McIlroy--Seybold Announcements Were Aplenty
The seminar business is really a branch of show business. There are hits and there are flops. And sometimes it's completely mysterious why one show is a hit and another a flop.
Working with Seybold Seminars for the last few years, I've observed the mysterious situation whereby some of the conferences are a much greater success than others. And the exact reason can be tough to pin down. (If it was easy, they'd always be hits!)
This year's Seybold San Francisco program was an extraordinary success. Several people told me that it was the best conference they'd been to in the last few years. I'm not sure why. Let me try and share with you some of the big announcements from Seybold San Francisco, and maybe you can judge why this program was so well received.
An Apple a Day. . .
Probably the biggest news (and certainly the biggest crowd-pleaser) was the announcements from Apple Computer. I'd say that at Seybold San Francisco, Apple went from being an "also-ran" computer company to regaining its role as the
No. 1 graphics and media platform. While Macintoshes remain second-tier for Web developers, for print-oriented publishers, this is definitely the company with which to work. Acting CEO Steve Jobs offered one of his patented, Broadway performances. There were several announcements, but clearly the most significant is a computer called the G4. It's a stunner.
Graphic arts applications are memory hogs. It's been impossible to find a computer that's fast enough for publishers, particularly because of applications like Adobe Photoshop. With the G4, Apple has come close to offering what Steve Jobs refers to as "a desktop supercomputer." The processing speed, particularly for graphics, is miles ahead of the competition. Equally amazing is that the top-of-the-line model retails for about $3,500.
Some of you will have heard about the fancy, 22˝ flat panel "cinema" display that Jobs previewed in San Francisco. Available this fall at $4,000 a pop, it's actually more expensive than any of the computers that were demonstrated. This monitor has more showbiz value, than practical value to graphic design.
The other news from Apple was mostly in the operating system. Jobs previewed OS/9 (which will be shipping by the time you read this article). It represents a modest improvement over OS/8. Probably the most exciting features in OS/9 are improvements to ColorSync, as well as improvements to AppleScript, namely the ability to use AppleScript via TCP/IP.
In the dueling page layout software department, we had "Round Two" (or was it "Round 10"?) of the ongoing competition between Quark and Adobe. Adobe InDesign is shipping now, and the early users were at Seybold to talk about their experiences. Quark appears to be worried about the competition, but the reports we were getting from the early users are that the fight will go another few rounds. While most large printers and publishers are testing Adobe InDesign, they intend to stick with QuarkXPress for awhile, at least until InDesign matures through another version or two.
XML was much discussed at Seybold San Francisco. While the potential benefits of XML have been defined, the complexity of XML has also been clearly established. The standard itself is still in development, and while most observers agree that XML is very promising for the future of both print- and Web-based publishing, the tools for XML are still ungainly and its future has yet to arrive.
New PDF Partnership
PDF was much discussed once again this fall. The big news about PDF came not from Adobe, but actually from Creo and Heidelberg together. With their new Prinergy product, Creo and Heidelberg have endorsed PDF as wholeheartedly as have Agfa and Scitex. Clearly, the big print-oriented systems vendors are getting behind PDF and signaling to the printing and publishing industry that it's time to look closely at the potential benefits of PDF workflows.
At previous Seybold shows, eBooks have looked more like novelty than practical technology. At the recent show, eBooks suddenly began to look like a credible alternative to print on paper.
The big news came from a few directions. Microsoft announced that its eBook reader (known as the Open eBook, or OEB) committee reached agreement on the first version of the OEB specification. Adobe threw its hat into the eBook ring by announcing a PDF variant that would allow rights tracking, advanced security features and the ability to sell PDF files via an e-commerce server. The jury is out on whether PDF is an optimal eBook format, but certainly PDF is not currently compatible with the OEM spec.
Probably the most interesting announcement at Seybold San Francisco came from a relatively new company called Fatbrain.com. Fatbrain operates a large Web-based business and technical bookstore. The company also supplies print-on-demand technical documentation for a range of high-tech companies.
The new "product" Fatbrain announced at Seybold is called eMatter. With eMatter, Fatbrain will accept written material of any length—a page, five pages, a thousand pages—and make it available electronically (in PDF format), or on a print-on-demand basis, to anyone who visits the company's site. The author gets to set the retail price, and the proceeds are then shared 50-50 with Fatbrain. What Fatbrain is doing is breaking through the paradigm that a saleable print commodity must be a newspaper, a magazine or a book.
eMatter challenges the role of publishers of all types. Authors are able to interact directly with a viable sales and distribution channel. But even more important is that Fatbrain makes available more timely technical information than has ever been available before, and makes it possible for knowledge to be shared at a speed that was previously impossible. I believe this is truly a revolutionary development in the history of publishing.
I guess a truly revolutionary development in the history of publishing can make a technical conference feel like a Broadway hit. That must be the secret!
About the Author
Thad McIlroy is a San Francisco-based electronic publishing consultant and author, and serves as program director of Seybold Seminars. He welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.