The Cole Papers

Web discussions dominate 15th annual Seybold Seminars

BOSTON -- You could spot them, huddled here and there -- furtive, clustered in corners, always looking over their shoulders.

At this year's Seybold Boston conference the clandestine groups weren't talking about on-line or CD-ROMs.

They were talking about ink-on-paper.

Most of the talk at the 15th rendition of the publishing technology conference, which drew 1600 people March 28-30, was about one thing: The Internet.

Or, more precisely, the World-Wide Web.

As with all Seybold events, this one started with a group of industry executives making pronouncements about the past, present and future. Personally arranged by Jonathan Seybold, founder of the conference, these sessions can be either wildly good or total drudgery.

This year, the keynote speakers marched on the middle ground: There were some clear thoughts of innovation, but there were no clear answers about how to get from ink-on-paper to new media.

The keynoters were neatly arranged -- two technologists, two publishers.

Efi Arazi, the founder of Scitex and, more recently, Electronics for Imaging of San Mateo, Calif., waxed eloquently on the past and the future.

"Ten years ago the first Apple LaserWriter was introduced at this conference," Arazi said. Now, 30 million laser printers later, it is time to look beyond, he said.

"Desktop publishing software was yeoman software. The knowledge was always in the head of the person running the software," he said.

Desktop publishing's next great frontier was color, said the color expert -- obtaining consistent reproduction on a variety of devices, ranging from office color printers to web presses.

Crediting work done at Adobe Systems Inc. and Apple Computer Inc., Arazi said that frontier had been conquered: "The problem of color has been solved."

But in the process of solving the color problem, he said technologists had learned how to capture "the knowledge of experts." Now, "the next step ahead of us will be more expert software," Arazi said.

Saying he sees "the piping and the plumbing" all around, Arazi said his focus "is to make tools that will allow us to use all this phenomenal information."

Talking about what are commonly called "agents," or little programs that seek out specific information on a computer network, Arazi said, "We now need to focus on smart software that will allow us to navigate through the mountains of information on the Web."

Alluding to the manservant character in Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, Arazi talked about whispering to a Friday which could "plan a trip the way you want a trip planned."

But, he said, "without really smart software, there will be no future."

The future was also on the mind of Curt Hessler, the executive vice president of the Los Angeles-based Times Mirror Corp.

"We are about 100 years long in the tusk," Hessler said. "Almost all our revenue comes from 'pulp nonfiction.'"

But, Hessler said, "ink is not turning into tar as rapidly as people would assume" -- although, he acknowledged, "almost all the growth in our business will come from digital media."

Times Mirror has developed a "four-part mantra," Hessler said: "Content, not distribution; markets, not media; journeys, not destinations, and brands, not hits."

Commenting that the "content, not distribution" mantra was "a contrarian view," Hessler said the digital distribution channel will move from "limited to plenty," so publishers should not concern themselves with getting bits to the customers.

His view on "markets, not media," was that TimesLink, the on-line project sponsored by the company's Los Angeles Times on the Prodigy service, "is not the L.A. Times on-line, but Southern California on-line."

Hessler said his point about "journeys, not destinations," is that "the trick will be to put the customer into direct real-time content." And Hessler emphasized that "hits" -- the number of times an on-line consumer views a service -- were not important.

"It's brandwidth, not bandwidth," that's important, he said. "Don't depend upon hits for revenue, but build up a durable franchise."

Times Mirror is in a good position to do so, having a number of franchises that include daily newspapers and a professional publishing division.

"Promise customers total freedom to surf -- but our customers have better things to do with their time than surf," Hessler said. A brand name gives them a chance to focus, he said.

Saying that companies such as Times Mirror must go through a "cultural reorganization," Hessler pointed out that there was "little horizontal discussion between media," and that each of the divisions -- books, magazines, newspapers -- "identified itself by its medium."

"They are all about to be in the same media and they need to learn it together," he said.

Discussing the relative merits of new media, Hessler said, "I don't think anybody is making money in content for on-line services" -- but "CD-ROMs are shovelware and those are very profitable."

"I think ultimately, the products are only going to be profitable if they are subversive," he said.

From a technologist's perspective, though, the future is much brighter.

Pointing to the early days of movable type and printing, Thomas Furlong said, "The skeptics then were concerned there weren't enough people who could read."

Skeptics in the digital era worry about bandwidth, technical know-how and secure on-line transactions, said Furlong, the vice president and general manager of the Digital Light and Sound Division of Silicon Graphics Inc. of Mountain View, Calif.

"The print-and-distribute model is moving toward the distribute-and-print model," said Furlong.

"Eighteen months ago, there were 10,000 people on the Web accessing content from 50 servers. Today, there are 10 million people accessing 30,000 servers," he said.

"It's just the beginning."

Furlong cited figures that suggest that the number of Web sites is doubling every month, and noted that an Internet connection that cost $1000 per month two years ago now costs $20.

"Fundamentally, this is going to bring tens of millions of people onto the Web overnight," he said.

"I think Web growth is unstoppable."

Furlong pointed out that for the cost of printing one brochure, a business can buy all the hardware and software it would need to set up a Web site.

"The model is shifting," said Furlong. "The Web is part of it, the Internet is part of it, PDF [Adobe's Portable Document Format] is part of it, color printers are part of it."

The fourth panelist, John Evans, the longtime publisher of New York's Village Voice and now president of News Electronic Data Inc., said he would "ramble for a few minutes about things on my mind."

Evans, who has been working on "agent" technology, said, "It's the little misfires in life that make it interesting." He noted that "when I've learned things, it's been because I've been forced to or because I've learned it by reading the next column."

Evans said publishing really "has only one management skill -- that's editing and managing the creative process." Whether for digital or traditional publishing, Evans said it is the province of a publisher to "provide a safe environment for the creative process."

Another session pondered the question, "Is the Internet Commercially Viable?"

The panel answering the question came down squarely in the "yes" column.

"I don't think its a question of the Internet versus AOL [America Online] or CompuServe," said Linda Dozier, the chief technologist of Navisoft Inc., the recently acquired software division of America Online. "The question is quickly going away -- we'll see a closer merging of those services."

Keith Rowe, the director of product and development of the Content Group at Microsoft Corp., said, "We're going to try to civilize the Internet for the consumer audience," referring to the commercial on-line service his company will open soon, the Microsoft Network.

"It's very important to have that front porch -- that big front porch -- of free material," said Rowe. "There's going to be a need for signposts and guideposts to show the customers where the good sites are."

The future is glowing for old newspaper people, Rowe hinted. "This is the time to come into this industry with a print-based background and learn this new media," he said.

Concurring was John Duhring, the vice president for business development at Wais Inc., the Menlo Park, Calif., company that builds text archiving software.

"It's the print people who have the lead -- words are compelling," Duhring said. "A headline is what people make a decision upon. But you must remember it's not a print-based medium -- it's an on-line medium."

Chris Gulker, the former San Francisco Examiner executive who is now with Apple Computer's publishing and media markets group, said the Internet is "commercially viable only in the sense of the number of companies that have set up on the Internet that make money."

Referring to Kevin Mitnick, the computer cracker who broke into the Netcom system, Gulker said, "The fact that Netcom had 20,000 people's credit cards should tell you something."

The security paranoia of the Internet is overblown, Gulker said.

"People walk into offices and steal stuff all the time; people walk into department stores and steal stuff all the time," he said. "You don't see shoplifting on the front page."

-- dmc

Also: Top picks at Seybold trade show

From THE COLE PAPERS, May 1995, Copyright © 1995, All Rights Reserved.

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