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!


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