Many in the publishing community are familiar with the name Quality Solutions—it has long produced the Title Management software that many houses use to track and send out data about their books. But, like so much else in the book biz, the time for change has come, at least according to Fran Toolan, president of newly minted Firebrand Technologies.

In a dramatic opening speech at the Quality Solutions/Firebrand User Conference, held April 8 in Newburyport, Mass., Toolan announced he was “saying goodbye to Quality Solutions,” pretended he was quitting the company, then revealed its new name, dubbing the clients in the audience “firebrands.” Some 110 people attended the conference, most of them clients and vendors. Alongside in-depth seminars about Firebrand's new software, there were also talks by industry professionals. “Our business has been to provide software for publishers to manage the process of bringing out new books. We knew we had to do something radical to remain relevant,” said Toolan.

Firebrand also unveiled the newest version of its Title Management software, version 7.0, which will be available this summer. The old Quality Solutions software was basically a database system organized around ISBNs, accessible one title at a time. To reflect the changing publishing industry—in which a book is often connected to various other forms of media—version 7.0 links many kinds of projects together into one cohesive system. “Soon, we're going to have more multimedia kinds of experiences—mashups of text, videos, pictures and blogs—so what we need to be able to do for publishers is to let them link all that stuff together, so that they're the ones combining it, not the market,” Toolan said. Many of these features will be accessible through Web-based applications, some of which are already available in the current software. Other new features will enhance Firebrand's Eloquence service (which sends book data to vendors like Amazon and B&N).

“Companies need to get their digital-workflow acts together,” said Toolan. “I believe that the Kindle was a watershed event—the striking lack of titles available for it embarrassed publishers. At the conference, we wanted to give publishers actionable things to do tomorrow, as opposed to telling them about the future. The conference was designed to be a call to arms.”

Free Money
PW talks to Michael Jensen, 20-year Internet veteran and director of strategic Web communications for the National Academies Press

PW: When you spoke at the Firebrand User conference, you said publishers need to give away all or part of a book's content online to effectively sell it. Why?

MJ: The biggest danger is invisibility. Consumers have many more options for reading and spending time than they used to and, it seems, less time. The more we figure out a way to make sure we come up on the search engines the better it is. Also, if you want to get any kind of viral promotion—blogs, news items, commentary, any of the free material—you have to give some content away. Very few bloggers will link to something that's not free.

PW: Why would someone will buy something if they can get it for free?

MJ: It's just like browsing in a bookstore: you can go into a bookstore and read an entire book for free. People buy books because they want the book itself, the object; the status it confers; the ownership of that content. Most book buyers are people who still revere the book, so encouraging them to find it and then hit that “Order Now” button is part of our challenge.

PW: Are you worried that what happened with music buyers—who, even five years ago, wanted to own a physical CD, and are now used to buying or just stealing files—will happen to books?

MJ: People still buy CDs. I'm not saying this is going to be a gangbusters tactic, but it's a survival tactic, and also a way of broadening our audience. Long-form publications are still being sold to the 18 and above audience, which grew up with books and paper, and still believe that books are “the real thing.”

PW: You said the National Academies Press Web site gets 1.5 million monthly hits—how many purchases actually result?

MJ: About 100 per day—0.2%—purchased something. That accounts for one-third of our overall income.

PW: Do you think that the digital book will ultimately overtake the print book?

MJ: I think we have a long way to go before anything like the Kindle or the Sony Reader takes the place of the book in our day-to-day life, but that's for cultural, not technological reasons. Analyzing our reading culture seems more important in terms of building strategy than getting taken up with whatever the most recent technology is. —C.M.T.