sell well in the US, do pretty well here too.”
He said Malaysia was the fastest growing market among its top three Asian markets, which include Singapore and Hong Kong.
Wallwork added that a good mix of books was essential and it was always his aim to achieve a balance in Asia. “On the average, the top 20% of books bring in the main profits, while about 20% at the bottom hardly make any money.”
The business may have got a lot faster and much more volatile, according to Wallwork, but the fundamentals, it seems, have not changed. “The books which are good are those with a long shelf life. It’s good for authors and it’s good for the publisher.”