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!

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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.

AAUP 2012

AAUP 2012 is officially underway in Chicago!  At the opening receptions (yes plural), it was great to reconnect with lots of friends and make some new ones.


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Before I left for Chicago, Chris gave me handful of invitations to the community conference that I have been busily handing out. I know he’s going to want me to recall who I gave them to, but that might not be so easy.

Firebrand works with 25 university presses, and they are an important segment of our business, and they are all nice people to boot.  Even though everyone I spoke with is excited by the program at AAUP, many can’t wait to come to Newburyport for the first time, or for a return trip.

I’m looking forward to handing out my entire quota of invitations while I’m here… I just hope I remember who I gave them to!

BEA is Here!

Stop by and say hello to the Firebrand Team at Booth #4470! The theme for our stand this year is “Ask Burnie!”

There will be many of us on hand to meet with old and new friends.

Booth #4470

From Firebrand Technologies:

Fran Toolan, Doug Lessing, Rob Stevens, Steve Rutberg, Jen Lyman, and Matt Toolan

From NetGalley:

Susan Ruszala, Lindsey Rudnickas, Kristina Radke, and Mary Pratt

From Firebrand Associates:

Don Linn, and Tim Cooper

I’ll let you in on a little hint – you should stop by the booth on Tuesday, you might be in for a pleasant surprise!

Don’t forget to Register for the Community Conference on September 19th!

Session Highlight of the Week – May 28th

It has been mentioned before, but for this year’s conference, we were lucky to engage an Advisory Committee to help us define and develop the sessions to be held.

One such session was recommended by David Mitchell of Guilford Press.  Dave is very interested in trying to understand what new skills people in publishing should have, and what traits that “digital-natives” possess that can be leveraged by the company.

Here is the text description of that session:

Most experienced leaders in publishing companies came into the business with a major in English, having written their college term papers on typewriters and primitive word processors.  The social networks were who you spoke with at launch parties. Suffice it to say, understanding technology was not a high priority for those entering publishing.  Today is a different story.  Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and FourSquare are all tools used by most “digital natives.” There is a growing requirement for the newest generation of publishing people to understand their power and how to use them. But, what are the other traits necessary in today’s publishing environment? How do you tell whether someone is suited with the right tools to work for you? How do you know if you have them yourself?

Over at the Firebrand Associates blog, we’re engaging this topic as well, and our hope is that you will jump in on the discussion, so that by the time the conference comes around, we’ll have a lot to discuss!

Don’t forget to Register for the Conference on September 19th!

Session Descriptions

The Firebrand Community Conference will be broken into four tracks, one about issues related to the industry, and then one each about NetGalley, Eloquence & Content Services, and Title Management.  Below are listed the planned sessions in each track.  And, as usual, on the morning of the second day of the conference, we’ll be having several hours dedicated to an ‘unconference’ where participants can choose the topics they want to explore and we’ll find a time and place for those to happen.

Please don’t forget to register!  We’re limited to 150 participants. We look forward to seeing you on the 19th and 20th of September.

The Industry Track

eBook Pricing Strategies

In the good old days of publishing, book prices were set and rarely changed. In the age of eBooks, things are much different.  Retailers are encouraging publishers to experiment with pricing by making it easy to change prices and see the results of those changes.  Additionally, as eBooks leave the US and enter the world market, the types of pricing that need to be maintained by publishers have increased dramatically.  How do you keep track of them all? How do know what the rules are in each country? What effect does the Agency Model at some retailers have on your ability to change prices for other retailers? In this session publishers and retailers will talk about what works and doesn’t work in ebook pricing.

The New Required Skills for Publishing People

Most experienced leaders in publishing companies came into the business with a major in English, having written their college term papers on typewriters and primitive word processors.  The social networks were who you spoke with at launch parties. Suffice it to say, understanding technology was not a high priority for those entering publishing.  Today is a different story.  Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and FourSquare are all tools used by most “digital natives.” There is a growing requirement for the newest generation of publishing people to understand their power and how to use them. But, what are the other traits necessary in today’s publishing environment? How do you tell whether someone is suited with the right tools to work for you? How do you know if you have them yourself?

Defining Discovery

Discovery is a hot topic these days.  Marketing efforts are less about pushing messages out to possible customers than they are making sure that the product is discovered by the potential customer at the optimal time to make a sale. Some say discovery is about metadata, others say it is more about merchandizing, others still claim that it is about being where the customers are with the right medium and message. What are some of the best practices for helping books get discovered by consumers? How do you manage all of the outlets that you are trying to fill? How do you convert someone who discovers your product into one that purchases your product?

The Future of DRM

Are the walls of the DRM castle cracking? A few major publishers are starting to experiment with offering their books for sale DRM-free.  Others, like O’Reilly, have been proponents of that from the early days of eBooks. Others are experimenting with social DRM, or watermarking, to help curb piracy.  Is there a shift in the community regarding policies related to DRM? If a few more major publishers jump on board, will there be a tipping point soon after? What will the effects of those moves be? Will piracy boom or bust? Will sales be cannibalized by free lending of eBooks? Come discuss this and other thorny questions related to DRM.

The NetGalley Track

The “New” NetGalley

So, you thought you knew what NetGalley was all about? Well, think again.  The NetGalley site is being completely re-architected with special new features to help publishers qualify requests, and better understand their review community. The new platform will also help expedite the title setup process, improve performance and position NetGalley for international expansion! There may even be additional surprises!

Using NetGalley’s Marketing team to help Launch Titles

NetGalley is certainly a platform for secure egalley distribution, but the real secret sauce is the people behind the service. Come see how the NetGalley team has put together successful marketing programs for individual titles, for  entire publisher lists, and in conjunction with leading industry community sites. If you are in marketing or publicity, or want to wow your marketing and publicity teams back in the office with practical, successful and creative ideas, this is the session to attend. Advertising and marketing to over 65,000 influential professional readers can yield profound results in your launch.

Finding the Right Readers – Best Practices

Some of our publishing clients are being inundated with requests for their books – especially the highly-anticipated ones. The process of vetting these requests can be manually intensive and actually restrain a publicist’s use of the tool. Come see how some new features in NetGalley can help simplify this process and hear from some professionals how they manage to tame the request beast.

NetGalley’s core competency has always been around new title campaigns. The focus on what’s new means continuous reasons for users to come back to the site and allows us to connect readers with content that will be of interest to them. But increased traffic can also mean too many requests for a particular title. Come hear how we are investing in better defining our members, measuring and displaying their credentials and social influence, and connecting those to a publisher’s approval preferences in meaningful ways. Warning: we will use the word algorithm multiple times!

Managing multiple e-galley programs

Now that galleys can be delivered electronically, publishers are coming up with new and different ways to use and distribute them to audiences as varied as international rights agents, professors considering course adoption, and in their own blogger communities.  NetGalley is working on several projects to fulfill digital galleys outside of the NetGalley.com community. In this session, we’ll discuss some of the interesting projects going on with NetGalley and outside of NetGalley, and learn how publishers are keeping track of all the places they are using egalleys to promote their titles.

The Eloquence & Content Services Track

What’s New and Coming in Eloquence?

At the beginning of the year, Catherine Toolan, the head of our eloquence team, announced internally that she would not attend another Community Conference if Eloquence-On-Demand was not ready for roll out. Well, we couldn’t have that—so come see how this new service works. !  You asked for an automated Outbox? You asked for managing metadata like a ‘digital asset’? Come see for yourself.  There are many new things in store for our clients.

The Many Components of Content Services

When we rolled out our Content Services offerings last year, we did so with a single purpose in mind: to help publishers get their content, images and metadata to retail partners that they had a direct relationship with. But this is 2012, and the solution brief has been expanded to help publishers get their content, images, and metadata to ANY retailer. Come see and learn how our wholesaling and direct fulfillment services can help you reach a wider audience with your content.

Publisher/Partner Roundtable

Back by popular demand! Easily the most popular sessions in our prior conferences were when we brought publishers together on stage with data recipients (retailers, wholesalers, and aggregators) for a debate on how to solve some of the nasty issues related to making sure that metadata is correct. This session will be updated in 2012 to include eBook retailers as well, so that we can get their input and perspective on the topic.

Metadata Issues Related to Selling Books Internationally

There are one billion English-reading people in the world. Most of the major online retailers now have a presence outside the US. There is an unprecedented opportunity for US publishers to expand their markets and reach new readers with their works. But this opportunity has a cost as well. Territorial rights, prices by country, and international tax issues all need to be solved if publishers are to successfully tap this new market. Come discuss these issues with our team and some of our publishers to gain an insight into how you can approach this when you get home.

The Title Management Track

New Project Types in Title Management

When the web version of Title Management was released several years ago, a major enhancement was the idea that a title or group of titles could be included in a “project”, and that those projects could be managed independently of the management of a particular ISBN.  The first major “project type” released was the Acquisitions project, and many companies have taken advantage of its powerful connections.  Since that time, many other “project types” have been configured and used by individual publishers. In this session, we will focus on some of the specific project types that are gaining popularity among our publishers, such as works, author tours, marketing events, and review requests.  In this session, we will delve into these project types and more, and at the end of the session, you will be able to understand how to configure these yourself.

Taming the Rights Dragon

At our last community conference, Fran Toolan, Firebrand’s Chief Igniter, got on stage and said that our mission was to “slay the rights dragon.”  After a few false starts, we’re excited to say that we have the beast cornered!  Come take an in-depth look at the newest components of Title Management that will help you manage your territorial and subsidiary rights like never before. This new software brings together everything we’ve ever learned about rights management and its impact on metadata creation for restricting given products from sale in certain language and market areas.

New ways to Generate Catalogs

Generating sales catalogs via InDesign has long been a hallmark of Title Management, but it has also been a bit of a clunky iterative effort that involves fixing the data in Title Management, then exporting it to InDesign.  Come see how new tools can be employed so that changes can be made right in the catalog and data refreshed immediately without having to go back to Title Management to make the changes.

Talking to other Systems: Getting data Into and Out of Title Management

It has never been more important that Title Management “speak” with other systems. Getting data in and out of Title Management easily and effectively has always been a challenge. It seems that almost every installation of Title Management requires a way to import spreadsheets from outside sources, and we all know how difficult this can be. There are new technologies for transmitting data such as API’s and Web Services that make the transmission of data easier, but there are still issues of validation and importation.  If this is the kind of topic that is of interest to you, come join the discussion.

Registration Site is Open

The Firebrand Community Conference Registration Site is open!

Come here not only to register, but also to see descriptions of the sessions we have in store.  This conference was designed with input from a group of our clients who were pretty clear about what they wanted to see happen.

The Firehouse Theater where the conference will be held in Newburyport, MA