Previous  |  Next



Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

Wil Wheaton Keynote at PAX

Chris Adamson wrote on the O'Reilly editors' backchannel:

Just listened to Wil Wheaton's PAX 2007 keynote [mp3]... awesome stuff. The big point is to establish video gaming as a social activity, calling back to the arcade and NES glory days of his youth and following through to online gaming and playing Guitar Hero with his teen stepkids today.

This is an important observation. Putting the social back in computing is one of the major trends today. Social networking sites, social messaging applications like twitter and jaiku (with Jaiku especially amping up the phone as a social platform), social gaming, even social office applications (that is, after all, one of the major points of online office applications like Google docs and spreadsheets.).... What other areas of computing are about to surprise us with the obvious, by adding a social dimension back in?

I wonder if they'll talk about social gaming at this year's Microsoft Social Computing Symposium or will just stick to the usual suspects?

tags:   | comments: 6   | Sphere It


0 TrackBacks

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Comments: 6

James McDisi   [08.28.07 08:56 AM]

He's not the only one in the news about this.. Look at the coverage on Techcrunch last week on Conduit Labs - has a round up.

guillaume riflet   [08.31.07 05:41 AM]

Talking about social office applications, ever seen Zoho? I find it more advanced than Google's Docs&Spreadsheets.

Greg   [08.31.07 08:32 PM]

Shame you screwed him on that book deal of yours eh?

Tim O'Reilly   [08.31.07 10:50 PM]

Greg --

I'm wondering what you mean by "how you screwed him"?

I know Wil was unhappy with the marketing of the book, and like many authors, believes, rightly or wrongly, that if the marketing had just been done differently, the book would have been much more successful. You can never know for sure, but it's such a common feeling, and the counter-examples so many, that I don't think that you can count that as "screwing" someone.

There are certain kinds of books you can count on being a success, because they are one of a kind, and people NEED them. Most books are optional, though, and people buy them for the funniest reasons. Books that everyone thinks ought to do well don't, and books that no one expected to be successful turn out to be big surprises. (The first printing of Harry Potter was 15,000 copies -- a tiny print run for a fantasy novel.) And when a book doesn't succeed, everyone points the finger at the publisher's marketing. But it just ain't so.

There are certainly cases where brilliant marketing has turned a book into a success despite all odds. But most often, the best marketing in the world can only help a little. The market either takes to the book or it doesn't. We have an amazing track record at O'Reilly, but even we can't just make it happen.

If there's something else you're referring to, please do tell.

Greg   [09.01.07 12:34 AM]

I think the main issue of screwing the author is pretty simple, and well explained via comment on his own website:

All comments are fan driven, not Wil Wheaton's own opinion.

He's a geeky guy, and appeals to geeky people - your own initial post reflects that (wouldn't you agree)?

He's close to 20 years past the Star Trek Next Gen role, and yet his book seemed to be found in the Star Trek section, even though he apparently fought that 'idea' tooth and nail.

PAX 07 proved Wil Wheaton isn't the "Kid from Next Gen".

Google will bear this out:

You had a pretty good chance to give this author a good base to promote a great book. You screwed the pooch on it and can't see otherwise.

Thankfully the guys at Penny Arcade can see this guy for what he is - a role model for the geek at heart - and not for what he was treated by O'Reilly Press as... a quick buck that didn't work out.

Your quote:
"Books that everyone thinks ought to do well don't, and books that no one expected to be successful turn out to be big surprises"

Most of the JAG sales were fan driven. Again I refer to the link above. FANS directing FANS to where they could find the book - not your own promotional machine.

Tim O'Reilly   [09.01.07 09:11 AM]


I don't think you understand how publishing (and book retailing) works. First off, the publisher doesn't control where the book is shelved in bookstores -- the bookstore does. And they have lots of trouble with books that don't fit into clear categories. That's why in the comments you linked, you saw it listed in "biography," in "star trek" and in "arts," among others.

What's more, you seem to imagine that the various stories of people not being able to find the book depended on its placement, rather than a far more fundamental fact: bookstores decide up front about how excited they are about a book, and how many copies to order. Very few books get bought in sufficient quantity to show up in every Borders or B&N. The typical *large* Borders or B&N carries maybe 150,000 titles, and there are almost that many new books published each year. There are a couple of million books in print, so any bookstore will have a small selection of what the buyers for that store think will sell.

So if you're imagining that it was O'Reilly's fault that there weren't big stacks of JAG piled in every Borders and B&N, think again. There are VERY few books that appear in even every book superstore, even relative bestsellers. It's a depressing fact of life for publishers.

So now, imagine for a moment that somehow we'd persuaded the buyers at the chains to stock thousands and thousands of copies, in defiance of the odds. One of two things would have happened: the books would have sold quickly, and been re-ordered, or they would have sold slowly, and been returned, never to be ordered again.

Guess what: it's better to have fewer copies stocked of a book with a specialized fan appeal, and to have demand build, so that the bookstore sees themselves running out quickly, and then re-ordering. Given Wil's fan base, one would have expected the demand to be there, and to drive retailers from the bottom up -- where ever the book was shelved! Because that shouldn't matter to people who are already excited about the book. The 500 people who showed up to have their copy of Dancing Barefoot signed at the Powells' book signing we arranged wouldn't have cared what section the book was in.

Meanwhile, anyone who wanted the book could order it directly from Amazon. (Which is part of why bookstores carry fewer and fewer copies of new books anyway. They wait till they see if there's demand before they make big commitments of inventory dollars.) If there was as much demand as you seem to think there was, the book would have done hugely well on amazon -- and wouldn't even have needed bookstore distribution, given the connected nature of most of Wil's fans. (Again, look at the comments you yourself linked to -- there are as many folks saying "who goes in bookstores?" as there are folks saying they couldn't find it in the bookstore when they looked.)

So what ultimately went wrong was this: not enough people were excited about the book to tell their friends about it, who would tell their friends about it. That's what sells books: word of mouth. Your note about " FANS directing FANS to where they could find the book" is exactly right. That's how it works. There wasn't enough of it to make the book as successful as Wil hoped it would be.

You can't have it both ways. Either its all about publisher marketing (which every publisher knows is not true) or it's about fans and word of mouth (which every publisher knows is true.)

We were as disappointed as Wil that the book didn't do better. And I'm really bummed that his experience turned him from an O'Reilly fan into a critic. But there's no "screwed" here.

You're of course welcome to your opinion. But you're using very strong words without a lot of knowledge to back it up!

(FWIW, all that kind of comment about "where the hell is that book shelved"? accompanies even new category bestsellers. No one knew where to shelve The Whole Internet User's Guide and Catalog (the first book on the internet, published in 1992) when we published it, and yet it went on to sell a million copies. Even now, bookstores don't know where to shelve Make. Things that defy easy categorization don't fit well with bookstores. At least not till they create their own category.)

Post A Comment:

 (please be patient, comments may take awhile to post)

Remember Me?

Subscribe to this Site

Radar RSS feed