The Answer is…

The 2012 Firebrand Community Conference (#Fire2102) was an eye and mind opening experience for all in attendance. The publishing industry has been in a state of flux for a number of years now with debates looming large over the battle between digital and print formats, how to market effectively and efficiently amidst a stream of ostensibly relevant channels, and who to turn to for answers in one’s attempt to navigate the myriad of other issues, advancements, and new noisy terrain present in the publishing world today.

The answer that seemed to prevail was: There is no answer.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes having an answer detracts from the exploration of other avenues, and those other avenues happen to be the present beauty within a scene in flux. Sure, not having one true answer can feel uncomfortable. But what good is comfort when there is literally no time for rest? What the Community Conference successfully accomplished was the notion that everyone in the room is in the same boat. There’s no such thing as smooth sailing. Power in numbers will allow you to steady the boat to some extent… The answers are in our uncertainties; they’re present in every campaign we launch, for better or worse. They’re in experimenting with new ways to conduct antiquated practices. They’re in harnessing the power of technology and using that power to better put forth a message or task. They’re in accepting change and welcoming that change into our daily routine(s). They’re in communicating with your peers to listen and hear stories of success and/or failure. And that’s what we’re all doing, isn’t it? We’re telling stories, and we’re hoping to get those stories heard.

When Firebrand’s Chief Igniter, Fran Toolan stepped on stage to welcome the crowd to “the show,” he stood in front of a projected quote from famed musician and songwriter David Crosby. This is how it read:

“Bands work, on the highest level, when there’s submission to a greater thing.”

The idea and overall validation that was found at the Conference is that we’re all an integral part of the band. Sure we represent a vast array of different organizations, but at the end of the day, we’re all in the publishing industry facing the same issues. By working together we’re strengthening the industry’s means of survival. The overwhelming participation by all in attendance during the two days that made up #Fire2012 is staggering proof that the sentiment outlined in Crosby’s quote seemingly rings true amongst publishing professionals. We may not have the answer, but collectively we have the answers to help construct the bridge that will get each of us from point A to point B. Without a doubt there was some beautiful, thought-provoking music made at the 2012 Firebrand Community Conference. As Brian O’Leary mentioned in his keynote presentation, “There’s plenty to do. Let’s keep working on it.” We’re all here due to a mutual admiration of what it means to be in publishing and working amidst a group of rousing individuals. In crazy, turbulent times the best work comes out of those that keep plugging away and keeping the lines of communication open. If we keep hitting the right notes and practice hard every day, both as individuals and as a member of the greater whole, we’ll be hard pressed to fall. It’ll be interesting to see where the band takes it from here.


A Community Conference Tradition Continues

On Thursday at lunch time, a tradition will continue at the Firebrand Community Conference:

The Stanley R. Greenfield Memorial Pizza Lunch!

Stanley, and his wife, Betty, attended our first conference, representing their company, Dial-A-Book. In keeping with the informal atmosphere we were looking to create, we decided to offer a Pizza Lunch for all attendees on the second day of the conference.  Stanley jumped at the chance of sponsoring that lunch, and made it a point to introduce himself to as many people as he could during that time.

Stanley was a great friend to Firebrand, and a true Firebrand in his own right.  When we lost him in March of 2009, we felt there could be no better tribute that we could offer than to continue the Pizza Lunch in his honor.

Stanley working away during a break at the first Firebrand Community Conference

Stanley, you are remembered, and missed by the Firebrand Community!

Traveling to Newburyport for the Community Conference #Fire2012

Hey All!

We’ve received a few inquiries into the best ways to get to Newburyport, Mass via plane, train, and automobile. Here’s a bit of info:

Airports and Train Stations

Boston Logan Airport and Manchester, New Hampshire are suitable for visiting Newburyport. Both airports are about 45 minutes from the office.

Also, for those traveling by train From anywhere along the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak can be taken into South Station (Boston). The Acela is 3.5 hours from Penn Station to South Station, and runs hourly until 7pm.

Transportation from Airports

Regal Limo was recommended by one of the inns. They have sedans, vans and other vehicles that can accommodate up to 10-14 passengers and even other larger vehicles for more passengers.

Our Friends at the University of Alabama Press found a reasonable shuttle service to and from the Manchester Airport. They also serve the Boston airport. They are a shared van service called Flightline. They have to be notified and paid a week in advance. After certain hours there is an extra charge, but it looks like they will pick up any time.

Other Local Transportation Services

C&J Trailways Bus Service – from Boston Logan Airport (and South Station adjacent to the Train station) to Newburyport.
Newburyport Taxi Service – Seacoast Taxi (978) 499-9990

Port Taxi978-465-2333

For those that are driving to our event there is parking available at the inns. There is also a public parking lot between the Firebrand Technologies office and the Firehouse Center and another lot located to the right and behind the Firehouse. The access road for this is just beyond the Firehouse when you are leaving the office. These parking lots are within walking distance of the inns in Newburyport. Another public lot is available across the street from the Firehouse but that is limited to 2 hour parking so parking there is not suggested.

Feel free to give us a shout with any further questions: 978.465.7755

Reflections on 25 Years

I know this is a big deal, and that, to recognize the efforts of so many people – both employees and clients – who helped us achieve our long tenure in business is very important. It has been quite a journey, and it’s hard not to say “What a Long, Strange Trip it’s Been”.

But, it’s funny.  It certainly doesn’t feel like we’ve been in business that long.  If anything, our company is even more vibrant and exciting than it was when we first started.  We seem to be reinventing ourselves every day, constantly questioning whether we’re doing the right things, trying to get the most from our dedicated team, celebrating victories, and learning from losses.

When I was asked to write this, my reaction was very mixed. Part of me wants to let this anniversary slip by unnoticed, and part of me knows that can’t happen.  The part of me that wants this to slip by is motivated by a sense that we have not yet accomplished what we set out to do.  To ignore it, though, would be disrespectful to those people who have dedicated most of their business careers to this endeavor.

So, some history:

I started Quality Solutions in the bedroom of my condo in Plainsboro, NJ in August of 1987.  I had been working for a large systems consulting company where involved in several projects developing custom royalty systems for Random House, William Morrow, Prentice Hall, and Addison-Wesley.  During those years, two things happened; I fell in love with the book publishing business, and became appalled that consultants (like my company) were being employed to work on publishing systems without the slightest knowledge of the business.  The mission then, of Quality Solutions, was to offer greater value and a better product than my generic brethren by understanding the needs of this niche market.

The first real client of Quality Solutions was Simon & Schuster in 1988.  And, I am very proud to say that S&S continues to be a client of Firebrand to this day.  However, trying to drum up business in publishing by myself was challenging. So, in 1988, I partnered with a colleague from my old company who was trying to do something similar for the financial services industry in Boston.  The financial services side of our business grew much faster than the publishing side, and in 1990 my family moved from New Jersey to Massachusetts.

The rapid growth of our business was a very heady time.  By 1993, we already had 45 people working for the company – 35 of whom were based in a swanky office in Woburn, MA, and the remaining 10 based in a satellite office over a restaurant in Long Island, NY.  My partner ran the financial services side which was all in the Boston area, and I ran the publishing side which was all in the Long Island office. But trouble was clearly on the horizon. My partner and I had radically different personalities and styles. And, our company structure and politics reflected those differences.

In 1994, my partner was involved in a scandal and was forced to resign. By the end of the year, we had no financial services customers’ left, and many employees resigned.  The mission of the company became one of survival.

I need to stop here and recognize some key people who are with Firebrand now, and were with me during that very tumultuous period: Susan Burke – the first person I recruited in 1989, is Firebrand’s chief Application Architect.  Her brother, Doug Lessing, joined us almost right out of college and is now the President of Firebrand. Bill Bennett, Alan Katzen, and Jen Lyman all went away, but came back.  And, of course, my wife, Catherine, who was not working for the company then, but she was my rock, and she is now in charge of our Eloquence service.  These folks are the heart of who we are today, and I cannot express my respect and gratitude nearly enough.

Survival was the mission of the company for most of the next 12 years, and that survival would not have been possible without the strong support of some key individuals at our clients. Michael Selleck, Howard Goldstein, Tim McGuire, Mike Shareck, Fritz Foy – all of Simon & Schuster at the time, and with the exception of Michael have all moved on to other ventures in publishing and continued to support us. Anet Sirna-Bruder, then of Book-of-the-Month Club, now at Abrams. Lou Peragallo, then of Addison-Wesley, now at Wiley.

There is no question that without the support of all of the people mentioned above and many who would join the company and client roster during the next 12 years, that Firebrand would have been just another statistic in the world of business.

During those 12 years, we learned to pivot and adapt, and work to understand the needs of publishers.  We learned how to borrow money, protect our cash, and invest in ourselves.  We also added a backbone to the company with the addition of Rob Stevens, Paul Milana, Kate Wiewiora, Barbara Burns, Kusum Basra, Denise Muise, Linda Adler, Steve Quaglia, and Barbara Blanchette – all of whom are still with us.  It was a time of great challenge, but having weathered it, we were very well suited for what was to happen next.

Fast forward to 2008, and we know we’re on the brink of some good things. We started looking at how we branded our products, and eventually re-branded the entire organization. We realized our role in the industry.  We were truly Firebrands, and this was the time to embrace what we were. We held our first community conference in April that year, unveiled our new brand, a new line of products, and a new attitude.

That first community conference was a real watershed moment for us, and we used it very well to propel ourselves to where we are now.  Since 2008, we took over NetGalley, started several new service offerings, grown our company size to about 50 people, and have grown our base of customers by over 100%.  It has been a time of great change for us, but interestingly, much about who we are and how we work has remained constant.

We are a team that always tries to do the right thing for our clients, relies heavily on each other, and tries to never let anyone down.

It’s really nice to be able to say that the more things changed, the more they stayed the same.

What will be really interesting is the next chapter…  The mission now is to be a force for the betterment of the publishing industry.  Maybe it took 25 years to learn, but life really is all about the journey, and very little about the destination.  I hope you will join us on the path ahead.

Extracurricular Activities Add Extra Excitement to Firebrand Community Conference (#Fire2012)

While the goal of the Firebrand Community Conference is to convene in a single location and chat about the daily challenges we’re all facing in the publishing industry, the underlying theme of said event stretches beyond the conference room, and resides right in the title: Community.

What does this mean?

Firebrand takes great pride in cultivating a tight-knit community with all of our clients and friends in the industry, and the notion that the lines of communication remain open at all times. If we’re all working together towards a common goal, we all win – plain and simple. Community is important in any endeavor you pursue. If there’s no community to fall back on, all you’ll do is fall. And a free-fall can be quite uncomfortable.

In the spirit of community and in building relationships within our network of industry contacts, we’ve got two extracurricular activities that we want to make you aware of that will be taking place around normal conference hours. Building relationships outside of the daily grind is beneficial practice, and the sentiment of being friendly with those that you work with on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis can offer great reward and stronger working bonds.

On Wednesday evening we’ve reserved David’s Tavern (part of the Garrison Inn where some of you may be staying), for a night of rousing camaraderie in the guise of an open-mic Community Jam. The goal is to pull together some of the musicians from our community, provide some instruments for anyone who is interested, and see what happens. What better way to strengthen tight-knit communal bonds than to make music together?

Whether you play guitar, drums, bass, harmonica, bassoon… (I know, it’s a stretch), we would love to have you join us for the fun. Let us emphasize… FUN! We’ll put together a few chords and play some classics. Rock n’ Roll, Folk Rock, Blues, Country, whatever.

Thursday morning will be the Firebrand Run, which will be split into two groups – runners and hikers.  The run and hike will start at the Garrison statue in front of Garrison Inn. We will meet at 6:00am and be on the road by 6:15, returning by 7:00am. The run/hike route will take us up over  the Merrimac River draw bridge and follow the Old Eastern Marsh Trail through the beautiful early morning wetlands of Salisbury. The route will be out and back on the same course. The run will be 4 miles at an easy pace and the hike will be approximately 2+ miles, but anyone who wants to stop and enjoy the view is welcome to.  We can collect you on the return, so you can pick whatever length you are interested in.  Except for the bridge portion, the trail is straight and flat on an even asphalt foot path.  Sneakers or hiking shoes are fine – there is no off-road trails.

Anyone who joins is officially indoctrinated into the Firebrand Endurance Team and will receive a team shirt.

See you at 6:00am at the Garrison – Rain or Shine! As mentioned, we’ll be back to the Garrison by 7:00am in time to shower up, and hit day two of the conference, where breakfast will be available!

Please come and join in on the fun! And again we stress… FUN!

Join us at the conference, and keep the conversation going on Facebook and  Twitter: #Fire2012

Firebrand Community Conference Inside Edition: Q&A with Firebrand Founder, Fran Toolan

Firebrand’s  Chief Igniter, Fran Toolan sounds off on what the annual Community Conference means to him, and the sentiment about being a part of the Firebrand family – which takes a lot of pride in cultivating a cohesive working community within the publishing industry. He promises he won’t completely re-introduce the branding of the company this time around, and will leave the floor wide open for industry professionals to sound off on what they’re challenges are and how we can work together to make the ever-changing pace of the industry a bit smoother to navigate. Chris Hislop is back to his investigative ways, this time sending Toolan to press.

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

Fran Toolan: There are several objectives of the conference as far as I am concerned:

  • To inform our community about what we are doing
  • To educate them about new technologies in publishing
  • To bring them together to work on common problems
  • To foster relationships between the Firebrand Team and our customers as well as foster relationships between our customers
  • To have everyone leave with actionable ideas that they can put into practice when they get back to their respective offices
  • To have fun
  • To feel proud to be part of the Firebrand Community

CH: What excites you about hosting this event?

FT: The positive energy that is produced both in preparation and in the execution of the event.  It’s a time where we really get to enjoy the camaraderie of our clients and partners and to engage in dialogs on topics where we share a common passion. It’s also a time where the Firebrand team gets really excited.  Everyone in the company gets involved in this, from showcasing development, to helping with logistics, to planning sessions.

CH: You’ve used the conference in the past as a platform to completely rebrand your business. Any big moves up for announcement this time around?

FT: [Laughs] Nothing as big as that, no. This year’s focus is on demonstrating how we’ve listened to our customers. There are many new developments in Title Management, Eloquence, Content Services, and NetGalley (that will be just rolling out a new website if all goes according to plan), and these major developments all reflect what we believe our clients want from us.  We’re very excited to show these off and get feedback from our customers.

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?

FT: The handwriting is on the wall. Social Media is not a fad, it’s the manifestation of the promise of the internet, and it will be with us for generations.  Our generation is getting to write the original rules on how it is used, and there’s a lot of experimentation going on.  I don’t think Social Media is a “skill” yet because it’s a moving target.  But, I agree that understanding it’s capabilities and making the most of those capabilities are important for any business that wants to be around for the long term.  For publishing the goal has always been to get a product message in front of a customer when they are ready to hear that message. Social Media gives publishers all kinds of tools to help achieve that objective.

CH: You set out on a quest to slay the “Rights Dragon” at the last Community Conference. How is that quest going? Can you weigh in on the metadata issues related to selling books internationally?

FT: Well, those are a couple of loaded questions, and all I can say is that they will be answered at the conference – so anyone really interested needs to attend. We’ve already held a preliminary webinar on what we’re doing with slaying the rights dragon, and it was very well received. We expect to unveil the finished product at the conference.  With regard to metadata issues for selling eBooks internationally, we are currently working with a couple of customers on solving that dilemma, and we expect to demonstrate that as part of the show as well.

CH: Who inspires you in the world of publishing? 

FT: The people that inspire me most are honest, have integrity, and let their actions speak more than their words.  (We are fortunate to have many people in our organization that have such qualities.) In publishing specifically, those people who back up their passion for the industry with actions and hard work – even though they go down the road less travelled – are very inspirational to me.

CH: How did you get into the industry?

FT: I came to publishing as a general IT consultant many years ago and worked with companies like William Morrow, Random House, Prentice Hall, Harper & Row, and Addison Wesley. In working with these companies I simply fell in love with the book business. I started Quality Solutions (Firebrand’s previous brand name), in 1987 because I thought that having in-depth knowledge of the industry that we serve would improve the quality of what we delivered and lower the cost. I believe that we are still here today because the market agreed with that philosophy.

Join us at the Conference! Click here for more information and to register.