Meet the Company That Gives Lancaster Tech Cred, and More
“You do all that in Lancaster?”
Michael Biggerstaff has grown accustomed to that reaction when he talks about the capabilities of NXTBook Media
, the Lancaster company of which he’s CIO, as in Chief Inspiration Officer. In the more traditional business world, his title would be CEO, but NXTBook isn’t exactly a traditional company.
NXTBook is a highly innovative technology company that would be right at home in many urban centers, but the business is flourishing in a retrofitted factory building on New Holland Avenue in Lancaster. And, because two-thirds of the land area in Lancaster County is still in farming and because the Lancaster name frequently brings to mind visions of horse-drawn buggies and barefoot children walking to one-room schools, many people who live elsewhere seem surprised by the innovation and entrepreneurship that they find in Lancaster County. So Mr. Biggerstaff’s answer to those who express surprise at his company’s location is, “Yes. We do all of that in Lancaster.”
One thing that the team at NXTBook doesn’t do is to stand still. Technology advances rapidly, and a new program from NXTBook will address one of the challenges associated with online publishing. The problem is that smartphones and iPads and computers all use different operating systems, so an online application created for one won’t work on the others.
The need to produce different NXTBooks for different systems creates added expenses for businesses, but NXTBook’s new Ubiquity system
will remove that problem. “Now, each system is separate,” Grimm said. “And the Android is very difficult. Ubiquity will work for everyone, and it will be out in the fall. It will be a good read for everyone.”
“Ubiquity is a proprietary system,” Biggerstaff said. “And we do all of our development here in Lancaster.”
Why Customers Like Them
The company’s energetic team creates digital versions of printed materials such as magazines, newsletters, catalogues, brochures, travel collateral, employee manuals, and anything else that a customer wants to print without incurring the expenses of paper and ink. NXTBook can either take a customer’s publication and convert it to a digital edition or do everything necessary to create the publication. And, when the NXTBook comes up on a screen, the reader can flip the pages, just as she would with a paper publication. “About 60% of our business is in magazines,” Biggerstaff said.
Printing digitally enables customers to save paper and ink, to share their stories with a worldwide audience, and to make almost instant updates. Wendy Nafziger, Director of Benefits at Lancaster General Hospital
, said, “Every year, we do a benefit enrollment for our employees, and we were looking for a green initiative. We have to provide a wealth of information, and we were printing a 20-page document. That’s not cost-effective, and through NXTBook we can provide all the information without having to print our Employee Benefits Guide.
“Another attraction is that we can use it to attract potential employees. It expands our reach. We can make instant updates, and we never have to reprint.
“They’ve delivered nothing but my expectations, and other areas of our health system have started to use NXTBook as well.”
Tom Baldridge is President of the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce & Industry
, and his organization utilizes NXTBook to publish its electronic monthly newsletter called Connections
. “They’re great to work with. They’ve built a cohesive work environment, and they’re a real role model because of the culture that they’ve built into their workplace. They’re also very willing to share their story.”
NXTBook isn’t the only company that creates digital magazines and materials, but NXTBook does much more for its customers than simply save them the expense of printing. Those services include helping customers generate new advertising revenue, increase readership, and increase ROI. Marcus Grimm, NXTBook’s Head of Tales (another title that is uniquely NxtBook), said, “Other companies have done this cheaper, but that’s not our goal. We get a lot of marketing questions, and we add higher end services for organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund. We actively pursue that high-end market.“
Steve Oblas, Executive Director of Internet Services and New Media at Lehigh University
, said that he has been working with NXTBook for about 5 years. “We have a great relationship with them. We do a lot of publications, and our alumni love to get print publications. The real value is that NXTBook allows us to provide a digital publication with very little extra effort of change to our print workflow.
“The other bonus is that it allows us to extend our reach to other constituents who aren’t subscribers to our print magazines. We can also share these publications virally and through Facebook and other social media outlets. That’s really been helpful.”
Why Employees Like Them
Biggerstaff is one of four partners who own and manage NXTBook. The company had its beginnings back in 2001, when he, Jim Lewis, and Roxanne Edwards owned a Lancaster company called Reprint Management Services. RMS provided custom reprints, content licensing and other services for publishers. At the time, Spencer Ewald sold advertising for Folio magazine, and he when presented an idea for publishing without paper to the owners of RMS, they were definitely interested.
In the beginning, Ewald pioneered the concept of digital publishing, and in October, 2001, he produced the first browser-based digital magazine in the USA. In July, 2003, the three partners from RMS joined Ewald and formed NXTBook Media.
“From 2003 to 2007, we grew the technology,” Biggerstaff said. “Then in 2007 we sold Reprint Management Services and concentrated on NXTBook.” That has proven to be a wise decision. Today, NXTBook has about 60 team members. The company also maintains an office in Manchester, England to develop and serve accounts in Europe, Africa, and Asia.
The workplace culture is relaxed and comfortable. Biggerstaff’s door would always be open, if his office had a door. Casual clothing is the norm, and running is a popular lunchtime activity for Grimm and some other team members, including Project Manager Mallory Weiss. Those two both represented NXTBook at this year’s Boston Marathon, and on a blisteringly hot day, Weiss ran 3:26 and Grimm came home in 3:33.
NXTBook’s offices are part of a complex known as Urban Place
. “We’ve been in this building for 5 years,” Biggerstaff said. “We have 2 floors, and we filled the building in 2 years. We do have space in another building, so we do have room for more growth.”
The tall brick buildings formerly provided manufacturing space for Armstrong Cork Company and later for Kerr Glass Company. The complex now houses many businesses, as well as the Cork Factory Hotel and luxury apartments. Parking, which is often a challenge for city businesses, is plentiful, and the heart of downtown is a walkable mile away.
The company provides some unusual benefits for its workforce. “We have a sabbatical program,” Biggerstaff said. “After 5 years, employees get 2 weeks off, but they must do 10 hours of community service in something different from what they usually do. Working For Habitat For humanity would be an example.”
In May, the company won the 14th annual Lancaster County United Way Tricycle Race for the sixth time in seven years. Watch them win it with play-by-play here
The company's culture is positive and energizing, and in 2011 that earned NXTBook the Best Place to Work
honor among Pennsylvania companies with between 25 and 249 employees.
“Lancaster is a really cool place to have a business,” Biggerstaff said.
“This is a great place for creativity. The really nice thing is an engaged workforce. Our team does a great job for our customers. Everybody is here to help. This is a terrific opportunity.”
BILL SIMPSON writes about business in Lancaster. Send feedback here.
Photos courtesy of NxtBook
NxtBook employees celebrating their sixth win in seven years at the Lancaster County United Way Tricycle Race
Nice office chairs at NxtBook
NxtBook leadership cuts the ribbon on its current headquarters back in 2007