What Can We Take Away From the 2012 Boston Red Sox?

Sure, it’s understood that we’re not all fanatic Boston Red Sox fans. In fact, just about half of our fine staff here at Firebrand Technologies lives in or around New   York. It’s natural of course, that we have arm-wrestling matches from time-to-time to settle the score of who the best team is (wearing the Yankee’s shirt with the “Got Rings?” slogan on it is unacceptable here in our Newburyport, Massachusetts headquarters).

That said, it’s fair to say that anyone – in any industry – can learn from the state of the 2012 Boston Red Sox squad. By now, it’s likely we’ve all been privy to the information that the Sox shipped Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Nick Punto, and the inflated salaries that are associated with each party, to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for… well, basically nothing. Some prospects, and the notion of a “clean slate.” No matter which way you look at it, said clean slate comes with an undetermined cost far greater than any real monetary mathematical formula. The reverberations of this deal will have a rippling effect on the franchise (and the league) for an indefinite time frame, and in its wake, the rebuilding of the playoff contender we’ve become accustomed to, will take some careful planning, and a lot of sleepless nights for those in the front office.

So what have we learned?

The Sox have historically been a team that has prided itself on development. On building position players from the ground up, and coaching these players in to what will someday (with some luck involved) be a fruitful big-league career, and a positive return on investment for the ball club. Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jonathan Papelbon, Hanley Ramirez, Jason Varitek, Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester… I’m looking at you. The list goes on and on, but this is a current (and relevant) starting point. There is something to be said about growing slowly, and basking in the glory of unleashing a bonafide star down the road.

Somewhere after the turn of the century, in the midst of the success of ’04 and ’07 World Championship teams, and a recharged and newly branded “Red Sox Nation,” the club started to shift its philosophies a bit. Like their arch-rival (yes, the Yankees), they began to troll the league for big stars, and began signing astronomical paychecks in the hopes for continued, “here and now” success in lieu of these large salaries, instead of tapping the well they had worked hard to fill over the years. They began to shift their focus from the farm system, in hopes that building a successful dynasty came from the outside, rather than from within. Case in point (with the 2011 self-imploding club, and the 2012 not-even-in-a-position-to-self-implode club) – this philosophy simply doesn’t work. Not for the Red Sox at least…

It’s important to grow organically. Not only does it promote better team chemistry, and allow fans to grow with the team, but it also gives you better insight into how your organization is developing – from the ground on up. It’s easier to take a look around and figure out what you’re missing, and look for reasonable ways to fill those holes. The answer is never as easy as hastily signing on the dotted line. Take a breath, look around, and figure out what you can do to maintain the culture, and success of your business without compromising the steps you took to get where you are today – in the clubhouse, and on the perimeter of the field where fans are filling the seats, and tying themselves physically and emotionally to be part of “the Nation.”

With Firebrand, we offer solutions to help publishers grow in a climate that is going through serious continued change. But we don’t require anyone to “buy the farm” at the outset. We are committed to growing with you, to starting with what it is you really need to get to the next step, and we have the track record to take a look around and figure out what player you need in place to fill your current need. And when that initial goal is met – after we’ve scored that go-ahead run – we can look at where it is we want to go next. You need a pitcher to keep you in the game? Firebrand has got the arm. You need a hitter that can plant one out of the park for you in a clutch moment? We’re always swinging that weighted bat in the on-deck circle. All you need to do is point in our direction, and we’ll step to the plate and deliver.  At Firebrand, our value proposition has always been to tie in to what’s happening with our client’s organization and to add to the culture, experience, and success; to grow with you, rather than be an entity that may be able to crush 60 homers in a season, but has a serious ego, and is otherwise a distraction to the rest of the team (i.e.: Not on the same page). We’re interested in collaborative gain, not personal gain. We’re not looking to alienate the AA, or the AAA players by signing a perennial all-star who doesn’t seem to fit the system, but looks good on paper. We’re looking to implement a solution set that fits. To be in it together. And every case is unique, just as every baseball game is unique… there is no script in baseball. Each day offers a new challenge, and a new storyline. The beauty of the game resides in rolling with the balls and strikes – the only assurance you have when the words “PLAY BALL” are spoken.

For the Red Sox, it’s time to start thinking about each piece of the puzzle, and of fitting those pieces back together. It’ll likely take them some time (but they’ll get there). For us, in their misfortune we’ve been granted invaluable insight into successful business practice: If we’re not growing together, we’re not growing at all…

Let’s play ball!

Let’s continue the conversation! Join us at our annual Community Conference, find us on Facebook and Twitter, or give us a shout here at the office. What do YOU take away from the fall of the Boston Red Sox? We’d love to hear from you!

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Firebrand Community Conference Inside Edition: Q&A with Magellan Media Founder, Brian O’Leary

Brian O’Leary is founder and principal of Magellan Media, a management consulting firm that works with publishers seeking support in content operations, benchmarking and financial analysis. O’Leary is known for his well thought out opinions regarding the state of the publishing industry when looked at from the standpoint of digital vs. print and how these formats affect the publishing supply-chain. He is also the architect of “Development, Use, and Modification of Book Product Metadata,” an industry report he put together for the Book Industry Study Group (BISG). At Firebrand’s Community Conference he will be making an appearance as the event’s keynote speaker. Firebrand Community Concierge, Chris Hislop had the distinct pleasure of picking the brain of one of the industry’s clear thought leaders:

Chris Hislop: What excites you about participating in the Firebrand Community Conference this year?

Brian O’Leary: Over the last several years, publishing has become a data-driven business, but there are relatively few meetings or events that focus on the topic. I think we’re reaching critical mass when it comes to understanding how data “fits” our view of publishing, and the Conference brings together a cross-section of people who are eager to talk about the opportunities and challenges ahead.

CH: You’ve been to the Conference before. What were your impressions of it? Is it an event you’d recommend to colleagues?

BO’L: I attended the 2010 Conference, and I was impressed by the dialogue that took place in every session I attended. Firebrand fosters this by selecting session leaders from among those attending and encouraging presenters to talk less and facilitate more. I’ve already recommended the event to colleagues, several of whom I expect will attend this year.

CH: You had an interesting “debate” in regards to Digital and Print publications at the TOC Executive Roundtable 2012. Where does your stance lie between Digital vs. Print? Have strides been made since this conversation to better marry the two formats under a given roof?

BO’L: I kicked off the Roundtable discussion with a presentation, “The Opportunity in Abundance,” that encourages publishers to think more broadly about the role of content in the lives of those who consume it. This is a theme I keep returning to in various ways. At TOC this year, I was considering the overall supply chain.

Although I think we’re reaching a turning point in the discussion of  “digital vs. print”, I’ve always felt that it’s a false debate. The question is not “either-or”, but “either-and.” Publishers and other supply-chain participants have to be prepared to deliver content as the consumer wants it. Print will persist, digital will grow and new content forms will emerge as we learn how to deliver content in a blended environment.

It’s hard to say how much has changed since the discussion in February. Things generally move slowly in publishing, and that’s a concern. Although we’re in the second decade of digital content, legacy print workflows still dominate in the book space.

CH: When people mention your name, it is inevitably linked to “metadata.” What is it about metadata that led you to dive so deeply into it for the recent report you released with BISG?

BO’L: Honestly, there are plenty of people with better metadata chops than I can claim. What Magellan brought to the party is a methodology that can provide a foundation for sustained change in this area.

Since 1998, Magellan has emphasized making data-driven decisions about things like print-on-demand technologies, piracy and agile content. When the Book Industry Study Group issued an RFP last fall asking for help evaluating the dissemination, modification and use of metadata across the supply chain, we proposed an approach that emulated what we have done successfully in these other areas.

We interviewed people at 30 different firms, surveyed another 125 and analyzed the results in detail. In many ways, you have to be “in the weeds” first, to develop the data you need to drive higher-level assessments and recommendations. The cooperation of people working across the supply chain kept us going. Even when they disagreed with one another about the source of persistent problems, they all agreed that improving the current situation must be an industry priority.

CH: People talk a lot about where the publishing industry was, and where it’s headed. Let’s focus on the present for a second. What do you see when you look around at the current publishing landscape? Given this image, where do you see things going? What does the road look to the future look like, and how do we get there?

BO’L: To borrow a phrase from Kat Meyer, Charlotte Abbott and the Firebrand/NetGalley team, “Follow the Reader”. That’s what’s missing today.

I’m not a big fan of predictions. Publishing is not one business; you can’t reliably say that what is true for trade books is true for professional or STM publishing. You probably can’t even say that something is true for all trade books.

I do think we can all do a better job of trying to understand the reader. To help there, I go back to a 2010 presentation, “Context First,” in which I offered four implications of a reader-driven, content-abundant universe:

  • Content must become open, accessible and interoperable. Adherence to standards will not be an option;
  • Because we compete on context, we’ll need to focus more clearly on using it to promote discovery;
  • Because we’re competing with businesses that already use low- and no-cost tools, trying to beat them on the cost of content is a losing proposition.  We need to develop opportunities that encourage broader use of content; and…
  • We will distinguish ourselves if we can provide readers with tools that draw upon context to help them manage abundance.

All publishers can look at the readers they serve and map to their needs using these four filters, plus ones that make sense for them. Predictions can often come across as static endpoints. I’d rather look at these ideas as markers on a publishing roadmap.

CH: People are getting very excited for your upcoming keynote presentation at the Conference. Care to leak any insight as to what they can expect? Or is it a “wait and see” type of scenario?

BO’L: It’s not quite “wait and see”; I’m working on the presentation now. Because the Conference audience is already familiar with metadata as a topic, I’ll be focusing on reaching “the next plateau.”

The ability to distribute content globally exists today, and it is shifting how we plan for and negotiate distribution rights. Digital formats really require that metadata travel with or as part of the content, something most publishers need to address. The ability to capture conversations about book content is an increasingly critical part of marketing, but we’re not doing this now. I’m planning to look at these and other areas to offer a perspective that might help those attending navigate the next few years.

CH: Will fireworks be involved?

BO’L: I’m not really a ‘fireworks’ kind of guy, but for Firebrand, I’ll try.

Join us at the Community Conference! For more information click here!

Firebrand Community Conference Inside Edition: Q&A with Firebrand President, Doug Lessing

Doug Lessing is the President of Firebrand Technologies. At his core, he’s a people person; an introvert. He loves the daily interaction with Firebrand’s clients, and treats everyone like they’re a member of his family. At Firebrand’s Community Conference, Doug will be an active part of the “Firebrand Show,” along with NetGalley President, Susan Ruszala. Doug is more than happy to answer any question percolating in your brain, be it during the Conference, on the phone, via email, or out on the running trails. Tighten the laces on your shoes for this post; Doug has a lot to say in regards to the upcoming Community Conference! Firebrand Community Concierge, Chris Hislop is again on the beat…

Chris Hislop: In your own words, what is the goal of the Community Conference?

Doug Lessing: To take advantage of, and hone in on the collective energy of Firebrand, our publishers, trading partners, and friends in the publishing world, so that we can come together for a couple of days, and all learn together – face to face. The mission is to go home smarter than when we came and continue to transform publishing in both small and big ways.  While this transformation often takes big thinkers and speakers, it takes shape in the difficult day-to-day details.

CH: What excites you about hosting this event?

DL: Firebrand has been an important part of my life since 1990, and so have many people in publishing. This is the best opportunity to build those relationships – friendships even – and do it in a way that is valuable to everyone and fun at the same time.

CH: You recently wrote an article dealing with metadata and its importance in the development of Ebooks. Can you touch on that briefly and describe your interest in the topic?

DL: It has become abundantly clear to me over the past few years that the next generation of publishing will be successful, or not, based on the marriage of many different components in the digital supply chain. Primarily it’s at the junction of managing titles, metadata, and content that will support the future models.  By that I mean – taken individually, any of those three things can be accomplished, but doing them well together is difficult, yet crucial.  Combining the workflow of title development, with metadata distribution, and content distribution at the right time for each trading partner is the challenge. With the print supply chain we have decades of institutional knowledge, practices, and evolution that has lead to a functioning marketplace. With the digital supply chain, it is, quite honestly, a bit like the wild-west. Timing of delivery, metadata formats, and content formats are far from standard; each channel in the supply chain is different. So the challenge is bringing the three pieces together – title management, metadata, and content distribution – in the right way, at the right time.

CH: One session at the conference is entitled Ebook Pricing Strategies. What are your thoughts on the “improvisational” means of Ebook pricing compared to that of standard practice (which may or not be outdated at this point)?

DL: Standard practice for print trade books is to print the price on the cover. Problem solved – nice and easy.  In some segments of print publishing, the pricing is fluid – meaning it changes once or twice per year. With digital books, and agency pricing in some cases, the price CAN be changed rapidly, it WILL be changed rapidly.  Instead of no price adjustments, or once annually, publishers are changing Ebook prices on Friday (literally).  They hope to see how a price change on a Friday prompts additional sales of a title for a beach read on Saturday. That is certainly improvisational.  You will also see more and more experimentation with international pricing, since prices CAN be changed quickly. In particular, we will see more target market pricing for books to tune prices based on local sensitivities – in some cases higher prices where the reading public has not been conditioned to the $9.99 Ebook, in some cases lower where the local economy simply can’t afford the same pricing. The currency that a book is sold in will also be experimented, and may not be in the local currency of the buyer, as more sophistication is built into different pricing models.

CH: Define Discovery (another session topic at the Community Conference).

DL: I will take this question from the perspective of an avid reader, rather than a technologist. I think most people will initially think of Discovery as entering a keyword in a Google search, but for me Discovery is far more colorful than that.  As a technologist, and a service provider, I can talk about metadata and systems that are crucial for Discovery – as I did in the Ebook Metadata blog post.  But as a reader, discovery for me is simply finding the next best book to read depending on my mood at the time – fiction, non fiction, light mindless reading, or intense subject matter, well known author, or something off the beaten path.  Since my local bookstore no longer exists, I rely on friends for recommendations. I also have a growing reliance on recommendation communities like Goodreads for discovering the next book; but I am by know means addicted to it.  I guess for me Discovery is shifting now and I feel a bit displaced until the recommendation engines get to know me better.

CH: Are the walls of the DRM castle cracking?

DL: I sure hope so.  I completely understand and respect the position of the publishers that need to supply it, and in many cases it is well warranted especially when DRM is applied to a book when distributing for promotion reasons pre-publication. However, scanned pirated copies of print books are so readily available within minutes of a book release; it’s hard to see how DRM is really helping protect the content.  I can think of several ways in which it hurts though. I’ll give you a non-book example. When the iPad first came out, I purchased my first digital movie.  And it was my last. I downloaded the movie, plugged the iPad into my TV, but the movie was blocked – it could only be seen on my iPad or Mac. What was I going to do? Turn my couch around to face the opposite wall to watch a movie on a 21” screen instead of my big, beautiful flat screen?  Stupid.   I haven’t bought a digital movie since.

I think social watermarking holds promise since it will deter otherwise honest people of spreading their personal information far and wide, embedded in an Epub file.  But in the end, the bad guys will always find a way around it, and DRM gets in the way of a seamless buying, and reading experience.

CH: Who inspires you in the world of publishing? How did you get into the industry?

DL: That’s an easy one. Our founder Fran Toolan, for starters.  He loves publishing, loves technology and loves to do the right thing.  He inspires everyone at Firebrand.  I am also inspired by the people in the industry with that glimmer in their eye; the people that are so excited by the turmoil and opportunity that we face. I am inspired by the people that can see that individual technologies are irrelevant, but bringing books to readers in new and exciting ways is even more relevant. I am inspired by the smart people in publishing that keep plugging away year after year, because they love books – whether they are involved with the digital revolution or not.

The answer to the last question is easy as well. I got into the publishing industry because of my big sister Susan Burke, who to this day remains the lead architect for our systems and is the smartest and most dedicated person I know.  I remember it clearly… it was a cool Thanksgiving weekend in 1990, when Susi came home all excited about working for a new startup company founded by Fran originally called Quality Solutions (now called Firebrand). At the time I was working for Andersen Consulting, having graduated from St. Michael’s College only 5 months before.  Susi’s excitement about building Windows based systems against relational databases – at a time I was writing COBOL on mainframes – was infectious, and within a few weeks I was a Firebrand.

My love of reading didn’t hurt either.

Join us at the Community Conference! For more information click here!

Firebrand Community Conference Inside Edition: Q&A with Firebrand Community Chief, Rob Stevens

Rob Stevens is the Chief Community Officer of Firebrand Technologies. He’ll be kicking off the Community Conference with a welcome address and will follow suit visiting with clients throughout the entirety of the show. The Jack-of-all-trades, Rob’s main focus is customer relations and making sure that all of Firebrand’s client’s are feeling good, and progressing in a fashion formulated towards business success. Firebrand’s Community Concierge, Chris Hislop – in his (continued) quest to expose what fuels the charge of Firebrands regarding the Community Conference – asked Rob for a few thoughts regarding the upcoming event.

CC Burnie LogoChris Hislop: In your own words, what is the goal of the Community Conference?

Rob Stevens: Our goal is to bring our community (publisher, distributors and trading partners) together to show them our newest functionality, discuss industry issues, and share knowledge.  I want ­­­­­­our community to come with questions and leave with answers. Not necessarily answers we at Firebrand Technologies have given them, but (possibly) answers from other publishers or trading partners.  We’re all working toward the same goal.

CH: What excites you about hosting this event?

RS: I love meeting with people who, for the most part, I only know via phone or email correspondence. Others I’ve met and we’ve been working together for 12 years now. It’s great to have them all in one place meeting with all the other fascinating folks I work with year-round, together sharing tasty bits of insight and information. My favorite moments are when I can say, “Oh yeah, we can do that.”

CH: The adoption of Social Media in Publishing is becoming more and more prevalent when it comes to industry marketing/outreach. How important is this skill for the contemporary publishing world?

RS: It’s becoming more and more important everyday.  If you stop and think about how  society consumes news and information today, it’s really amazing how social media fits into it.  And it’s changing fast. Figuring out how to best market your product via social media isn’t easy.  Building a social community around your brand is a full-time job, and in today’s climate, a necessary component to any of those that wish to have a future in world moving more and more quickly to a digital landscape.

CH: Firebrand has been making some changes to its eloquence-On-Demand platform. Can you give us a little insight into what we have to look forward to? What will folks be privy to when this service is rolled out at the conference?

RS: Well, I can say that we’re taking the functionality and experience we’ve created and gained from our Content Services and put it to work for our eloquence customers.  We want to give our publishers more control over when they send their metadata and to whom.  I don’t want to give too much away, but for those customers who are familiar with the regular weekly feed to all trading partners, you’re in for a few changes.  Come see what we’ve got for you.

CH: The Publisher/Partner Roundtable is a popular session at the Conference. Can you describe the scene a bit? What do these sessions typically look like? How can folks get involved?

RS: Spoiler alert! The tables aren’t actually round.  Sorry…

This session is popular because it really brings the three sides of our community together:  Firebrand, publishers, and trading partners.  For our publishers who use eloquence and Content Services there are everyday questions about why titles are not displaying on a given site, or why the “buy” button is or isn’t showing on a specific title?  How do I make a correction to a title?  And from the trading partner side of things we get questions about publishers’ metadata.  Why are they missing page count? They need to include BISAC Subject codes.  The Pub date has passed but the BISAC Status still shows as NYP (Not Yet Published)… Why?

The questions vary quite a bit – and the session is always very informative for all involved. And again, it’s nice to be able to be face-to-face with people whom you work with year-round but may never see.  If you’re a publisher or trading partner and want to be on the panel let me know.  We also take questions from the audience.

CH: Who inspires you in the world of publishing? How did you get into the industry?

RS: Not to be a complete suck-up, but every day I have the pleasure of working with Fran Toolan, Catherine Toolan and Doug Lessing.  Fran is so passionate about the publishing industry, Catherine is so devoted to giving her all everyday (and most of her nights) to the customer, and Doug is so energized, that it makes for a great work environment.

I got into the industry, in a way, via social networking.  My best friend called me one day and said, “I want to hire you to come learn what I do so that I can get out of the office more.”  I started in QA and Support and gradually learned more.  I did implementations, training, report writing.  I just asked, “Ok, what else do you need me to do?” and that’s really what we’re all about here at Firebrand Technologies.  “Ok, what else do you need us to do? We’re all ears.”

Join us at the Community Conference! For more information click here!

Firebrand Community Conference Inside Edition: Q&A with NetGalley President, Susan Ruszala

Susan Ruszala is the President of NetGalley. With Doug Lessing, Firebrand’s President, she hosts the “Firebrand Show,” presented annually at the Community Conference. Firebrand’s Community Concierge, Chris Hislop – in his quest to expose what fuels the charge of Firebrands regarding the Community Conference – asked Susan for a few thoughts regarding the upcoming event.

ImageChris Hislop: What excites you about hosting this event?

Susan Ruszala: The Community Conference is a personal, focused event that provides ample opportunity for our client community to share ideas, learn what’s new, and help us plan to meet their needs for the future. There’s no other event quite like it, and it’s an honor to host.

CH: NetGalley has a lot in store for the conference. Can you give us a preview?

SR: We’re re-launching the NetGalley site at the end of the summer 2012, so at the Community Conference we’ll be working with a refreshed, redesigned application. Although much of the core functionality will remain the same (allowing members to request galleys, and publishers to invite members to view titles; our focus on the promotion of pre-publication content and book discovery), we’re adding significant new features as well. What I’m most excited about is sharing with our publishers the new tools we’ve added to algorithmically measure member influence and “match” it to publisher preferences. This development perfectly leverages the central connection point NetGalley has become, as our publisher and reader populations have exploded over the last 12-18 months.

CH: NetGalley has a strong presence in the social media realm of marketing/outreach. How important is this skill for the contemporary publishing world?

SR: I’m not a social media junkie, as my team will tell you. So what I believe about the value of social media is closely tied to the value of good marketing and good business in general: have an authentic voice, be courteous and respectful to clients and users at all times, deliver messages that are meaningful, well-timed and interesting, and do all this consistently and across as many channels as possible.

If you can find staff members who can craft the right messages, that’s the key. Younger employees will come to your team comfortable with social media platforms, so it’s most important to have them think 360 degrees around the messaging – how is it connected to the overall brand? What value does it deliver to the audience? Is there continuity?

CH: Who inspires you in the world of publishing? How did you get into the industry?

SR: Reading has saved my life more than once; and the magic of a good story has yet to wear off. Simple as that.

CH: What do you see as the most interesting challenge facing publishing right now?

SR: The positive side of me believes there is still a lot of opportunity for digital, independent bookselling/retailing outlets to flourish – genre-focused, off-shoots of physical retailers, joint ventures with publishers – I’m rooting for more places to discover and purchase new titles.

The more somber side? As an industry, we need to fight for reading’s share of the entertainment pie. Books – in all their wonderful forms – are competing against more sophisticated media every day. I’d love to see more initiatives like World Book Night that get readers talking more about books.

For more information on the upcoming Community Conference click here!