Citing a steady growth in the variety and the demand for digital content, Safari Books Online, a subscription-based digital library for technology and business information, has seen healthy increases in both its revenue and content since it was launched in 2001 as a co-venture of O'Reilly Media and Pearson Education. Safari's sales have increased more than 40% since 2001, while the service's content base has grown by 145%, and the site is adding more than 170 new books to its database every month.

At its launch, Safari targeted IT professionals and featured titles by O'Reilly and Pearson. The service originally offered subscriptions via laptops and desktops to an online library of tech info, computer books, and technical manuals, and its customers were mostly individuals, according to Safari Books Online CEO Jeff Patterson. But much has changed. The site now has three categories of clients, Patterson said: 40,000 individual accounts; 2,000 company accounts that range from small businesses to large corporations and government agencies; and 800 academic and library accounts from public and academic libraries including such schools as Yale, Harvard, MIT, and Stanford.

Today the service offers about 10,000 books from more than 35 publishing imprints, Patterson said. And the growth in popularity of smartphones like the iPhone, Blackberry, and Android OS phones led Safari to launch a mobile Web site earlier this year. Downloadable content has become much more critical. “Our customers want to access information with their phones over the Web and then read it on the subway,” said Patterson.

The site now also offers more than 700 video titles and around 200 documents—called Shortcuts—that feature content shorter than a full book. “Demand for content is growing, and we've stepped up acquisition of new kinds of content beyond IT,” said Patterson, pointing to the addition of business titles and “a broad range of management titles, books on digital photography, and material for designers—content for people who use technology creatively.” Patterson said the reason for the growth is simple: “the subscription model provides access to many titles at a fraction of the cost.” Safari has a variety of price points; individual pricing, for example, ranges from $22.99 monthly for limited access to $472 annually for unlimited access.

Through a program called Rough Cuts, Safari provides subscribers with an advance look at books as they are being produced. The service, said Patterson, offers two advantages: feedback from consumers as the books are completed and marketing to alert consumers about forthcoming titles.

Over eight years, the site has grown so that Tim O'Reilly cited Safari Books Online as O'Reilly Media's “second largest revenue channel after,” said Patterson. “It's a testament to how we've been used as a platform to monetize their content and attract customers from around the world.”