Joshua Tallent is an acclaimed teacher and guide on the role of data in publishing, and a vocal advocate for high quality book metadata. He serves as the Director of Sales and Education at Firebrand Technologies, where his focus is on helping publishers of all sizes learn about, and find solutions to, their workflow and metadata problems. Joshua is also the host of the popular BookSmarts Podcast, which features practical discussions about publishing data and technologies and interviews with industry experts.
Welcome, Joshua! Great to have you with us today. I’d like to start by asking how you made your way into publishing and how that led you to Firebrand Technologies?
I got my start in publishing in 2002 as an ebook developer for a bible software company in Austin, Texas. I had never been in publishing before, and it was pretty much my first job straight out of college. In just a couple of years, I learned a lot about HTML, CSS and other technologies that are used in that type of work, and became the manager of the ebook development team. In 2007, when Kindle came out, I started to see the potential for ebooks in the broader market. I created my first Kindle book in about 30 minutes and thought this was something I should try my hand at. So, in 2008 I put together a little side-business and offered ebook development services to publishers and authors. As someone who already knew the foundational technologies, I was able to quickly grow that side business into something much bigger.
In 2009, I quit my full-time job and launched eBook Architects in my spare bedroom! Within 5 years, the company grew to 13 employees and we had our own little office in Austin. Then, In 2013, Firebrand Technologies agreed to acquire eBook Architects. Firebrand already had a solid reputation in the industry for handling data and helping publishers with workflow solutions, so bringing on an ebook development firm made a lot of sense as a complementary service.
Unfortunately, eBook Architects had to be shut down at the end of 2014 because the whole industry was changing very rapidly. It became increasingly difficult for an ebook development company in the US to make a profit because most ebook creation started being sent overseas, and some publishers were starting to find other internal workflows to create their ebooks. Thankfully, Firebrand kept me on, and I became the Director of Education, taking advantage of my understanding about metadata, publishing technologies, and Firebrand’s services and software. In 2018, I became the Director of Sales and Education, adding sales to my training and teaching responsibilities. My role at Firebrand is not only to help people understand what we do, but also to help the broader industry understand metadata, workflow solutions, and all the things you can do as a publisher to engage technology in a profitable way and take advantage of solutions that are available.
What solutions do Firebrand offer to help publishers?
Our main offering is a product called Title Management Enterprise, which is an application that helps mid-sized and larger publishers with workflow and data management, from acquisitions to editorial to production to marketing﹣the whole nine yards! It’s a powerful application that publishers can use to engage with their entire workflow from start to finish.
Eloquence on Demand is our metadata delivery service. It was the first metadata delivery service for publishers and has been called the “gold standard” in the industry. It offers a host of capabilities and options, and we have solutions for publishers of all sizes to send out data in ONIX and other formats to over 500 trading partners around the world.
Eloquence on Alert is our title performing monitoring service. We collect information about products in the marketplace and use this data to help publishers catch the opportunities and issues their products are experiencing on retail sites, including price changes, cover issues, third party seller activity, and more.
NetGalley is also part of Firebrand, can you tell me about that?
Yes! NetGalley is part of the Firebrand family and is the premier galley service for publishers, putting advanced reader copies in the hands of reviewers. It also encourages reviewers to write reviews for books they read and publish them on Amazon and other places. NetGalley offers a variety of marketing services for publishers to help them build buzz for their books and to help promote books before they are published.
What sort of publishers use your services and are they mainly US based?
Most of Firebrand’s publisher clients are in the US, but we do have a few clients in the UK and Australia as well. NetGalley is available in the US, Canada, the UK, France, Germany and Japan. We serve publishers of every kind﹣from University Presses to Trade Publishers, small to large, and everything in between.
Eloquence on Demand is used by so many publishers, even those that have other workflow solutions, because it offers the best metadata delivery service in the industry. NetGalley is used by almost every publisher, major and minor, in the industry. It really is the best place to go for electronic galleys.
If you could give publishers three key tips for their metadata management, what would you say?
What would you say your core values are at Firebrand?
One of the things that really drew me to Firebrand originally and what I have loved about working for the company is that Firebrand is focused on building relationships and helping publishers succeed, not just on being another vendor or service provider. At Firebrand, our goal is to build up the publishing industry, to help publishers understand their struggles better and to be a resource for publishers to learn what they can do to succeed.
Our Core Values are actually listed on our website (https://firebrandtech.com/community/core-values/). Essentially, we are built around integrity, service, and excellence, and we focus on helping publishers succeed, doing whatever we can do to help them build their market and promote their books.
You address helping publishers solve issues in your podcast. Could you tell me more about your podcast, BookSmarts?
Sure! I had been thinking for a while that I should have some sort of podcast. I’m told I have a good radio voice, but more than that I love helping people learn about new and practical things and talking to people who are smart and have interesting things to say. I’ve been blessed to find some awesome people to chat with on my show who know the book industry extremely well.
My goal with the BookSmarts podcast is to help publishers understand more about publishing, and to think more about little areas that they may not have thought about before. I want the listeners to be challenged and inspired in new ways. I want BookSmarts to be a podcast that people in our industry actively go and seek out, not just something that happens to be in their podcast list, and I want people to know they’ll get something practical by listening to it.
I’ve had a few listeners say I could make the episodes longer but I want them to generally be short enough to hit the key points of the topic at hand. I’m also planning to bring some of my guests back for another episode later to dig in deeper, as well. I want my listeners to hear something interesting and know that they can go and work on that, and then come back next time and learn something new!
Change is iterative. It can be hard to change big things in very large ways, so if we change things in iterative ways, and integrate that change into our workflows, then it can make a huge difference over the course of time. I want the podcast to be an encouragement for publishers, helping them to hear about a small thing they can change, and have the information they need to go and implement that change right away.
Do you put on events with Firebrand to help publishers learn more?
For clients we have been doing quarterly virtual meet-ups for the last couple of years. These are just a few hours together for clients to learn about what we do at Firebrand and and talk about industry issues. Also, for the last 15 years or so, we have run the Firebrand Community Conference, an in-person community meet-up for all our users and clients to come together in person. In those conferences, we talk about industry issues and trends, and we talk about Firebrand services. We encourage our participants to discuss the issues they are encountering and the broader problems in the industry, and to learn from each other about what we can all do to impact those issues.
The community-building we do at Firebrand is very important for helping our clients not just understand what we can do to help them but also to understand what everyone else is doing to address common problems. Publishing, just like any other industry, tends to involve a mix of living in community and working in isolation. We want to encourage community-building, learning and growing together, because the more we do that the better the industry as a whole will be.
Where can Firebrand really come into play to help the issues the industry is facing as a whole, such as supply chain problems?
The tools we provide help publishers alleviate many of the internal issues that can exacerbate supply chain issues. Publishers who use Title Management Enterprise can track the status of printings and reprints, watching for issues and helping everyone on the team stay up to date with changes in the schedule. With Eloquence on Alert you can watch products in the marketplace and can often catch stock issues and sales trends on a product before the retailer even sends a new order. Eloquence on Demand makes it simple, and even automated, for publishers to relay availability information and other details to the trade, and helps publishers make other titles more discoverable by making metadata updates easier to manage.
Stock issues and supply chain issues are bound to continue. Publishers that have a system in place for managing product information, managing workflows, and managing dates and schedules are the ones who will have an easier time adjusting to those supply chain issues over time. So we just try to encourage publishers to utilise the services and tools we offer, to help them maintain those processes.
Well there’s certainly space for ebooks now, and maybe it’s time for eBook Architects to re-emerge! Do you have a format preference when it comes to reading?
What’s funny about this is even when I was an ebook developer I still preferred print! I like to read print books and I listen to a lot of audiobooks and podcasts. Like most people, I have a stack of books on my bedside table that I’m working my way through, but it seems to grow every week.