Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Is BEA Reinventing Itself?

Lance Fensterman's blog post this morning came to my attention as I was writing this. It seems interesting to me that the people running the show are concluding that the show needs to change even as it is changing right before our eyes.

The industry is in transition - duh. The economy is down - duh. The internet is changing everything - duh, duh, duh.

BEA is a giant Sales Conference, why not just acknowledge it and take advantage of the venue to use it that way?

The past two months have been among the most interesting and exhilarating in my professional career. Via twitter, we have tapped into the collective energies of a whole new community of book enthusiasts who have never had a formal role in the industry before. Call them "lit-bloggers", call them "Social Media hounds", call them "twitterers", call them whatever you want, but they are a true force that just might #savepublishing! They have energy and enthusiasm about books and publishing at a time when all of the pundits are projecting doom and gloom.

For us, the signals of this new energy started with the planning of our Follow the Reader Blog at We had the fortunate opportunity to hire Kat Meyer (@katmeyer) and Charlotte Abbott (@charabbott) - a self described odd couple - to be our writers. Kat and Charlotte independently are conduits to both new-school and old-school publishing ideas. And, together on Twitter, have created a weekly conversation, called #followreader, which discusses issues related to the new publishing paradigms - that are literally being created before our eyes.

Independent of Follow the Reader, Kat took on the responsibility to organize a party for all these folks, called the BEATweetup, which has absolutely taken on a life of its own. We jumped on the opportunity immediately to help sponsor this after working with Kat on a similar adventure at the Tools of Change conference last February. The RSVPs for this party are now well over 300, and it seems like its a mini-BEA all by itself. In all deference to my friends at PGW, I think there is a new sheriff in town when it comes to BEA parties!

The latest signal came when we decided to offer some of our booth space over to "lit-bloggers" as a way to have them meet some publishers and some of their fans. What started out as a parody of the "author signings" so prevalent at every BEA, our "blogger signing" idea has threatened to overwhelm Firebrand's entire presence at the show. Three weeks ago, I leaned over to a colleague and said that I thought we would be doing well if 10 bloggers decided to take us up on our offer. Now we have 44 and we have a waiting list.

I would contend that these signals indicate that the show has already started to reinvent itself - without any help from the organizers. It is no longer (and hasn't been for several years) a show about selling books, as much as it has turned into a giant sales conference.

What is changing the most in our industry is the way that consumers are influenced to buy books (in whatever format). They are influenced by personal recommendations from people they trust. (Charlotte did a great job of describing this changing landscape in her post the other day). Publishers still need sales people to go into all of the traditional channels, but they ALSO need to coopt the 'new influencers'.

The BEA is the perfect mechanism to do this. Publishers should take note of all that will be going on next week and meet as many of these influencers as possible. Throughout the course of the year, they should cultivate these relationships, so that next year, BEA will have a strong and positive direction.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Blogger Signing

(An update to this post 5/20/09: For a complete listing, please see the Follow the Reader Blog entry or simply click here. There are now 44 bloggers registered!)

As of Friday afternoon, we have 26 Bloggers signed up for our signings at booth 4077, including:



Book Reviews by Jess
Beth Fish Reads
Booking Mama
Janicu's book blog
Jenn's Bookshelf
Literary License
Reading the Past
Reviewer X
Book Club Girl
Books on the Nightstand
Books on the Nightstand
Follow the Reader
Follow the Reader
Café Literati
Literary Kicks
Maw Books
The Olive Reader
She is Too Fond of Books
Smart Bitches Trashy Books
The Book Maven
Stephanie’s Written Word
Wands and Worlds

This is a great start. We'll be publishing the schedule next week. If you see any of your favorite bloggers NOT on this list, please have them get in touch with me at fran [at] firebrandtech [dot] com

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Blogger Signings at BEA

Because of our interest in the professional reading community, we decided to try something new and fun this year at BEA.

We are going to holding "Blogger Signings" at our booth (#4077). "Blogger Signings" is a bit tongue-in-cheek, as it is meant as a parody to the many "Author Signings" that are hosted either by BEA directly, or by individual publishers in their booths each year.

People that review books and blog about them are enjoying a significantly growing voice in influencing book buyers. And those that blog about the industry in general are having a strong influence on the rate of change our industry is undergoing. Many book bloggers enjoy a very strong following for their work, while others are not as well known.

Our hope is that we will get most of the bloggers who were already planning on attending BEA to sign up and be at our booth for an appointed time during the show. We will publicize the schedule of all who do sign up via Twitter and Blog posts, so that their 'fans' can come and get their 'autograph'. We'll even have a decidedly low-tech easel up at the booth identifying the times when bloggers will be present.

For bloggers interested in participating, please email me at fran [at] firebrandtech [dot] com. I'll send you some information about what is next. Several have already expressed interest, and now we're making it formal.

We will be giving away two (2) Sony Readers at the show. Every blogger that comes to the booth (to sign autographs) is eligible for a chance to win one of them. Every person who comes to the booth to visit a blogger is eligible to take a chance to win the second one.

As added encouragement, our bloggers on the Follow the Reader blog, Kat Meyer (@katmeyer) and Charlotte Abbott (@charabbott) will be on hand. Kat and Charlotte will be interviewing bloggers during a few of the time slots, and those interviews will be posted on the Follow the Reader site, (like the post today with Colleen Lindsay, and the one the other day with Bethanne Patrick).

We're hoping that all publishers take note of this so that their publicity people can meet the people they work with virtually, in person.

We're looking forward to a great show. Between this, and the BEATweetup, the online community will certainly be getting together for some fun in person. Hope to see you all there.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Farewell to a Friend

As reported by Michael Cairns and others in the blogosphere, it is with great sadness that I report the passing of Stanley Greenfield. Michael's blog has a biography of Stanley, and information on where to send cards and condolences. The picture above was taken last April.

I reported on this blog last December that he was hospitalized. He claimed at the time that it was an incorrect mixing of medications that was causing his maladies.

Stanley was one of the classiest people I've ever met. Ever upbeat, ever persistent, and ever very gracious. I spoke to him last about three weeks ago, and he was asking for excerpts!

Our prayers and condolences go out to his wife, Betty, and to the rest of his family.

Please add your comments and remembrances here if you like.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Time to Review our Mission Statements?

The pace of change in the publishing industry is almost as eye-popping as the changes themselves. The playing field is being re-leveled much more quickly than most of us ever believed it would. Every single day - sometimes multiple times a day - we're seeing the evidence of these changes... A newspaper or magazine stops printing, a new electronic reading device is announced, traditional roles that have been in publishing for decades are obsoleted seemingly overnight.

Some of these changes are painful to watch, and some are very exciting to watch. But, one thing is definitely true, we're in the midst of major changes. I don't think anyone can really predict where this all going. We all try, but we're all really guessing. Our predictions are all based on trend lines that don't have enough data points.

A blog post by Seth Godin about how trade guilds seem to be trying to defend the status quo, sent my head spiraling in a number of directions. (Thanks again, Mike, for the recommendation) Why is Mr. Godin correct? It seems to me that it's all about the missions of those organizations. They are in place to protect the interests of their constituents.

In a time of great change, that mission seems almost laughable, because the interests of the constituents are changing daily. How can a trade guild possibly keep up?

It was all the rage in the 80's and 90's to come up with mission statements for organizations that would last for years. It was a great concept, but during a maelstrom of change, it fails. In order to survive organizations need to react to both the opportunities and threats that present themselves. And, in publishing, they are presenting themselves every day!

At Firebrand, we reviewed our mission last year when we re-branded the company. I think it's time we review it again, to insure that it is still relevant to our constituents during this turbulent time.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Contrarian view on DRM

At the recent Tools of Change conference, the idea that publishers should protect their electronic products through the use of DRM (digital rights management encryption) was universally poo-poo'd. Speaker after speaker got up and put down the practice. Blogger Cory Doctorow had the most popular quote of the conference, "If content is a river, DRM is a urinary tract infection, delivering the flow in a painful drip".

This morning on Twitter, one of my 'virtual mentors', Mike Hyatt, highlighted a blog post that asks why book publishers are following the same path with Amazon and DRM that music publishers did with Apple (iTunes) and DRM. It uses that logic to put down the use of DRM.

I hadn't really thought about that question that way, but it made me think about what Apple did to the music business - from a consumer perspective (NOT the music publisher perspective). iTunes brought order to a very chaotic music market. Before iTunes we were in the age of Napster, and other file sharing services. In that age, people were freely sharing music files and feeling no compunction about the ethics involved in it.

When I was in college it was a pretty common practice to bootleg music by recording off the original LP. We all had our bootleg cassettes, and while we did it, we all knew it was technically illegal. File sharing in a way was simply using technology to bring bootlegging to a whole new level - one which had a pretty dramatic effect on the producers of the music. A key difference was that no one really felt it was wrong.

During the 'Napster age', I personally chose not to participate, because I thought it was wrong. I (as a consumer) felt that I could afford to pay for the music, hence I should. When iTunes came along, I loved it. I could feel good about downloading music because I paid for it. To me, iTunes brought order to the chaos of the time. I didn't care about the music business, I was simply caring about my own participation in being fair to the copyright holder.

Now, it can also be argued that the 'Napster age' of DRM-less music did eventually benefit the copyright holders and the musicians in a far more lucrative way than through royalties. It can be argued that increased popularity of concerts (even at vastly raised ticket prices) was brought about partly because there was a whole new market of listeners who found the music because it was free.

The point I really want to make here is, publishers should understand that there is a segment of their market that like to know that they are doing the right thing by paying a fair price, getting content that is protected through a trusted vendor in a reliable way.

So, does the argument of DRM need to be answered in a Yes or No way? I think there is room for both. Maybe that should be the lesson from the music industry. Both ways have some validity, finding the balance is the challenge.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

NetGalley Update

Since Firebrand took over operations of NetGalley back in December, we've been very busy coming up the learning curve about what the product can do, and can't do, and how it should or could overlap with other Firebrand offerings.

What we have found is that the concept of NetGalley is very exciting and compelling. We have also found that product (like all products and services) is still missing some features that it needs to be the breakthrough product that we all know it can be.

This week we did an informal survey of registered readers about their recent experiences and some common themes were expressed.

In general:
  • All of the responders are very interested in the concept of NetGalley
  • Most found the system to be fairly easy to use, but...
  • We need Better Search tools – searching by genre, pub date
  • We need More Books!
  • We need to facilitate reading galleys Offline—ability to download to reading devices
  • We need to insure that Requests are followed up on by Publishers, and need for more acknowledgement that requests have been received

We are now on a monthly release schedule for NetGalley, and promise to continue to work on all of these issues in the coming months.

If you are interested in checking us out, please see the website and register!