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.