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Blio, We Hardly Knew Ye….

Launched yesterday, after nine months of hype, the Blio reader fell so short of so many expectations (expectations that have become basic market requirements for digital reading), it was deemed by many as a failure. What struck me is that many of the failures are fundamentally at odds with the one thing that Kurzweil was touting above all else: accessibility. But accessibility is not just about text-to-speech. Accessibility comes on many levels. And Blio didn’t hit ANY of those levels.

1. The first release is Windows-only. Yes, most digital reading is still done on actual laptops and desktops. And yes, most of those machines are not Macs. But given that Adobe (with all its Apple woes) can develop a platform-independent e-reader in Adobe Digital Editions, you’d think someone over at KNFB would have considered this a gating issue. Why trim down your potential customer base by limiting what platforms your software can run on? Particularly when, in this day and age, you have so many options? We hear that iOS and Android versions will be released “soon”. As soon as the Windows one was? Why all the different OS-dependent rollouts?

2. The Windows text-to-speech functionality is notoriously bad. Why dedicate your first release to a platform that has KNOWN ISSUES with TTS, while you are advertising the accessibility options? It makes no sense. According to PW, “[Blio executive Peter Chapman] acknowledged that most people’s Text To Speech (TTS) would likely have problems because, “the TTS software on most Windows machines isn’t very good.” KNFB, Chapman said, is in the process of making new and affordable TTS software available through the Blio bookstore. Chapman said consumers dissatisfied with their TTS can purchase better  (but significantly more expensive) software immediately online that will improve its quality. However, he said they are working with TTS software vendors to offer a better and much cheaper TTS software that will allow users to choose different voice qualities and he said it will be available very soon.” This is just a botch. A botch at the heart of Blio’s value proposition.

3. A small offering. Blio launched with only 11,000 titles. This is mind-boggling. There are HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of books available digitally. Publishers are already sending files to the new Big Six – Amazon, B&N, Sony, Google, Kobo and Apple. Adding another vendor to the file distribution is not hard. Why did KNFB not solicit more content? Do they expect people will adopt Blio if there are no books to be read on it? Yes, they’re adding 7-800 titles per day, but given all the books that are already available from other vendors, you still have to actually COMPETE.

There are many, many other issues being reported, but these four really spoke to me. Kurzweil’s partnership with NFB suggested a product that would have accessibility as a priority. And this launch was truly disappointing.

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Hot as a…Firebrand?

Well, we’re back after something of a summer hiatus, and of course there’s news to report. Weirdly, I’m reporting on myself. (It just feels…odd….)

After a whirlwind courtship that lasted all of about 5 days, Firebrand liked it (er, me) and put a ring on it. Me. Whatever. Anyway, as of today I am joining Fran Toolan and his superhot Firebranders as Content Chief, heading up their Content Services.

Yet another job I have no hope of explaining to my mother.

So what does this mean? It means I’m not consulting anymore but will happily refer people to the thoughtful and smart consultants I’ve been working with up till now. Otherwise, everything’s pretty much the same. I’ll still be involved in BISG. I’ll still be speaking and moderating and all the other things I do at conferences. I’ll still be doing #ISBNhour on Twitter.

And I’ll still be doing this newsletter. I’m keeping the LJNDawson.com website, because people have told me that they find it helpful – there’s a lot of good information on it.


There are the usual reasons, of course. I love consulting – the independence is incredible. Building a practice is a wonderful creative experience. And I love my clients. But, of course, if you are independent you are at the mercy of market forces. Ahem.

So there’s that.

But I’ve been offered jobs before. For one reason or another, they weren’t a good fit for either me or the company in question, and I carried on with consulting. So what was it about THIS job that got my commitment?

I’ve known Fran Toolan for about 12 years. He is one of the smartest, most agile, and most incisive people in the book industry. He’s seen a lot – and he focuses heavily on the things that, in my own experience, are absolutely critical to publishers now: workflow, infrastructure. Metadata.

I’ve agreed with Fran for a long time about a lot of things, in other words. My own consulting practice has been directed at just those elements, as everybody knows. I live and breathe infrastructure; I pontificate about metadata at the drop of a hat; and, thanks to the StartwithXML project, agile workflow has been a cornerstone of my work since 2008.

So when Fran approached me, I naturally flipped out. He doesn’t know this yet, but I was DANCING around my apartment when I got off the phone with him. Because it was such an obviously good thing, a RIGHT thing.

I’m still dancing. You can see me up at the Firebrand Community Conference next week, bouncing a little in my blue shirt. (Yeah, Fran, about that shirt…)

Here’s the official press release. And yeah, I wrote my own comment at the end. Workflow. Infrastructure. Metadata. Deliciousness.


For Immediate Release: September 15, 2010

Laura Dawson Joins Firebrand as New Head of Content Services Initiative

September 15, 2010 — Newburyport, MA — Firebrand Technologies today announced that Laura Dawson has joined the company as Content Chief and head of Firebrand’s Content Services group. Laura Dawson is a 24-year veteran of the book industry who specializes in technology issues. As an independent consultant, Laura has worked with an impressive list of publishers and service providers, including McGraw-Hill, Cengage, Carson-Dellosa, Scholastic, Chuckwalla, Berrett-Koehler, Loyola University Press, Book Industry Study Group, Ingram Library Services, Audible, Harvard University Press, Yale University Press, and Dial-a-Book. Previously, she worked at Doubleday, Muze, Barnes & Noble.com and SirsiDynix. She is a leading voice on technology, standards and metadata issues and blogs frequently at LJNDawson Blog. She also serves as co-chair of the Book Industry Study Group’s Identification and Rights Committees.

Laura Dawson replaces Daniel Lee, who is leaving Firebrand to pursue a new direction as Managing Editor at the Bard Graduate Center in NYC.

“Laura Dawson is a natural addition to our team. Her unique voice, proven expertise and industry background will all be tremendous assets as Content Services is put into action. She understands perfectly our commitment to a unified approach to managing content and metadata, internally and throughout the publishing supply chain,” said Fran Toolan, Chief Igniter of Firebrand Technologies.

Firebrand announced the Content Services initiative in May 2010 as an integrated part of their Title Management Enterprise and Eloquence metadata distribution services. Content Services will be a major focus of Firebrand’s Community Conference next Tuesday and Wednesday September 21 and 22nd in Newburyport, MA—where Laura Dawson will make her debut as Content Chief.

“I’m so excited about joining the Firebrand team – Fran’s emphasis on infrastructure and workflow have been key elements in my own consulting to publishers over the years. I’m anxious to hit the ground running and get good work done for publishers and for the industry as a whole,” commented Laura.

About Firebrand Firebrand Technologies (www.firebrandtech.com) provides steadfast leadership and seamless information flow throughout the publishing process. Our newest addition, Content Services, helps publishers manage, store, convert and distribution final book content. Firebrand’s Title Management Solutions track titles from pre-acquisition through post-production; our Eloquence Metadata Solutions are the fastest, most accurate and cost-effective way to implement ONIX. NetGalley delivers digital galleys to professional readers; our Ecommerce Solutions help deliver direct-to-consumer sales and landing pages.

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