Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Klick, Klick Go The Kindles

If you will indulge me for a moment, I would like to gush a bit about reading books the new-fashioned way - with an e-reader.

Since I am an atmospheric guy, let me set the stage for you. It is late in the evening, all the girls are finally asleep (why is it the energetic kindergartner always stays up the latest?). We live on a dead-end street down near the bay, so it is quiet - really quiet. No traffic noise. No background noise, unless the wind is up (but for sake of atmospherics lets assume the sea breeze has died down and a light northerly has taken its place).

But there is one curious sound that can be heard - every handful of seconds there is a metronome like 'Click'. nothing else. This, my friends, is the new sound of reading. I am of course talking about reading on an Amazon Kindle. Each subtle Click represents another 'page' turned. I promise, this will not be the typical critique about e-readers where I expertly convey that one button is too big, another is too small, batter life is 9.65 hours on average. Just a brief essay of our enjoyment reading on a Kindle.

As to some background, both Grace and I have Kindles. This really was a survival mechanism for me, because the moment I received mine, Grace stole it (like any good book). I got mine as a birthday present (from Grace ironically), then wasn't able to read on it. So I bought one for Grace for St. Patrick's Day, or some such lame excuse to buy a gift.

Now, we have had them for several months and are completely addicted. There are two main reasons why we love them.

First, to the delight of publishers if they are paying attention, it is easy to search and buy books instantly through the Kindle whispernet (sprint) cell phone network. We have bought A LOT of books - many more than if we had to buy printed books and then find space on the shelf. Grace and I have our Kindles linked to one Amazon account, so we can share the books on our devices. Publishers bemoan the 9.99 price point on new releases, but ultimately we have spent far more money, due to the convenience of reading on the Kindle.

Second, they are incredibly portable and can be read in ways that you can't read a conventional hardcover book - like lying down and holding it over your head, or on the bow of the boat on a windy day (yes, this is important to me). Direct sunlight by a pool? Even better. Poor Grace, after reading a Kindle for a month, read a 'conventional' hardcover book and struggled mightily to keep the cumbersome book from hitting her in the head, or flopping over onto the floor as she turned the page.

And a bonus, if I don't have my Kindle handy, I can always read my book on the Iphone using using the Kindle E-reader. It even magically knows where I left off on my kindle and brings me right to that page.

There are some arguments against ebooks and e-readers. One is that they are not back-lit and require a light, but last I checked, printed books required light as well. The trade off for not having it back-lit is the comfort with which you can read the "E-Ink" screen without eye strain. The second advantage is that the battery is barely required when reading, provided you turn off the wireless. It can last for days.

Another typical argument is that a printed book is both the delivery mechanism and the content rolled into one package. With an e-reader, you need to buy the device (an investment), then buy the content. I don't buy that one either. I am pretty sure we are comfortable with that - I bought a DVD player, then bought the content to shove into it. I bought a CD player (eons ago), then an Ipod, then bought the content for those players. Heck I even bought a refrigerator, and then bought the content for it! (Is that a stretch?)

I would also point out that I have never really read the New York Times or any other printed newspaper - I have always hated the waste of paper as they piled up in a corner every day. Now, I pay $15 a month for a NY Times subscription and it automatically downloads to my Kindle each morning. I read it religiously - like 3 times a week or something.

Bottom line? We love the Kindle, and hope Sony Reader and Plastic Logics (Barnes & Noble) provide the same simple wireless shopping mechanism. And hopefully, in the near future they will all play nice-nice and we will be able to buy the content where we want and move the content we purchase seamlessly from device to device. Maybe even share with a friend or two as B&N has hinted.

So if you are wondering what new-fashioned reading sounds like, it is Klick Klick. Get used to it.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Where the Heck Did June Go?

Time to start making excuses - lots of them for not blogging, or even twittering much, in the past month. It is hard to believe that it is July and we are into full summer swing, but indeed it is.

The spring is normally a very hectic time at Firebrand, given the intensity of preparing and executing our presence at BookExpo and other conferences and the follow up from each.

This spring, however, was nearly unprecedented. Here is what I was up to in the last month alone:

The biggie: Ingram Publisher Services is now live on our Title Management Enterprise software and Eloquence Metadata Solutions. This project was run beautifully by our own Ben Todd with the Ingram team including Shelia Leslie, John Reale, Kent Craig, Terry Morrison and crew. This project, more than most, had many simultaneous initiatives which needed to come together at once including a large Onix-based data conversion, title info imports from spreadsheets, multiple interfaces to and from Title Management, Indesign integration for sales catalogs, not to mention training of the outstanding account reps at Ingram, along with the 60+ publishers that they service. Heck, even I was back to writing SQL stored procedures, building Indesign templates and helping with data cleanup to help make the project successful. We had Alan Katzen in Newburyport building Single-Sign On capabilities for Active Directory, Bill Bennett configuring Onix, Jonathan Hess building procedures to link to Ingrams Content Management System and Rob Stevens handling imports. Virtually everyone at Firebrand was involved running our latest Title Management application - Version 7 - through the gauntlet of testing lead by Susan Burke and Barbara Blanchette. The culmination of this project took place in one frenetic week (or two) in June, with the added obstacle of some unexpected hardware failure in the test environment. To make things really interesting, we needed to push up the scheduled date, by three weeks, for the Childrens sales catalog, which needed to be generated from Title Management within days of go-live. Not to say that this project is done, as there is still plenty to do as we shift gears to support the IPS business intelligence initiatives.

At AAUP, Fran Toolan and I met with Susan McIntosh and Phillip Cercone from McGill University Press and are pleased to welcome them aboard as Eloquence Customers.

Long time Eloquence customer, Gospel Light, is migrating to our complete Title Management Enterprise software, integrating with their newly selected Microsoft Great Plains ERP and soon-to-be-developed Ektron based website CMS. Gospel Light is a great team to work with, based in Ventura, CA and we are looking forward to expanding our relationship.

NetGalley has been moving right along, boasting nearly 300 active titles available for advanced reading and more than 40 publishers. Momentum, momentum, momentum is the key, and working with the bloggers at NetGalley has been a real treat. What a great vibe at BEA!

Southern Illinois Press is now live at I didn't have anything to do with this, but I am listing it anyway. Mainly because I wasted time in June (that I didn't have) browsing through their site. This site is pretty cool because it has been integrated with University of Chicago's Distribution Center shopping cart, which usually turns out to look like a bolt-on, but in this case has been nicely integrated with a common navigation and graphics.

Discovery House Publishers is now live with Title Management Enterpise, although I didn't have much to do with that go-live as well, as the ever-dependable ninja Paul Milana guided them through data conversion, configuration, training and report development. Maybe I coached a little bit, but not much.

Our good friends Keith and Beatrice Ashfield at Caslon Marketing Services have adopted our Ecommerce Solutions for the Kogan Page USA website, connected to their existing installtion of Title Management Enterprise. Brock Lyman will be heading up that initiative, with Microarts providng the graphic design, and we look forward to announcing the launch of their site in a few months.

Texas A&M University Press is ever-so-close to pulling the trigger on their new website (hopefully by the time you read this, it will be live). During this project, we finally began to recognize and define 'the abyss' between development and go-live. Having been through it many times before, you would think we would expect it, but optimistic to a fault, it surprised us again. Once the site is 'finished', there is always the little stuff and with this site, we recognized that the site is providing visibility to many other issues, like a a tricky data conversion in Title Management, or very fine modifications to behavior that you can't plan until you can get your hands on all the functions of the site. In any event, the site is really well executed, in my huble opinion, and Texas A&M now has a really solid foundation for the future. The graphic design of the site was prepared by our friends at Microarts. Take a look at Now we move on to integrating all of the core functions in Title Management Enterprise in College Station. Go Aggies!

University of Alabama Press is well under way on their new Title Management Enterprise installation, starting with their new website. Jen Hurd and Tolga Tuncer are heading up that effort. Between the Aggies, Cornhuskers and Crimson Tide, our publishing clientele are really shaping up for a real grudge match.

During all of this, we have run Title Management Version 7 through extensive testing (everyone in the company focused on this) and we are now releasing it to existing customers. Although we have been releasing to new customers since October, we needed to build in support for backwards-compatibility and a migration strategy for existing customers - a tricky proposition. But it is done and in the box. Version 7.1 is underway and is anticipated as a "quick release" bringing on some key new functions. It will be Susan Burke's job to fend off all "non-essential requests" to keep on track for end of summer. Good luck with that.

Of course, much of my effort has been working on new prospects, and our pace continues unabated. We have several new publishers in the works, with a couple of major ones thrown in to keep it interesting. When the ink dries, you will hear about them as well. Suffice it to say that we continue to build our community and strengthen our future, provided we never, ever stop moving forward (that is Fran's job as Chief Ingniter)

Oh yeah, and we are planning our Community Conference October 6 and 7. A full time job in and of itself.

If you would like to read our community news, visit our website at:

So that is it. My excuses for not blogging once in June, or even twittering much. I hope you are buying it.