Sunday, December 21, 2008

It takes a good book

I travel quite a bit, and eventually everything goes south, so to speak. This week included one such trip - taking 24 hours to get from Nashville to Blue Point. No big deal really; it happens and I survived. One good long night of catch-up sleep and all is good. The trick, however is remain sane during the trials of a trip like this. Rudy Guliani once said that when everything is going crazy around him he simply tries to be the calmest guy in the room. Although that is not really in my nature, I do try to achieve it. Even when the pilot violently aborts a landing moments before touch down in dense fog in Charlotte.

One of my weapons against insanity during this trip was simply reading about fly fishing-in this case I was reading John Gierach's Fool's Paradise. Grace and I have read all of his books over the years and have always loved how he is always able to capture the true nature of the sport - mainly how it us more than just the fishing, but fishing is everything. But he does it with near perfect sense of comedic timing, lulling you into a warm sense of quiet atmosphere and then casting a zinger at you, causing the reader to laugh out loud, even on a crowded plane with weary passengers.

One particular line caused me to laugh. After spending an entire chapter describing the misery (and joy?) of fishing alone in winter, with freezing hands and gear, he closes the final paragraph with the simple line 'I wonder what all the stupid people are doing for fun.' That got me through an hour or two of travel with reduced blood pressure.

I have been reading this book one chapter at a time, as an ebook on my iPhone which is to say that it is always with me ready to provide a moment of relief. In my opinion, it is one of the most compelling reasons to read a good book. I am sorry to say that I have finished Fool's Paradise and fear I may be a few books away from another book which provides just the right medicine, right when I need it.

Friday, December 12, 2008

What He Said

I am just going to regurgatate Thomas Friedman's recent column Generation X - why aren't our kids more radical. These are some of the key points I have been saying in conversation over the past few years, but he is more articulate (hence the writing job at New York Times).

The basic premise of the column is the legacy we are leaving for our kids, as compared to, say, the Greatest Generation. Read it.

I know the debt clock in New York has gained recent attention, pushing over ten trillion and running out of space, but of course it has been there for years, and is on my route to several publishers as I pace Manhattan. It has had a chilling effect on me to see that my family owes, for example, $65,000 (that of course is ancient history). That clock caused me to vote in certain ways (well, that certainly didn't help), but also to live in certain ways.

We built a brand new house - but believe it or not it is only 1900 sq. feet. Many people wonder where the third family room is? Any new house under 3000 feet is ludicrous. But I certainly enjoy my more affordable 15 year mortgage, low gas and electric bills. My financial adviser twisted his face when I said I went with a 15 year 4 1/2 percent mortgage. Why not go 30 years, and invest the extra money each month - you can earn easy 8-10%? Why? because it is my house and it will be paid off when my kids start going to college.

We certainly have enjoyed the use of no interest credit cards and we have one skeleten in the closet on that front from our winter sabbatical, but we are working on it.

Several years ago I installed a 3.4kw Solar Photovoltaic system on my roof - as much as could fit. This generates about 1/3 of my electric. Quietly. Without maintenance. And is warranteed for 30 years. All you have to do is pray for sun.

I buy the rest of my electric from a wind farm in upstate NY through a LIPA program New Wind Energy. This is so easy it's ridiculous. You simply sign up, pay a little extra for your electric with a special Clean Energy charge on your bill, and the Wind Farm pumps the amount of energy you buy into the grid on your behalf. They make extra revenue and can then invest and increase capacity. You have reduced your carbon footprint. I have seen the parade of fuel barges lined up outside the LIPA plant in Port Jeff, and it aint pretty.

In my driveway are two Toyota Hybrids - my Highlander which gets a true 26mpg and carries 7 people and my Camry which gets a true 35mpg. By the way, the Higlander Hybrid is the best driving car we have ever owned. It is heavy because of the battery and electric motor which gives it a stable feel, and the pickup is outrageous: the result of a 6cylinder engine combined with the immediacy of a big electric motor.

We grow live coral in our saltwater reef tank so that our kids can appreciate the incredible beauty of this gift from God. Given the recent articles on coral reef depletion, the only place you may be able to find these species in a few decades is in an aquarium.

I voted for Barack Obama for many reasons but in this context because of the failure of our republican led government to reign in the budget deficit and recognize the future economy which will be based on innovation and energy. Despite some shining stars in the US, I believe the ramp-up in environmental technology was missed, so far. I have Japanese solar panels, German inverters converting the solar energy to DC, and japanes hybrid technology in the driveway. Are we going to concede these industries as well to others? What is it we actually excel out? Financial Services? Now we are in a position where the budget deficit will have to increase in order to retool our industry and culture. Wonderful. Friedman's article discussed what I have believed and said for some time. Barack has linked the prosperity of our nation with innovation in industries, coupled with energy independence and his right.

I list my green creds not to gain favor, but to simply backup my core belief on the future of our nation and earth. It is sort of like Actions Speak Louder Than Words, but there is a little more to it. I am not a guy with a long beard living off the grid in a yurt high on a mountain. I am regular people. And regular people need to make the leap. To varying degrees, our solar project has inspired 5 other neighbors on my block to put solar power on their roofs. My statement is in the action.

On the other hand, it might be kind of fun to live in a yurt off the grid at the top of a mountain. But I know I can't pull off the beard...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What a ride - welcome NetGalley!

It has been quite a ride this year - starting off as Quality Solutions, ending up as Firebrand Technologies and NetGalley. This year, we have seen urgent adoption of our solutions in virtually every segment of publishing. I guess it takes longer to come up the adoption curve than we expected. As Fran Toolan (@ftoolan) has put it, we have hit the point where publishers say 'I want what they got'. But the excitement is really just starting!

For years we have worked with publicists, offering tools to help manage the book review process - contacts connected to titles and in some cases connected to the warehouse for shipment. We have always felt that we were underserving the market in our publicity functions - but we have never been able to truly make progress there. Now with NetGalley, we have the opportunity to take the work we have done in the past and build a true next generation solution. As NetGalley is built on the concept of private communities of publishers and reviewers, we can expand out to provide real connections between these constituents. You can read about the Firebrand/NetGalley joint-venture in this press release.

We will be in the bona-fide content business from here on out, although it is still unclear to me what direction we will take in the coming years. Right now, the best strategy is a sharp focus on providing the best tools for publishers and reviewers to efficiently manage and deliver electronic copies of review titles, with options for printed copies if elected. This solution, when integrated with our Title Management, Eloquence and Ecommerce solutions, offers all sorts of opportunities

One of the advantages of NetGalley is an ROI which can be proven - clearly showing how wasted money on printed review copies can be saved. We have often had softer ROI's with our solutions which clearly exist, but require some faith to prove out.

And important to me, with a roof full of solar photovoltaic panels providing electric to my house, are the green benefits of NetGalley. The thought of all those wasted galleys printed and mailed to reviewers who aren't interesting is sooo last century.

It is going to be an exciting ride in the next year as Firebrand and NetGalley kickoff together, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Friday, December 5, 2008

On a more positive note

It has been a brutal week for publishers, and most blog posts are related to the carnage of lost jobs and panic in the industry.

But, true to my nature, I figured that I would blog about something positive - perhaps giving all of my 3 followers something to think about and redirect energies in the right direction.

The fact is, I simply love book publishing, and I love my job (all the more cherished this week). Yesterday was one of those days that reminds me of the simple things I enjoy about this business. Ben Todd, Rob Sidor and I spent the day working with the team at David C Cook - Wendi, Ken, Leslie, Karen, Rochelle and Stuart - and it was just an enjoyable day. I think that there were many people whose desks were near the conference room that thought we were playing Twister, because we had a lot of good laughs. And I don't think it was because we were getting punchy. Yet the day overall was very productive and we got done what we set out to do. In fact, we were on such a roll that we didn't get out of our chairs from 1:00 - 5:00, despite our carefully planned breaks.

I don't think I would have had the same sort of day if we were kicking off a project at a financial firm, or pharmaceutical company. I just like people in publishing.

Of course, it didn't hurt that Wendi directed us to the perfect place for dinner - an Irish Pub called Jack Quinn's in downtown Colorado Springs where we wrapped up a long day with great wings, hot NY Strip, cold Smithwicks and live irish music (not necessarily in that order)

That's it today - no prognostications, or links to insightful blog posts, just the basics. We are in publishing because we love the business, and now more than ever we should be appreciative of that.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Twittering about Twitter

There is an interesting recap of the use of Twitter during the horrific Mumbai terror attacks. The article can be found at ZDNet. This article, and the comments, take us through the use of twitter by bystanders, those offering support, and potentially the terrorists themselves.

It is coincidental that I was in a brief conversation about Twitter today with Fran Toolan and a few other folks from Firebrand. Fran was enlightining us as to his perception of what Twitter has meant for him, in particular learning more about individuals from the mosaic of tweets recieved, as well as receiving information unfiltered by the major news media.

The article describes the instant reports received - some tweets included bystander's accounts of police activity, which is called into question. But looking at a larger picture, what are the social implications of unfiltered, uncorroborated information? How does social media in widespread use actually affect behavior and response? I have no idea really, but I suspect that we will need to evolve to be able to process a multitude of sources both good and bad, filter based on our experience, and make judgements in more rapid fire time. This has to be a good thing, no? Check out the article - in fact I just twittered about it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

All Hands On Deck

I guess that is an appropriate analogy given the title of my blog...
We have released Title Management Version 7 and really putting it through its paces. Given our recent successes, and heavy workload of projects, we have everyone at Firebrand Technologies pulling hard to deliver.

Guess who is writing SQL again? While integrating new clients, we have decided to move away from our existing report datawarehouse in favor of a new model of using functions and views for real time data access and simplified reporting. Now that we are officially on a single database platform - MS SQLServer - we can take advantage of database objects more readily. We had built many functions and views and used them in the past at different clients, but the time has come to standardize them and include them in the product. I have also started building out our new wiki at as a permanent reference for these tools.

I was joking with Fran Toolan yesterday, saying that I was back to writing SQL and dusting off my old skills. His comment was 'For the 17th time...'.

Of course, that is what I love about working for a small company that is motivated as a team...whatever it takes. Enough jabber for the morning, I need to get back to my Query Analyzer and Crystal Reports.

Monday, November 3, 2008


Fran Toolan, Ben Todd and I are at the ECPA PUBu event in Chicago last couple of days. This event is very well organized and well attended - not surprising giving the quality of planning and execution that comes out of ECPA at the events I have attended. Ben was a community leader, organizing several sessions on workflow. He and Michael Covington (from ECPA) approached me to deliver a session on efficient title management practices, which I did this morning. You can see an online video of this presentation at, under the video section, or you can go direct to Screencast at

The premise of the 1 hour and 15 minute course is that efficient title management practices are the foundation from which to build a vibrant digital publishing house.

Thanks to Michael for his very constructive criticism on my original presentation and helping me put together a more vibrant course. Now that it is online, Michael, you can crtique the presentation in its entirety!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Tired and Happy

I have been running pretty hard these days - visiting people from publishing all across the states. This week, though, was a week where it all seemed to come together - for many reasons.

It was a busy few days traveling to visit publishers - from Alabama to Ohio to Kentucky. This was a great trip because I was able to visit a potential new client, but also to visit existing client for customer service calls. The travel was a bit hectic, but the trip was successful. The successes ranged from major milestones reached in ongoing projects, to a couple of small tweaks on Indesign catalog imports with our friends at Barbour.

I also have the pleasure of welcoming two new clients this week. First was Texas A&M Press who have signed on for the full contingent of our solutions - Title Management, Eloquence and Ecommerce - all hosted. We also signed off our project with David C. Cook in Colorado Springs and a member of the ECPA who will be implementing Title Management in our hosted environment along with the Eloquence service.

These additions to our community are very important to us - from a business standpoint and a personal standpoint.

But what struck me this week is that I simply like people in publishing. It is a pleasure establishing lasting relationships and friendships. It is enjoyable to see Firebrand in such a vibrant business position, but despite the necessity of this, what keeps me here is the simple fact that I enjoy working with the team at Firebrand and our community members.

So, as I close out a hectic week, on the heals of several hectic weeks (and another busy one next week), I simply want to say thank you to all whom I spoke with and met with this week - you know who you are!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

AskBurnie and RSS Feed for Discussion Groups

We have been disappointed in the usage of our new discussion forums at our Firebrandz community site, although many users in the community have been asking for this tool. Not too surprising really - discussion forums are chicken and egg equations. You need activity to generate more activity, and we simply haven't accelerated yet. We have been building the community nicely though - with 140 vetted, qualified members, but that hasn't translated into discussion forum activity yet. We have had a very good response for our webinars and have seven new webinars scheduled as listed at Firebrand Events.

To boost activity on the forums, we just added an RSS feed, so that members can subscribe and see new posts. This can be found at We have also added a new email that we will promote as one-stop shopping for all of our users - Burnie will be happy to answer any questions, and relevant topics will be posted on the Discussion Forums.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Opposite Ends of the Country (and beyond)

It has been a busy September at Firebrand. After a surprisingly busy two weeks in August performing demos and talking with potential customers, followed by a couple of weeks off with my family, September hit with several new additions to the Firebrand Community. Literally from opposite ends of the country and beyond.

Hailing from Oahu, we welcome Kamehameha Publishing, who has adopted our full Title Management software and Eloquence Metadata Solutions for Onix XML. Kamehameha Publishing is part of Kamehameha Schools, one of the largest private schools in the country - with thousands of students from Preschool to 12th grade. Publishing books on Hawaiian history and culture, Kamehameha sees opportunities to build their publishing program and broaden their reach. Title Management and Eloquence will become the foundation for this initiative. And do you think there was a bit of a struggle as to who would manage this project?

From the opposite end of the country, a bit closer to home hailing from Cape Cod, we welcome Paraclete Press to our Firebrand Community. Paraclete is an established publisher of Catholic books and has joined onto the ECPA Title Management Web program, to take advantage of Firebrand's Eloquence service. Paraclete was setup and trained rapidly on Eloquence - within a couple of days - and is now prepping their Spring 2009 list to be sent via Onix.

Finally, we are pleased to welcome the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, who has joined on for our Eloquence services. Based in the center of Athens(Greece, not Athens, NY or Athens, VT), the school will be sending Eloquence title information for their published works.

Welcome Firebrandz!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Almost There! Title Management Version 7

Our major new Title Management Release 7 is just about ready..after months and months (and months) of work. In August, several of us on the Firebrand team met offsite to frame out the next several releases of the software, beyond 7.0. Due to the breadth of our functionality, migrating functions to the .Net browser based application is a huge task, and this version represents a major effort in that direction. Clients coming on board will be using the version 7 web applications almost exclusively - including the all new Production Scheduling with alerts, combined schedules across projects and titles and all the other stuff we have been demonstrating. Versions 7.1, 7.2, 7.3 then map out the migration of other key functions such as catalogs, publicity and more.

It is no easy feat performing a major architecture upgrade on so much software, while supporting backwards compatibility with existing clients. We are so committed to staying current on technology, that we are absorbing the pain (and excitement) of this migration. The last thing we want to be is a company with software on an 'old' platform.

Interestingly, this spirit is exactly what led me to leave a new career at Andersen Consulting to join Firebrand in December 1990. Fran, Susan and team at the time were developing Windows based business applications against relational SQL databases (Gupta SQLBase back then).

That was early...The now famous story is told over and over - while training new users at Simon & Schuster on our applications we first needed to teach users how to use a mouse - 'Please slide it on the desk, don't wave it in the air'.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Building the Firebrandz Community

We certainly did make a few promises when we re-launched Quality Solutions as Firebrand Technologies in April at the Firebrand Community Conference. Building the Firebrandz Community website was one of the promises that we have been working on throughout the summer. As our company has evolved to include more and more publishers, our lack of available community based support became painfully evident. The old days of exclusively providing custom training documents and on-site support are gone. During a Community design session at the conference, overwhelmingly, our community members requested a robust Discussion Forum. So that was the first tool we have built. We now have well over 100 Community members at, but the activity in the forums is very light. It is clear that we need to continually seed the forums with new posts to build participation.

We have had a much higher level of participation with our new Webinar series, however, with dozens of users joining in each session. We recorded these videos for later viewing by Community members, although we had a couple of mis-steps on delivery of these.

We are also on our third pass at dialing in the sign-on and activation of new users on the site, and the latest round promises to provide a nicely integrated, single sign-on for all of the community tools - Discussion Forums, Wiki for training resources, Videos and the rest.

The first couple of months of the summer were quite hectic, with brisk activity in sales - talking with lots of publishers and demonstrating Title Management, working on the webinars, working with clients and going to conferences. I never quite attacked those summer projects which I was holding on for the 'quiet' time. But this week, I am getting that sense of aloneness - when you shout 'Hello??' into an empty building and the only response you get is an echo. So now I have been working on a few of those tasks which simply must be done - like better documentation of key functions, working on Flash objects for the community and so on.

Of course, this is just in time for my own vacation. If you shout 'Hello??' into my Loft next week, the only sound you will get back is that lonely echo.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Creativity in book retail

I have come across two different, creative ways that companies have been invented to get books into the hands of readers.

I discovered the first while picking up a book at the Paradies Shops in my local airport Islip, Long Island. They have a Read and Return policy where you can buy the book, read it and return to any of their locations for a 50% refund (not store credit- I checked). They have about 60 locations in airports across the country. Since there is one conveniently located in my local airport, I may actually take advantage of this regularly. Of course, I have a tendency to hang on to books I like, but I am out of shelf space. Since I paid full retail, the 50% return refund would bring the book to me at a cost much lower than Amazon or B&N. The book in question, by the way, was Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell, the only survivor from a Navy Seal team on a mission gone wrong in Afghanistan. Excellent book, written in an authentic voice.
Lone Survivor

The second unique approach is BookSwim. This is a netflix-like approach to 'renting' books based on a monthly subscription, with the US Postal service as their delivery mechanism. They must face some unique challenges to bring this business model into equilibrium, such asthe cost of shipping a larger book compared to a dvd, the cost of producing a printed book compared to mass-copying a dvd, and the time it takes to read a book (many hours)compared to watching a DVD (2 hours) and therefore the number of times you could take advantage of the service in a month. This is a really interesting model that I am interested in learning more about in the coming months. Now, if you connect this service with an Ebook rental, for DVD rental prices (i.e. a few bucks), it could really make some tracks. Fascinating. By the way, I would come up with a different model than Itunes Video or on demand movie rentals where you only have 24 hours to watch the thing once you have started the movie - that really annoys me. I simply do not need added pressure. I have started and not finished several movies due to this restriction - seriously from the digital dark ages. (Rant is now complete)

Most importantly about these options is the unique approach they represent to compete with other media and ultimately vie for the dwindling consumer disposable time. It will be interesting to follow these programs to see how they evolve. Anyone out there see other interesting approaches to getting books into the hands of readers?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

ECPA Executive Summit

Well, I was away for the last two weeks in April having fun with my family, so I am behind on everything, including blogging. I am at the ECPA Executive Summit in Dallas and as always trying to absorb new knowledge from people smarter than me. I was fortunate to give a brief presentation about the ECPA Title Management Web program and best practices in Title Management from Acquision through launch, but unquestionably I have gained more than I have given.

There is one prevailing theme that keeps coming back at this conference, as well as at the Firebrand conference in April. Publishing, as both defense and offense against distraction,clutter and irrelevance in the consumer marketplace, should be about COLLABORATION, not strictly COMPETITION, amongst publishers. It takes enough critical mass in the marketplace, and resources to bring new delivery mechanisms online for published content.

Man, does this go against the grain of our American culture - we live to compete. But look at Safari Online, which is an online marketplace for technical books in digital format and is based on collaboration between several key competitors in that space, delivering content in the way that many consumers interested in that genre want it.

The Christian market is another area where collaboration is highly possible, and in fact is taking place through great organizations like the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association.

We are honored to be working with this association and delivering a collaborative program into this community.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Firebrand Technologies is Launched

At the Quality Solutions User Conference, our commander in chief Fran Toolan announced that the company was being re-launched as Firebrand Technologies.

We have been working on this since December, and it is a relief to have the announcement behind us - it was top secret, hush hush. Trust me, this is not a name change for the sake of changing the name. It is way too many late nights just for that. This is about changing attitudes and changing the publishing industry. It's about bringing together the various constituents of the Firebrand Community - 56 clients, 110 trading partners, great organizations like the ECPA and BISG, and well respected friends in the industry - plus the exponential number of community members that they serve. It's about taking convention and turning it on its head. It's about relevance for a company and an industry in a fractured society.

Fran had great fun knighting the 125 folks in the audience as Firebrands - in the best sense of the word.

There is plenty to talk about to convey the excitement we all shared at the newly dubbed 2008 Firebrand Community Conference. We have video, photos, presentations and lots of follow up - in fact, I should be getting the conference feedback survey out the door. Somehow we pulled off a Trifecta - User conference, Company Relaunch and unveiling a major (emphasize major) new release in Title Management 7.0.

But for the moment, it is just nice to be back up in the loft for a couple of days after weeks of long trips to Newburyport, late nights, early mornings, and time away from my girls.

I have to say, though, that I wouldn't trade this journey from Quality Solutions to Firebrand Technologies for anything at the moment. What a nice buzz.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Ex-Pat Adaptability Theory

Let me declare right up front that I am an office ex-pat. For most of my career at Quality Solutions - somewhere in the vicinity of 17-18 years - I have worked hundreds of miles away from the Mother Ship - Newburyport. It's easy for me to remember how long because I joined the company December 1990, the same year I graduated St. Mikes. For the first 4-5 months back in winter of 1991 I was living in North Andover, MA and working in the main office in North Reading. Following that, for several years we had a satellite office in Bay Shore, NY with a great team, but for the past decade or so I have been officially an Office Ex-Pat working out of my home, known affectionately as the Blue Point Technology Center. No two days are alike, which is fine by me. Add into the mix the reality that 2-3 days per week I am on the road somewhere - at clients, visiting the Mother Ship, whatever. The fact that I am out of the environment all of the time has lead me to adapt.

So if you are comfortable in your current scenario, then read my post on Transformations.

The lessons I have learned as an ex-pat can be applied to publishing in general and technology projects in particular. In a shifting environment, we have to work extra hard to be efficient and productive. What comes easy in a stable environment, has to be earned in an unstable environment. Walls are often erected in our way and we have to find ways to scale them. In an office ex-pat's world, it is usually technology walls built out of VPN's and Firewalls blocking access to emails and company files and making us work that much harder to be productive. Wherever we plug in or wi-fi connect, we have new obstacles to first learn about and then surmount. It is common for my compatriot Paul Milana and I to find ourselves in a new environment and start firing questions:
"Can you get VPN?"
"No its Blocked",
"Can you get Internet",
"No they need to allow our IP's in the firewall",
"How about Terminal Server access",

In publishing, I would argue the walls are built of convention, tradition and perhaps even a dash of denial. The more nimble of the larger publishing houses have been able to throw gobs of money and resources to build large digital archives, cool website book-view widgets and lots of other neat stuff.

Some of the smaller innovative houses have transformed themselves brilliantly - O'Reilly certainly comes to mind. CJ Rayhill, who will be delivering our Key Note speech at the April 8/9 User conference will have plenty to say on this. Formerly CIO of O'Reilly Media she has now joined on at Safari Books Online. I am excited to meet her and talk with her, as she is known as a persistent, nuts-and-bolts leader, knowing that it is usually in the details where grand schemes go to fail. As a an integrator of our software and services for many years, I can appreciate this perspective.

Whatever the size of the publishing house, I think book publishers can adopt the bird-dog persisence of expats, hitting walls, finding ways over, under, or around to be efficient and productive. This adaptibility and persistence has paid off through numerous projects at publishers I have worked with, and I know that it can be the foundation from which publishing is transformed.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

By The Way...

I turned forty today! I feel pretty similar.

I have received many heartfelt, although usually disparaging, birthday wishes ("Did your new cane arrive yet?").

However, the great evangelist for the month-long, my-birthday-should-be-a-national holiday movement has failed to even send a birthday card.
Jana Faust from University of Nebraska Press has always preached this, but maybe she just was referring to her own birthday...

Nothing Jana?

Quality Solutions Community

You might say that there was a latent demand for a Quality Solutions User Conference. We now have well over 100 registered attendees, and more signing on everyday. Fran Toolan and I have had many conversations about what this community means and is capable of, and we see more and more potential everyday. Always with an altruistic bent, Fran has recognized that our community is much more than our clients. When you look at the list of attendees, you instantly see that members of the Quality Solutions community include publishers, distributors, booksellers, wholesalers, industry organizations, and fellow service providers.

In fact, calling this a user conference has become a bit of a misnomer. The responses to our conference questionnaire clearly indicated that members of our community were seeking a forum to explore real, pragmatic, boots-on-the-ground solutions to the pressures we all face in book publishing - to remain relevant, to spread our message, to remain profitable and viable as organizations. So this conference has become a blend from strong nuts and bolts sessions for Title Management users, to broader, more strategic discussions.

The folks at Quality Solutions are honored to be leading this community and recognize the good will that so many of you have demonstrated in signing up to attend and volunteer at this event. We are working hard to ensure that this good will is recognized and rewarded.

And by the way, a large percentage of you indicated that the Quality Solutions 20th Birthday Happy Hour was 'Very Important' or 'My Primary Reason for Attending'. We surely hope to reward THAT sentiment.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

What a difference 24 hours makes

This is one of those nice sunrises I was talking about. It is amazing how quickly the sun comes up over the horizon when it sets it's mind to it.

I promise, my next post will be about something exciting in publishing...or maybe not.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Truth in Blogging

Any self-respecting blogger will know that frankness and honesty are keys to a good blog post.

So I must post an addendum to my last poetry-laced, sappy entry.

I last wrote about the inspiring scene unfolding before me, describing the sense of peace and serenity one software guy is prone to while perched in the loft.

That peace and serenity were just SHARPLY broken by the off-the-chart,high frequency screaching of three young girls - 11, 8 and 4 who just learned that their school is closed for the day - a rather unexpected turn of events.

Any father of young girls can appreciate what I have just been through in the past couple of minutes. The phone has rung no fewer than a dozen times, with a repeat of the screaching at each pick-up. I long to go back to the relative peace and quiet of the Hannah Montana concert in December...

Apparently, their elementary school was 'hit by lightning' during the storm and the electricity and heat are out.

I told you that it was some squall. Maybe I AM thankful we weren't on the boat...

Winter Thunder Storm Clearing

If I may digress for a moment...

I am working in my loft, Up The Mast if you will, and was struck by the beauty of the scene out my window. Anyone who knows me well knows that I am bit of a sentimentalist, so you will have to bear with me.

Waking up before sunrise and climbing into the loft to work and watch the sunrise is one of life's pleasures for me. It is usually not too long before one of my girls comes up to join - reading on the bean bag, or climbing into my lap as I type and clear my inbox.

This morning, though, the scene was "wicked cool", in the parlance of the St. Michael's College students hailing from Massachusetts (as most of them did in 1990). Last night, we had a raging squall pass overhead, complete with winter thunder and horizontal rain bullets. Our house, situated facing east out the front on the Great South Bay, shudders with the wind of any self-respecting squall. It is almost the same feeling of our boat Tide Pool trying to break free from its anchor during a blow - almost. The creak of the windows as the unobstructed east wind shoves against the house during a particulary strong gust reminds me of the anchor chain straining against the bow pulpit roller which is directly overhead of our berth. The house shakes it off like the boat driving against the anchor chain as hard as possible to one side before relenting and turning back to start over again to the other side of scope. In short, I love it - in fact I live for it.

Following the squall this morning as I was writing my last post, the front blew through and the sun came out - but not like a passing summer squall where there is definitive line between the angry cloud line and blue bird sky. In winter, the scene is confused with bay temparatures out of whack with rapidly changing air temparatures. No, this scene of a passing winter squall is less ordinary and plenty interesting. The bay is turned up with whitecaps pushed by a strong south-east, post squall wind. A strange fog is lifting off the surface. Above, is the clear, pale blue sky and bright, low-in-the-sky winter sun illuminating the mist and making the damp trees sparkle.

Lexie is reading behind me on the bean bag as this scene unfolds.

How can I not be inspired?

The curve has finally caught up

I am more and more convinced that fundamental change is well underway in the publishing industry. For years, we as a company have been well AHEAD of the curve in publishing - painfully ahead. Talking conceptually about our Title Managemenent software - and attempting to sell it - back in the nineties always seemed an uphill battle. Most publishers did not see a critical need for the front-office, presswide databases that we were evangalizing. The sales cycle was long and slow. The large publishers were getting the picture and our earliest clients - Simon & Schuster and Macmillan joined us on the pioneer path.

Even our eloquence service, started in 1998 - was probably 5 years ahead of its time. Early adopters of the service - S&S, Macmillan, and our first adopter Guilford, paved the way to sending Amazon tagged files, then Onix files. In fact, Guilford holds the honor of having the first onix file transmitted in the industry to appear on a website - B&N. But that was years ago - shortly after the turn of the century.

Those two curves have FINALLY caught up. There is no doubt that there is a sense of urgency. I have written about a couple of clear benefits to have this strategically important infrastructure in place, like unleashing the creativity in an organization. Another provocative question to ask a publisher is where they go to get information about one of their own titles...Amazon??? Publishers are recognizing that without complete control of their own title information and workflow, there is no way they will be able to keep up with the accelerating change shaping the industry - from digital distribution of content to print-on-demand to exploiting special sales channels, well, you get the picture. Even in the past week, I have had several conversations with publishers searching for solutions, and the urgency is palpable.

One thing you can be assured of...we at Quality Solutions are not comfortable being comfortably in-sync with the curve and are plotting our next moves to get out ahead again - probably painfully so. Any early adopters out there ready to go for a ride?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Welcome to the family

We have recently signed on Tuttle Publishing and Barbour Books. I will post more information on these great companies, but let me publicly say welcome to the Quality Solutions family!

Monday, February 25, 2008

I'm In Love

It has been noted in the past that I am somewhat of a geek when it comes to technology. Up until now, there was a lone champion for my technological affections - my Raymarine E series multi-function radar/chart plotter. This unit is the combination of several key pieces of navigation equipment - GPS, Chartplotter, Radar, electronic gyro compass, weather station, engine room video, DSC emergency beacon, and the list goes on. All of this is fine and good, but what really blows me away is the easy to use interface, and most importantly the ability to layer this information. I can be looking at the chartplotter - basically similar to a paper chart, and overlay aerial photographs, radar image, Doppler weather radar from a shore based system, or show a video image of the engine room (to confirm that we are indeed still afloat). The radar has a function to track targets on the scope and determine relative bearing, relative speed and collision avoidance. Think Top Gun with the radar image of all those fighters being tracked, only it is on my family cruising boat. Pretty darn handy when cruising through Block Island Sound in a dense July fog (Honey, can you see the bow of the boat?) Very, VERY cool technology. Raymarine E Series website. In fact, I love this technology so much I bought 2 of them - you have to have redundancy, right?

But now, I must confess to a new love. Not one that replaces my Raymarine, but joins it at the top of the list - my wonderful new iPhone. This little compact wonder has more functions than can be listed, but the primary functions for me are cell phone, Safari web browser, Imap email... and the ability to read PDF files (Ebooks!!). The fact that it is also a full blown iPod for audio, video and the like are an added bonus.

What really shocks me is the user interface. Having used several mobile phones such as the Motorola Razr, several Nokias before that, along with Windows pc's, tablet PC's, and Mac desktops, I can't believe how beautiful and functional the iPhone is. I am sure everyone has seen the commercials, but it is hard to appreciate it until it is in your hand and anticipating what you are trying to do. The scrolling of pages - contacts, emails, web pages- is very dynamic and tactile. The screen is crisp and easy to read, and pinching to zoom in or out is so natural on the screen that you don't have to think about it. I never believed that a 3 1/2 inch screen would be all that functional to browse websites but I was wrong - it's wonderful. And I don't mean it can browse mobile phone websites, but the usual websites I am used to on my pc (sans Flash player). The iMap email allows me to clear my inbox, so it is not full when I return home. I have tied this into Google Apps, which I will blog about another day. And get this - the AT&T data subsription costs $20 per month for unlimited data/internet.

The PDF reader built into Safari on the iPhone works beautifully, so my next to do will be dig into some ebooks. There are already some iPhone hacks out there to read text/html ebooks, so it will be interesting to see how this accelerates, especially as iTunes comes online with true ebooks. Tim O'Reilly wrote a blog post on iPhone as an non-dedicated ebook reader: O'Reilly on iPhone as a reader.

There is some trepidation in the industry that Apple may not sell 10 MILLION of these in 2008 as hoped, but my SINGLE iPhone has found a welcome home.

But here is the dilemma: since my iPhone can access Maps, live weather radar, aerial photographs and weather forecasts through the Safari web browser- and I can call the Coast Guard for help, will my Raymarine may get jealous?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Transformations-Time to Get Uncomfortable

A couple of years ago, my wife Grace and I were at a party of some sort, without the girls, and spent much of the time just talking alone. We had been married about a dozen years and were contemplating what it meant to raise our kids in a completely safe, secure, lily white and possibly sterile suburban environment. Out of that conversation came the conviction that we were too comfortable and that our kids may become 2 dimensional. It was time to get uncomfortable - to challenge ourselves while enhancing our family values. This was the genesis of our 2006 sabbatical where we took the kids out of school, closed up our home, and cruised on our boat for the winter. The Bahamas was like a natural playground and a perfect canvas to paint a different life - even if just for the winter. Our discomfort for being out of our ordinary routines and environment will continue to pay dividends for the rest of our lives.

Quality Solutions is celebrating its 20th birthday and like any pivotal moment, it makes good sense to stop the hamster wheel for a moment and reflect on who we are, what we do and how we conduct ourselves. That is also the premise of this blog - climbing up the mast, getting away from the clutter and noise of the deck, and gaining new perspective.

20 years ago, when Fran Toolan founded Quality Solutions, the underlying principal was to deliver real, high value solutions as a consulting company and getting away from the in-vogue large consulting company, large budget, large team, low value projects that prevailed (and still survive). It was founded on the principal of innovation and fresh perspective. When our first application was written and delivered - the Purchase Order Management System for Simon & Schuster - I was fresh out of college at St. Mikes in Vermont. As it were, I had also worked for IBM in Burlington in the late 80's as an on-campus rep selling IBM PC's with windows Version 1. After a short stint at Andersen Consulting in Hartford programming main frame systems for insurance companies, I visited this startup company based in North Reading, MA that my sister Susan had joined. I was introduced to a small group of dedicated people excited about technology and innovative solutions. At the time, it was cutting edge to be writing windows based business applications against a relational SQL database. I had to be a part of Quality Solutions.

Our favorite anecdote from the early days was that we had to order a mouse separately - it didn't come with the computer. During the early days of training, we sometimes had to coach people to roll the mouse on the desk, not wave it in the air.

So where do we go from here? Fortunatley, we are a small company with a strong publisher community, highly stable application base and deeply experienced team. We have recognized that it is natural, but not desirable, for a well established company to become comfortable and not reach out, but we won't let that happen. We are dedicated to examining everything we do and to bring innovation back to the forefront. Nothing will remain unquestioned - except our absolute dedication to our clients,book publishing and our team.

Starting with some fundamentals - simply how we operate and communicate - I have the enviable position to be experimenting with new technology - from Google Apps to iPhone (wahoo!). I'll put up some posts on these things as I dig deeper, but the important thing is that this is just the beginning.

Last summer we launched - in earnest - our Sotware-As-A-Service hosted applications model and the response has been overwhelming. Signing onto a commercial datacenter and going to a monthly subscription pricing model has been very popular and we getting great traction. This shows that innovation into an existing stable based of solutions and clients can rapidly yield benefits for everyone.

On the development side, we have built a robust ecommerce solution for publishers and developed all new functionality in .Net for our Title Management Web app.

Our April User Conference is one of those things that has been a long time coming - and begs the question - why not earlier. Initially we were hoping to get 50 users, now we are scrambling to work out logisitics for 125-150.

The interesting parallel here is that publishers and book publishing in general is at the same crossroads as Quality Solutions - well established, but in need of a fresh perspective and innovative energy. I think all book publishers should be examining their current state of mind and decide if it is time for change.

I for one am excited to be a part of a 20 year old company with 'startup' energy.

I would love to hear from others about this philosophical topic and learn if you have found yourself at a similar crossroads.

The question to ask yourself is this: are you too comfortable?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

2000 Pages Later

There is a lot of healthy discussion in the blogosphere about the current trends in publishing and I enjoy reading and engaging in that discussion. But this post is about something at the heart of publishing: the simple fact that I love to read books.

I don't know when Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett was first published, but I do remember reading it in Hardcover - all 1000 pages of it. It seems to be one of the few benefits of gradual memory loss, but it was a great thrill to be able to pick this epic book off my Dad's book shelf to re-read it in January - and not really remember what happens next. I remembered the general tones of the book and some color of the central characters of the book, but that was it. It was like being re-introduced to a great friend from grade school 30 years later and slowly piecing the memory together of the adventures shared.

Of course, I felt that I ought to read Pillars of the Earth again before digging into the new and slightly heftier World Without End - a sequel which takes place a couple of centuries later, but heavily reliant upon the basis and characters from Pillars of the Earth.

Both books take place during the middle ages, 1100 and 1300, and are centered around kings, earls, bishops, priors, masons, sheriffs and outlaws. The first book is based around the multi-decade building of a cathedral, while the second book is based around the complex cultural system and the city of Kingsbridge that grew up around the cathedral.

There are several aspects of these books that I find utterly compelling. The characters that Ken Follett creates are powerfully rendered. In my opinion, the main characters in Pillars were more starkly cast - it was easy to tell that Prior Philip was a good guy while Sir William Hamleigh was just plain evil. Tom Builder was a hard working craftsman, his stepson Jack a genius. The threads of the characters were more consistently portrayed. In World Without End, however, it gets more slightly muddled. This book contains multiple branches of decendants from characters in the first book - with many shades of gray used to portray the main players. As in real life, the family tree spreads and the picture gets more confused. The story line is less defined in World, but remains as riviting as the first book.

The thing that srikes me most about these books is the unvarnished cruelty and injustice. Especially throughout World Without End I felt as if I kept taking punches directly out of the book for the 'good guys'. They get knocked down, stand back up and attempt to move forward. Civilization in the middle ages was really, well, medieval I guess. It makes me recognize that the 'injustices' we face in modern times pail in comparison to the fiction of the middle ages. Carpricous judgement abounds.

I must admit to feeling a bit of an epic 'literary hangover' from reading these books back to back. I don't tread lightly in books, but tend to go all in. However, with every hangover comes that slight internal glow knowing that, to be this hungover, it must have been one heck of a party.

Or so I am told.

Friday, January 25, 2008

American Printing House for the Blind - 150 years old and still young

January 23, 1858, the American Printing House for the Blind - known as APH - was founded in the basement of the Kentucky School for the Blind. Celebrating their 150th birthday this week (thats one-five-oh, not a typo) APH has shown time and again that it will continue to innovate, and do what ever it takes, to serve blind and vision-impaired citizens. In 1879, the federal government designated APH as the official source of textbooks and aids for blind and visually impaired students across America. They continue to hold this designation today.

Upon visiting APH's campus in Louisville, KY, you are immediately struck by the history and weight of this institution. The clamshell Braille presses in the printing shop still clank and pound away, creating books from all manner of publishers and agencies. In the lobby, there are wonderful examples of books published in Braille - including a stunning Braille version of 'Where the Wild Things Are' with both the text and descriptions of the pictures translated into Braille on the facing pages. On the wall is a letter from First Lady Laura Bush to APH president Dr. Tuck Tinsley, thanking their organization for their contributions to educations.

Anybody who knows Fran Toolan and I know that we have an altruistic love of book publishing. It is therefore a great honor that, on the very day of their 150th anniversary, APH officially signed an agreement with Quality Solutions, and have adopted our Title Management software and integrated Web Architecture, as their foundation for the new generation of their popular Louis website . This is more than just a book website as it is designated as the central repository for all accessible publications published by hundreds of agencies around the country and is a critical resource for not only blind Americans and educators, but also for the agencies to ensure they do not translate books into Braille that another agency may already be working on or already published. It is especially an honor to play a role of employing technology to foster education and inclusion for blind Americans. Of course, it is the energy and creativity of the people of APH that make the difference. We are looking forward to working with Julia Myers, Director, Resource Services & NIMAC, and her team on this project.

There are so many exciting aspects of this project and APH to talk about - including their digital repository for accessible education and reading material known as NIMAC, but that will need to wait.

For more interesting reading about this great organization, you can check out these links:
Courier-Journal article

Senate recognizes APH's 150th birthday

And a new vocabulary word for the day:
sesquicentennial - celebrating 150 years.

Congratulations APH and welcome to the Quality Solutions family.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Keep the Creativity in Publishing

Seems like a funny thing for a technology guy to be saying, but it is one of the most profound enlightenments I have come to over the past couple of years. For many years, us technology wonks at Quality Solutions have been talking about high quality title information, efficient work flows, encouraging publishers to take control of their own destiny - and of course we have solutions to back up these mantras. But last year, while performing a study for a well known trade publisher, it became apparent to me how repressed the creativity had become amongst the staff - and we have statistics to back it up. Upon reflection, I had seen the symptoms time and again at other publishers. After all, publishing is a creative business, yet publishing staff members - from editorial to production to marketing and sales were wasting time and, more importantly creative energy, chasing after accurate title information.

Creativity and technology are not adversarial. In fact, in book publishing as in other medias, they are a critical part of what we do. How many avid Mac users are out there designing books, jackets, catalogs, and other media using extraordinary technology? In the case of digital content, ebooks and online resources, technology will, hopefully, unleash an era of unbounded creativity as clever people figure out how to put the tools together to do extraordinary things - like producing a book that is immediately available in those formats in a device-consistent way.

In the case of our solutions, such as Title Management and our Eloquence Onix services, I strongly believe that it is the purpose of this technology to assist the creativity, not hinder it - and the best way to do that is to allow publishers to record title information, make decisions, and disseminate that information...then the technology should get out of the way. There is no better way give each staff member the chance to be creative.

We often have a tricky time demonstrating an ROI for our solutions - you can't come out and say 'your sales will increase 20% as a result of Title Management and Eloquence' even if you strongly believe it. But publishers are an intuitive bunch and they can extrapolate when it is made clear that the right technology will allow editors to acquire high quality books, unleash photo researchers to dig deeper and find the absolute best photo, free up publicists to book the best possible author events and enable sales reps to stop creating spreadsheets and get out to shake some hands.

Monday, January 21, 2008

XO and Alabama - This makes it real for me

If you have been following Fran Toolan's blog Issues In Publishing, as I have, then you are certainly in tune with the real-life advances in ebook readership underway with the Amazon Kindle and very real potential with educational laptops like the XO from One-Laptop-Per-Child foundation. As a veteran of Book Expo, and technology junkie to boot, I have always enjoyed wandering the aisles and checking out the latest, flashy displays of ebook readers. I was an ebook reader on my Palm Pilot several years back, and enjoyed the portability, although I missed the turn-the-page experience. Yet, I am surprised that ebooks haven't gotten any real traction. Perhaps it was the lack of content, cumbersome delivery or devices that didn't satisfy.

It came to me the other day, however, that the opportunity may actually be real this time. Sometimes in life, there are simple coincidences which turn an opinion. For me, it was while researching a new client of ours - Triumph Learning which publishes the Coach test prep series for each state. In preparation for the project kickoff, I was reviewing the states programs that Coach publishes into and at the top of the list was the great state of Alabama. Having learned recently that Alabama had purchased 15,000 XO laptops, it seemed like a powerful incentive to implement a true 'digital strategy' to take advantage of just such an opportunity. Publishing the content of their test prep series as ebooks, or companion programs to supplement them, could bring real benefits to the Alabama adoption of XO's, and bolster a commercially viable ebook business, while supporting education across the US. Here is an informative link on Alabama's XO purcase.

Of course, in order to take advantage of these opportunities, publishers will need to be highly efficient in their business practices, and many of the larger publishers are doing just that - working feverishly to get their houses in order and 'digital strategy' defined. As an architect and integrator of our Title Management Software I have plenty of ideas on how to best accomplish this, but those ideas will have to wait for another post.

Friday, January 18, 2008

What's in a name?

Some may have thought I fell off the blogesphere, but I prefer to think that I was simply accumulating content. It has been a couple of years since my family and I took a sabbatical and went cruising in the Bahamas. Before leaving, we started writing a blog of our adventures - assuming that it would be a great way to keep a journal (especially a journal that wouldn't get wet when we struck a reef). We assumed that no one else would care. Well, we were wrong. We were shocked when we returned and family, friends, and friends of friends told us they had followed our adventures through the blog Tide Pool Adventures. Wow, I hope I didn't misspel too many words...

My boss, good friend and mentor Fran Toolan, founder of Quality Solutions has been writing an enlightening blog on a topic that we are both passionate about - book publishing. His blog Issues In Publishing has inspired me to get back into my own blog and start posting again. My intention is to focus on publishing, software and best practices, but I guarantee that I will stray.

So what's in a name? Up the Mast, metaphorically speaking, works for me in many ways. First, as a teenager, I spent many hours working at the top of masts at Cook's boat yard in Islip, NY. It didn't hurt that I was the shortest and lightest worker around. Often you would hear "That anemometer is broken - send Dougie up the mast". Secondly, I recently built a loft in my house (actually it is still a work in progress). This new Loft - affectionately known as the Blue Point Technology Center - was built so that my oldest of three girls could move out of the "dorm" and into her own bedroom. Of course, my wife Grace likes to present challenges to me, and said that I could build the loft, but she didn't want any posts to hold it up. No problem. A call to a rigger in Fairhaven, Massachussets and I had custom made sailboat shrouds to hang the loft from the rafters. I am literally perched up in the peak of my house, surrounded by sailboat rigging, with a window overlooking a salt marsh and the Great South Bay. I am most definately feeling like I am up the mast.

Finally, and most importantly, I am hopeful that, every once in while, I will be able to get away from the clutter and busyness of the deck, climb the metaphorical mast, and gain some perspective on the things I am most passionate about - book publishing, working at Quality Solutions, life with my girls - and write a post that makes someone stop and think - even if that someone is myself.