By Dan Stahl
LONDON: In 2008 an independent publisher asked Firsty Group CEO Darin Brockman to write a business manual on website development. Only Brockman wasn’t yet CEO, because the Firsty Group didn’t exist. He was Managing Director of a web development company, and the Firsty Group was a seed in his subconscious.
Later, as Brockman labored to convert the manual into an ebook, the seed sprouted. “There was an opportunity to help publishers understand and then exploit (the then) emerging digital publishing technologies,” he realized. Between that insight and “one too many glasses of wine one evening in the middle of a very quiet August,” he decided to reorient himself professionally.
That decision led to the creation of the Firsty Group in 2010, a hands-on publishing consultancy specializing in ebook conversion, app development, and ecommerce. Brockman’s founding intention was to target small-to-medium houses, on the assumption that the big boys and girls would take care of themselves. “That’s not really what happened,” he recalls. “It seems everyone in publishing wants and needs help, digitally!”
Faber Factory Plus Indie Authors
Like who? Faber and Faber, for one. After the launch of the Faber Factory, a digital distribution platform for some 100 independent publishers (and a joint venture powered by Perseus’ Constellation), Firsty approached Faber with a direct-to-consumer proposal. The publisher was surprised but appreciative, and a discussion began early this year. This Octobeer, at the Frankfurt Book Fair, Firsty unfurled “a D2C ecommerce service that allows Factory’s client publishers to quickly set up their own branded ebookstore on their website and sell ebooks with full, social (digital watermarking), or no DRM,” Brockman says.
Although Firsty works primarily with publishers, it serves authors too. Just ask Rohan Quine. A British novelist, Quine “came to us with an extraordinary surrealist title, The Imagination Thief, that he wanted to build a lot of digital interaction around,” Brockman says. Quine is getting what he asked for: a website, ebooks embedded with 240 film stills, hundreds of video and audio links, a gallery of 576 New York photos, and more.
The dazzle of such finished products can blind people to the challenges of producing them. Brockman notes particular thorns that snag authors and even some publishers. One is “working out how to get their ebooks to market and, more importantly, how to make them discoverable.” So are “understanding what is involved in building a relationship with readers” and “taking more of a leap rather than a tentative step.”
Fortunately for the struggling, Firsty aid is available. “Publishers need trusted partners who understand not only their traditional business and relationships but also the world of ecommerce, social media, and consumer engagement,” Brockman says. “As importantly, they need technologies that enable them to compete in a new consumer-oriented marketplace and strategies that will help them thrive.” He sees his company as a resource for all these needs: “We’re actively providing the enabling technologies and services and, of course, the impartial advice.” Publishers apprehensive about going digital would do well to heed it.