Saturday, November 17, 2007

Publishing and Tech Antiquity

Funny how much of a person’s life is defined about what you do (or did in my case). Reading over my first “blog” reveals how self-conscious I am about that. It is like going to a cocktail party and running into that ubiquitous question, “what do you do?” In retirement, I usually answer that I’m a publishing “consultant” (nice euphemism for retired or unemployed) -- but I still do some work on a part time basis, mostly to keep my skills and to stay up to date on my former industry.

Nonetheless, it is true though that so much of one’s life is defined by one’s vocation – the hour metrics simply dictate this reality. After all, more of my conscious adult life has been spent on my business than any other activity. I was one of those rare birds, having worked for only two companies in my entire life, Academic Press and then Greenwood Publishing Group of which I was President from 1973 through 1999.

So I guess it is not accidental that my first blog entry focuses on an aspect of my professional life that anticipated what I am doing at this moment – the ability to publish one copy for one person. I thought about this and recalled that some twenty-five years ago I gave a speech on technology and its impact on publishing at the Society of Scholarly Publishing. This was written at a time when Apple, Commodore, and TRS-80 were the top selling PCs. IBM had just introduced its own PC. The operating system was DOS. Windows was not even in its infancy and the Internet was merely gestating.

I rummaged through my files and found that speech. It is amusing to read it, but the opportunities I described then, still fascinate me today. I excerpt some of that speech here; consider it as a window into tech antiquity:

June 25, 1982


In preparing this speech I have considered whether it would be better to deal specifically with the question listed in the program -- "How Will the New Technology Change the Nature of Marketing Functions?" -- or whether it would be better to review how the new technology is already affecting the nature of marketing functions. I have chosen to speak primarily to the latter question.

Nevertheless, I do not want to leave the first question totally unanswered. To imagine what marketing methods may be employed in the future, and the kind of technology that will be available to the marketing manager, one must speculate about what end products will be marketed. This involves a certain amount of extrapolation.

If we postulate that a unique characteristic of scholarly publishing, one setting it apart from trade book and magazine publishing, is supplying highly specialized information to a relatively small group of users, we might agree that such information ultimately may be disseminated via a "perpetual" electronic data base publication. Publishers would then act as organizers and verifiers of the information in the database.

Users would have access to the data via terminals connected to telephone lines or cable systems. As the providers of the information, authors would assume some of the publishing functions, especially keyboarding. Although this concept is seemingly very futuristic, it is already being attempted. The Source Telecomputing Company, for instance, offers a database of some 1,200 services and programs to personal computer users. The Source explains that its "User Publisher" service is designed to "open your files, ideas and commentary to the community of your fellow subscribers."

In this case, however, The Source is not acting as a true publisher -- it is only an intermediary. If at some point in the future this method of delivering scholarly information predominates, it will have an enormous impact on marketing methods. Once the necessary terminals are in place, they may also serve as a medium for advertising.

Under these conditions, the best marketers may be the best indexers, those who supply the most effective access points, allowing an audience to key in to learn the most relevant information/research for their needs. Then, as Irving Louis Horowitz and Mary E. Curtis point out in their article, "The Impact of Technology on Scholarly Publishing," in the April 1982 issue of Scholarly Publishing, "The wide acceptance of such technology may also affect traditional ways in which publishers communicate with their customers. When searching of bibliographic data banks becomes routine, publishers may no longer need to invest in extensive direct mail to bring certain categories of scholarly books and periodicals to the attention of a wide spectrum of professionals, particularly if only a handful of the recipients are likely to care about the work."

As I stated earlier, however, to pursue this line of thought is to engage in a highly theoretical discussion. Richard De Gennaro states in his article, "Libraries, Technology, and the Information Marketplace," in the June 1, 1982 issue of Library Journal that we should not take for granted that this "new technology" will indeed create the bookless library. Such an assumption could have disastrous consequences for society.

He reminds us of the Chinese philosopher's statement, "Prediction very difficult, particularly of future." Hence, I have chosen to answer the second question: how is the new technology affecting the marketing of scholarly books today?

What exactly is the "new technology"? I think we would all agree with the conclusions reached by May Katzen in her book, Multi-Media Communications, recently published by Greenwood Press, that this technology evolves around "the new silicon chip technology, incorporating increasingly numerous and sophisticated large scale integrated electronic circuits [that has allowed us to produce] ... ever more powerful, robust and miniaturized mini- and micro-computers whose costs have been falling rapidly." A key element in this definition is "whose costs have been falling rapidly." The new technology is the widespread availability -- through the economies made possible by computer-chip technology and large-scale production of hardware and software that allow us to do our jobs better. Initially this technology was available to a select few. Next it became available to a much larger group of users, but only through the expert who knew how to communicate with the machine, the programmer. Now it is available to everyone; all of us as users can communicate our requirements directly, using third generation software.

There is a wide range of physical products; for example, word processors, mini-computers, personal computers, mainframe computers, video discs, computer-assisted microform systems, high-speed photo-typesetting equipment; they are all the result of silicon-chip technology. How is this technology affecting our job as purveyors and marketers of scholarly information?

One of the first areas affected by this technology is the final stage of the marketing process, fulfillment. How many scholarly presses could have survived during the last ten years without the computerization of fulfillment processes? This technology was, at first, "mainframe" oriented and is now available as "canned" programming for the mini-computer. Some smaller publishers can even have their fulfillment services on micro-based systems.

Another area that is being affected is the stage between the actual fulfillment process and the buying decision, the ordering process. This process has become increasingly dependent on various computer-based bibliographic systems. We have often wondered at Greenwood what the detrimental effect would be if we shut off all direct mail and space advertising on a particular title, especially of one geared primarily to an institutional market. Although we have avoided such a risky experiment, we suspect that by participating in "bibliographic systems selling" we effectively cover a large percentage of certain markets.

[Several paragraphs deleted at this point]

Perhaps one of the more revolutionary aspects of the new technology now available to us is the micro-computer, commonly referred to as the personal computer. Actually, it is the software, not the micro-computer, that is the important new development -- the set of instructions to drive the computer has changed dramatically. The genius of the newer software is that the user can now instruct the computer to do precisely what he or she wants it to do without having to interact with a programmer. Today most of the software, and the relevant publisher's applications can run on almost any micro-computer, be it Apple, Commodore, TRS80, or IBM.

As you have undoubtedly heard, one of the most widely used pieces of micro-computer software today is VisiCalc. This has become the best seller of all software, having sold more than a quarter of a million copies at about $200.00 each. It actually evolved out of an idea a Harvard MBA student, Dan Bricklin, had as a result of doing homework that involved a complicated, lengthy set of calculations. These had to be reworked in their entirety because one number changed. It was his idea that a computer program should be able to eliminate the drudgery of these types of calculations, and, after discussing the idea with a Harvard professor, he was sent to Dan Fylstra, a recent Harvard graduate, who had established a small micro-computer software house, Personal Software. VisiCalc became an immediate best seller and, as one of the original users of this program, more than two years ago, when VisiCalc was available only to the Apple (this is no longer the case), I can attest that our decision to buy Apples for Greenwood Press was entirely VisiCalc oriented. The initial availability of VisiCalc only on the Apple helped to make Apple one of the best selling microcomputers.

Visicalc was the first of the "spread sheeting" software programs, of which there are now more than twenty. The genius of the program is that you, the user, can define the relationships between various elements of a problem, and then insert different values for these elements to test conclusions without knowing any programming languages. An excellent description of the spreadsheet programs was given in the March 15, 1982 issue of InfoWorld, a highly recommended source of information on micro-computer software: “.. a spreadsheet simulator is basically a mammoth sheet of electronic paper configured as a work sheet and divided into a large number of rows and columns. In these blocks or cells you can enter numbers, words, or formulas. Numbers and words are displayed as you enter them. If you enter a formula, the program stores it, but computes and displays its value according to the current values of its elements. The magic is that when you change an entry on which the formula depends, the program automatically recalculates and displays its updated value."

Therefore, you can use the spreadsheet for myriad uses, the most obvious being budgeting. The program can be instructed to do laborious "if - then" calculations to determine most cost-effective print runs, pricing determinations, advertising expenditures and their relationship to sales, market research analyses, and other applications.

[Several sentences deleted]

The April 1982 issue of Personal Computing carried an interview with Jack Halbert, personal computing support team manager at Merrill Lynch. Halbert says, "the use of electronic spread sheet programs is in its infancy, just like personal computers." Personal Computing observed, "considering Halbert's assessment, it takes the imagination to try to conceive what the fourth and fifth generations of these electronic record keepers, preparers, and analyzers will be capable of providing for information hungry businesses."

Among other valuable pieces of micro-computer software available to marketing managers are a host of data base management systems. Greenwood Press utilizes a very "user friendly" system called PFS and the PFS Report. The PFS descriptive manual states, "Basically PFS works like a paper filing system without the paper so you can record, file, retrieve, and, most important, summarize information in a fraction of the time it would take with a conventional filing system.

[Two paragraphs deleted]

As you might imagine, given the flexibility of this kind of data base management system, it can be used for almost anything, to maintain small mailing lists for large volume buyers, book club lists, and publicity contacts. And, if the system is not precisely thought out at the onset, the available free-floating search techniques will compensate. For instance, if we were not satisfied with our Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress subject search, we could also search by titles or fragments of titles of the journals themselves.

Bear in mind that to use these programs you do not have to be a computer expert. To use VisiCalc effectively, you must have an understanding of basic mathematics, but need not know calculus or Boolean logic. The PFS Data Base Management system can be used with effectiveness after a twenty minute learning period You do not have to understand Basic, Pascal, PL/l, or any other of the computer languages to make these programs work for you. I am not arguing, of course, that the computer will ever take the place of the often necessary subjective decision making process, but it certainly eliminates much of the drudgery, freeing marketing personnel to engage in other selling activities.

Word processing software is also available for the microcomputer. These are not as sophisticated as most of those accompanying computers specializing in word processing applications. However, some of the software available for the micro-computer now offer eighty column displays and provide the user with a multiplicity of features common to word processing computers, including search and replace, block operations, justification, chain files, and others. Because scholarly publishing addresses relatively limited audiences, one can see real advantages in using this software to personalize the marketing approach. It is now possible to single out very carefully profiled mailing lists that, in combination with a direct sales letter, communicates the sales message best.

[One paragraph deleted]

The silicon chip will no doubt bring about significant changes in the world of scholarly publishing. However, a basic premise of this speech has been that new technology tools are already available to the marketing manager. By concentrating on the present and not the speculative future, I hope I have been able to alert you to some of these opportunities.