It does give me a more than mild sense of vertigo to think about how much we’ve done. And whilst, at times, the tumultuous happenings in the wider world have felt overwhelming, Consonance continues to be a meaningful and tangible thing that I can do to help make the world better. We are honoured to be able to bring more organisation, more fluency, and more time to be creative to our publishers. And by freeing them up to do the work that matters, we can know that we’re helping them produce more of the sorts of books that will steer the world towards something better.
Books matter. It matters to us that we’re helping in their creation, and that the way we go about helping is something to be proud of, in itself. To those ends, our big moments of 2017 were oriented towards our goal of making our customers successful, and doing it in style.
Sara O'Connor joined the team!
As part of our plan to build a crack team of the best programmers in publishing, in April Sara O'Connor joined us as a full stack developer, bringing our technical team count to four and giving it a pleasing two-women, two-men gender balance. Sara was formerly editorial and digital director of Hot Key Books, a Bonnier imprint, who retrained as a programmer at Makers Academy, before working for business data company Exceedra. Domain knowledge is one of the hardest parts of programming: finding a team member who knows publishing and programming is rare and brilliant. Sara hit the ground running, first reviewing and improving the test suite for our royalties functionality and then diving into a hugely ambitious long-term project to allow user-controlled contact, product and other data uploads to Consonance. The fruits of her labours will be revealed in early 2018, but for now it’s enough to say that it’s a dream come true for me to be able to watch people such as Sara reskill and reorient their whole career towards something they know makes a difference.
Sharpening our focus on customer success
Throughout 2017, one of our main ambitions has been to get better and better at delivering customer success. The year started with a bang as we won the IPG GBS Services to Independent Publishers award in February, as nominated by our own customers, so it was nice to know that we were heading in the right direction.
In March, Emily instigated a rota for our online ticketing helpdesk, making sure that there was always a team member dedicated primarily to managing queries, and over the course of the year we have better than halved our response times to support tickets. It was great to talk later in the year in October at Frankfurt with many of our customers, all of whom reported that things are going great. Vidisha at Zed Books, for example, credited Consonance with underpinning their recent amazing success, which makes you tingle all over. (The link takes you to their stunning new website, proudly fed from Consonance via our API). And then, as we close the year in December, the results of our latest Net Promoter Survey are coming in, and they’re looking really good. (More in the new year about those results and feedback, and how it’s driving our plans for 2018.) We’re so pleased that our efforts are helping you succeed.
Because we’ve orientated ourselves towards customer success, we’ve also got better at listening. By hearing where customers have had twangles, ideas and troubles, we have been able to focus our efforts on the work that really matters to them. All in all, our stats show that we deployed 200 discrete pieces of work, ranging from maintenance tasks such as THEMA code updates and new integrations; small improvements such as adding fields to API feeds; the occasional bug fix; and major features such as:
- a better, more usable, faster search functionality
- a better products page
- a better contacts page
- a better tasks page
- better royalties pages (and a special shout out to Liverpool University Press and Vertebrate for being the leading clients on that endeavour)
- improved contract templates
- better briefing notes
And coming in early 2018 are the fruits of our most recent efforts:
- universal data importers that feed back on data quality and validations
- a new default advance information sheet, designed by Tom Spindlow
- a better schedules page:
- and more! You can follow along on our change log, and you can flip between old and new versions of code when we’re doing a big development, providing feedback whilst development is still ongoing.
Using tools and partnerships to improve our own processes
We’re in the business of writing tools which help our customers run their companies more effectively, so it stands to reason that we would try to be as efficient as possible in our own work. A festive shout out to the partners who help us support you: Graham at Editeur, IPAC, Nielsen, BDS, the completely brilliant NBNi, ALPSP and the IPG. And to the tools that help us make Consonance better:
- JIRA, which we use to manage our programming work
- Bitbucket, where we store versions of our code
- Codeship, which runs our tests before deploying code
- Heroku, which hosts our applications
- New Relic, which reports on how the applications are running
- Zendesk, which keeps the conversation flowing between us and our customers
- ReadMe, which provides our user and API docs
- AWS, which provide database, storage and backup functions
Out and about
We’ve attended some banging events this year, and we plan to do more of that next year, whether as speakers or delegates. There were the trade shows: the London Book Fair in March and Frankfurt in October.
⚡️ “Consonance at Frankfurt 2017”https://t.co/PWtpTpS50C— Consonance (@Consonance) October 15, 2017
There was the new: the amazing Brighton Ruby conference in July and the Life Time Value conference in April, and the OpenTech conference in May. There was the annual IPG Spring and Autumn conferences (click that link for a brilliant reflection on the day by Emily), and the digital quarterlies.
As well as attending events which helped us reframe and reconsider some publishing truths, we contributed as much as we could to help other people find the joy of code. We ran our sell-out Try Coding for Publishers course in conjunction with Book Machine in April, which raised over £200 for Save The Children:
And we are regular and cheerful coaches at Railsgirls London.
Each day, getting better
We get our kicks from being competent in a field that matters. So it was a source of real pride to launch the Consonance Component Library in May, hand-rolled by Andy and used throughout the year and into next as we increasingly standardise the interface.
We have also made great strides with our ONIX provision. We have sent 5700 ONIX files this year alone, containing 571,000 ONIX product fragments, totalling 20GB of data. Phew!
We also find time to pursue personal projects, having instigated a new Side Project Friday afternoon initiative. On Friday afternoon, when the clients tend to go a little quiet, we crack open our personal projects. Andy is learning React and Electron by building a rules viewer for tabletop games. Sara is working on her family bingo app, which she uses herself at events that attract 100 players. Emily introduced herself to SQL. Dave contributed to a number of open source libraries, such as the LISBN gem. And I wrote my makeourbook.com schools publishing app. Whilst that sounds nice but not very relevant, it is actually a fantastic way to hone and grow our programming skills and try out new ways of working. It’s an easy, motivational and interesting way to ensure we undertake ongoing professional development and cross-fertilise new ideas across the team.
And helping more publishers!
We were delighted to welcome seven new clients to Consonance in 2017, who will be joined by 13 (and counting) in 2018. We plan to grow at a slow and steady rate and are glad to be able to curate close relationships with the sorts of publishers we feel best able to support, and most proud of helping. So a festive wave to these new clients: the Institute of Physics (– read our case study), Purdue University Press, Leuven University Press, the British Museum, What on Earth?, Innova Press, Rethink, and to those joining us in the spring. They join a fleet of publishers that we burst with pride to call our customers, who include:
Although it’s lovely to work with new clients, you might be interested to know that our internal bonus scheme is based on renewals: 5% of the licence fee revenue from renewing clients is paid to non-director staff as a bonus. To be honest, our enthusiasm for Consonance means that we’re pretty good sales people. However, it’s one thing to to sell software to new clients; it’s quite another to have them want to keep using it, a year later. So I’m delighted to report that, in 2017, all of our active clients renewed their licenses. It’s a real measure of success, I think, and we’re hugely grateful to our customers for sticking with us.
Recommended. Consonance is light years beyond every other bibliographic data system, and that’s because it’s built with empathy and agility by some very smart people. https://t.co/AYvcP8SlXE— Simon Collinson (@Simon_Collinson) November 30, 2017
And so, to 2018
So here’s to continuing the hard work and customer focus into 2018 and beyond. We will be in touch with all our customers at the end of January to update them on our firm plans for the year, based on their feedback in our survey. (If you’re a client, and you’ve not yet responded, please do – it’s a great chance to shape Consonance to your priorities, so it’s worth the five minutes!)
Thank you once again to our brilliant and important clients for 2017. This is all for you, and your books, and we hope you thrive and flourish in 2018 with us.
Overwhelmed with spreadsheets? Drowning in thousands of tasks? Worried about not being ready to face the next round of publishing challenges? If you enjoyed this article, and you want to grow your publishing in 2019 but you're not sure where to start, get in touch. We help publishers of all shapes, ages, complexity and sizes to organise, automate and grow. Yes: your legacy data is in a pickle, but we promise it'll not be the worst we've seen. We can sort it out and transform your publishing process quicker, and more cheaply, than you'd think.
We're always happy to have a chat and let you know what we've seen other publishers do in your situation to good effect, and we're happy to arrange a tailored demo just for your team of Consonance: the sure-fire way to improve your publishing and lay the groundwork for growth.