Seybold: An interview with Seybold president Gene Gable
By Peter Cohen
If there’s a single face that’s associated with
Seybold Seminars and Publications, it’s the bespectacled visage of president Gene Gable. Mr. Gable recently sat down with MacCentral to discuss Seybold Seminars, the publishing and content management industries, and the state of technology within and without the Macintosh space.
It’s no secret to attendees of this year’s Seybold Seminars event in New York that attendance is down, for exhibitors and showgoers.
Gable is cautiously optimistic, but he said that the publishing industry isn’t out of the woods yet. “I’m not sure the economy has any greater or worse effect than it’s had on this industry than on any other industry. It’s more an issue of timing.”
On market changes in publishing
Gable explained that prior to the economic downturn that’s had a deleterious effect on almost every aspect of American business, the publishing industry was “already headed into a lull.” Gable attributed this lull to changes in the way technology is used in the publishing market.
Gable said that historically, publishing had been a lucrative niche market for high-tech companies, but that things have changed in recent years. “… technology has become pervasive and much of it has become a commodity,” said Gable.
“Five years ago you could go to storage, display, scanner and digital camera manufacturers. They all said the same thing: ‘We don’t make money on commodity products, we make our margins on the higher end markets [like publishing].’ The commodity products have become adequate for a lot of professional markets,” said Gable. “The extra appeal for those vendors to cater to the graphics market has gone away.”
Gable still sees great potential for some companies to make inroads to the market by developing and selling digital rights management and content management solutions. He admits that such vendors have a tough row to hoe, however.
Citing the technological and workflow hurdles that such systems present, Gable said, “those are complicated buys, and they require a new way of selling: The vendors sell those products by finding out more about their customers and how they work. It’s a direct sale.”
Learning from history
“We’ve kind of gone full circle in a way,” mused Gable. “If you go back 15 years in the history of publishing, you had companies that were selling complete technical solutions.”
Prior to the popularization of desktop publishing, publishing companies purchased complete end-to-end publishing solutions that required proprietary hardware and customized workflows to function. Gable doesn’t see the industry headed back into another proprietary quagmire, but he does see customization as the key, as well as more democratization of information.
Gable cited a recent study that suggests that employees spend as much as 40 percent of their work day simply looking for the information they need in order to do their jobs.
“It’s partly a workflow issue,” suggested Gable. “Companies are organized into departments, each their own power bases. Info is stored in one place, and it’s handed off to other people as they need it. You have to ask yourself: What is the value of information in your organization? It’s a lot more than many people are willing to admit. Most businesses don’t protect their information as much as hide it.”
“If you really want a content management solution to work, you need to take into account all the uses for it on the other end,” Gable offered.
But in an age where content is being repurposed for new digital devices and other new media at a sometimes frightening pace, is seeing all potential uses even feasible? Gable thinks it is, at least on a basic level.
It may not be possible to know what technology the content ultimately will be used with, but it’s important to understand human behavior, Gable asserted. “You can predict what’s useful and attractive to people, because it really hasn’t changed that dramatically despite the changes in technology. Good design and proper presentation is ubiquitous no matter what the device. A good designer is focused on how people interact with information.”
Gable expects that at least some companies will stumble along the way as they learn to incorporate content management systems into their workflow. “I fear it’s going to happen by having things not work right. I think that some companies are investing in complex content management systems that aren’t going to work because they didn’t take into account the importance of design and presentation.”
The importance of cooperation
To this end, Gable feels that it’s vital that two, sometimes opposing forces, in corporate publishing learn to work together better: information technology and design.
“The importance of design and creativity isn’t the exclusive domain of hardcore corporate concerns,” Gable posited. “That’s why we call it ‘enterprise publishing’ — IT folks have to learn the creative side.”
“Most companies wouldn’t consider buying new technology or new systems without consulting their IT department,” Gable explained. Likewise, designers and other content creators need to be pulled into the process of putting together content management solutions, to make sure that everyone’s needs are met.
On the Macintosh
While Gable doesn’t see any roadblocks to Mac OS X’s ultimate adoption in the design and publishing markets, he acknowledges that there are widespread concerns, just as there any time a major shift in technology occurs.
“What I’m hearing from the community is not unlike what I’ve heard about other technology over the years. People want to embrace new opportunities. But they’re cautious because their livelihood depends on it,” Gable explained. “You cannot simply decree a change in this industry: Change has to come organically. Even if the change is perceived as better, you have to build the steps to get the customer there.”
Acknowledging that he reads MacCentral’s own reader forums, Gable discounts a frequently voiced opinion that the absence of OS X-native versions of Adobe Photoshop or QuarkXPress has ultimately hindered OS X’s further adoption in publishing and graphics.
“Application support for Mac OS X is obviously important,” said Gable, but he doesn’t think that whether any specific application runs natively will suddenly translate into a lot more of Apple’s installed user base migrating to Mac OS X — a change that the company is starting to gently push by making the year-old operating system the default boot system for new Macs. Instead, Gable suggested that OS X’s ubiquitous acceptance by the publishing and design communities will be based on how the technology as a whole is integrated into their work, and how it benefits them.
The future is bright
“I think the future is bright for creative professionals,” said an optimistic Gable. Changes are afoot, but they can be embraced.
“Creative professions are going to have to learn and understand XML,” he suggested. “They’re going to have to shake hands with the IT people in their organization, too.”
Because, ultimately, as Gable sees it, it’s all about the presentation of the content. “Everybody has to be concerned with the importance of design all the way through to the final product,” he concluded.