A Look at the Publishing World
Stephen Ibaraki, ISP, recently held an
exclusive interview with the Vice President of Merchandising, John
Pierce, of Pearson Education (http://www.pearsonptg.com).
Pearson Education is the world's largest publisher.
John has a varied and rich background having been involved in every
aspect of the publishing field, from marketing, to publisher, to
merchandising, to Web media plus being an international authority in
Q: I welcome you John and thank you for agreeing to this interview
and sharing your experiences, wisdom, and vast skills with our
You are widely regarded as a noted authority in the publishing field
and widely regarded as a highly talented senior executive. What are
your five top tips for effective leadership?
A: They are:
Trust, first and foremost - if you've hired correctly, you
should have the best and the brightest. Let them run and give
them a lot of rope.
Celebrate failure - like trust, you cannot berate someone for
taking a risk and blowing it. If they don't try, they don't
innovate, and you don't win. Learn from mistakes and share them,
then fix them and move on.
Take the door off the hinges - I know many colleagues with an
"open door policy". My philosophy is the same, but my people
come first. I always try to make time for them, no matter what
Everything is my fault - when my team fails for whatever reason,
I am very supportive publicly and privately. If someone is going
to get in trouble, that person will be me. On the flip side, I
make it a point to go out of my way to praise a job well done
Tough love - people don't grow unless you give constant
feedback, both good and bad - a little gentle nudging goes a
Q: Can you tell detail your personal history and in publishing?
A: Born and raised in New Orleans, I worked my way through college
always thinking I'd be a clinical psychologist. When attending
graduate school, I was afforded the opportunity to break into
publishing at OCLC in Columbus OH where I worked on electronic
publication systems and delivery systems for scholarly content to
desktops when there was no World Wide Web yet. That led me to a day
in 1994 while giving a speech at Internet World on SGML tagging when
I met the recruiter that would get me into Macmillan, and since
then, I've been involved in almost every aspect of the publishing
field, from marketing, to publisher, to merchandising, to Web media.
Q: Can you detail the history of your company and what five factors
that makes your company so successful?
A: Que actually began the phenomena that we know today as computer
books back in 1981, when its founders realized that the personal
computer wasn't that, well, personal. As the company grew and the
opportunities expanded, Que merged with Sams Publishing and was
bought by Maxwell-Macmillan, purchasing Hayden Books and New Riders
along the way. Maxwell sold the operation to Paramount, which was
then bought by Viacom along with Simon and Schuster, and the
Macmillan USA company was created to do computer books, general
reference titles, library reference products and digital media. When
Simon and Schuster was sold to Pearson PLC, the former Macmillan
computer units were merged with Addison Wesley, Prentice Hall and
Peachpit Press to form the Pearson Technology Group, which is by far
the largest publisher in the field today.
In terms of success factors, our company has always stuck with these
Be fast - first usually succeeds
Be branded - series and authors drive much of the success in
Be better than everyone else - if you can't be first or branded,
you better have the best product and the ability to prove it
Be "of the market" = community means more to buyers of computer
books than anything else, and advertising doesn't get you much
Innovate, Innovate, Innovate - eat your own young - take risks,
make mistakes, learn voraciously, then leap again
Q: What are your one, three and five year goals?
A: One year goal- surviving another year of anemic tech spending,
which has a significant effect on the computer business as a whole.
Three year - further refining our consolidated marketing efforts to
drive the initiative of Pearson as the predominant player in this
market. Five years - I hesitate to think that far ahead - this is a
Q: What are the hottest publishing trends and your top selling
A: Graphics and web development titles lead the pack, as topics like
Photoshop and Dreamweaver continue to sell very well. Our Visual
Quickstart Guides from Peachpit, Classroom in a Book titles from
Adobe Press and Sams Teach Yourself series have all performed
extremely well, even with the tech downturn. Our top selling titles
include the Photoshop 7 Visual Quickstart Guide and MacOS X Visual
Consumer titles which provide value to the end consumer also fair
very nicely, such as our "Best of the Internet" directory at $9.95,
as well as our tie in with TechTV, the first cable network dedicated
to the tech space. Leo Laporte's Technology Almanac continues to be
one of the industry's strongest sellers.
Q: Where do you see publishing and/or technology evolving in the
next two years and five years?
A: In the technology realm, the next two to five years are going to
be years of integration and simplicity. Technologies such as .NET
and Sun's SunOne initiative are going to try to make applications
simpler, more integrated and easier to use. I think many of the
major vendors are going to continue to simplify their applications,
and make them more portable. Watch, in the next five years, the
phone will take the place of many PDAs and laptop usage.
Q: What do you see as the next major killer application or technical
A: Web services - real time integration, in some way, will
revolutionize everything we do. It'll take a while to get the kinks
worked out, but reducing our dependence on the desktop/laptop and
transferring our "work" to tablets, PDAs or phones is inevitable.
Q: Do you have two favorite stories to share with our audience?
A: I have one - how I got into book publishing in the first place.
As I mentioned before, I started in the library world. My boss fell
ill, and asked me to give a presentation for her at Internet World
about SGML systems and the future of distributed content (big yawn).
Well, I figured that I would have a captive audience of two people
for this presentation, and ended up with 400 - scared me to death. I
must have been decent, because a recruiter came up to me and said -
"you don't know anything about book publishing, but do you want to
talk about a position with Macmillan." That statement seems to be
the story of my professional career.
Q: How does one become an author or technical editor for your
A: To be an author, one only needs to submit a proposal to any of
our web sites. Our organization is always looking for the next mind
to tell our audience great things. All of our web sites also have
contact links for those that want to be technical editors. Unlike
the "trade" business, more gets done on a proposal and resume than a
Q: What advice and tips would you give to aspiring authors/writers?
A: Passion and perseverance - that is the essence of publishing. A
senior executive at Simon and Schuster once told me that there were
two kinds of people in publishing - those who love it, and those
that have lot's of money. If you want to be published, really think
about your subject, the audience and your unique angle. Propose
something. Iterate with feedback from the publisher. Then bug them
to DEATH! Editors are busy folks, and perseverance will get you a
Q: There is so much competition from a variety of sources. How do
you maintain your unique position in the publishing world and
clearly differentiate your titles?
A: As I mentioned, the "first, better or branded" message remains
key. Our key value add is a sense of trust and professionalism, and
that staves off free resources on the Internet and other places. The
day that we begin to believe that what we do is produce "widgets"
and that our business is a commodity is the day we stop publishing
Q: If you were doing this interview, what three questions would you
ask of someone in your position and what would be your answers?
A: Why publishing? Because it's the only job I can think of that
keeps me on top of the latest trends, allows me to work with the
best minds, and keeps me from ever knowing what I'll be doing in the
Will books go away? While many of us experiment with electronic
books and other resources, the good old fashion book will be around
for a long time. Simplest "technology" in the world, and most likely
not to kill you if you drop it in the tub...
If technology is getting simpler, will technology books go away? No.
The simpler the technology, the more complicated the stuff that
makes it up. Engineers and programmers will be the back bone of
technology forever, and they must always learn. If you don't believe
me, try telling the story of the Illiad in one minute, and you
realize the complexity of simplicity.
Q: Consider this a blank slate, what additional comments would you
like to make?
A: I've enjoyed this conversation immensely - if your readers have
any questions about the publishing world, have them drop me a line:
Thank you for sharing your experiences with us John.