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.