A Conversation with Gene Gable
Seybold Seminars' VP/GM talks with Planet
Seybold Seminars Boston 2000 Conference only weeks away, Planet PDF checked in with the
event's organizers to learn what's on this year's agenda. Gene Gable, Seybold Seminars vice
president and general manager, kindly answered our questions and shared his reflections on
his first year at the organization's helm. Planet PDF is a co-sponsor of the special "PDF
Day" program being held Feb. 8 held during the conference.
Gene, thanks for making time to chat with us and the
Planet PDF Community
about the forthcoming Seybold Seminars conference in Boston. At the Boston
conference last year, you were wearing a couple hats --
serving on one panel in your just-ending role as president and
publisher of Publish magazine, and appearing elsewhere on the same program
as the newly appointed vice president and general manager of
Seybold Seminars. As you approach your one-year anniversary, can
you give us an overview of your current role and responsibilities?
Running the Seybold organization is a constant challenge, but one that I look forward to
every day. The role we play in the industry is a difficult one to maintain--we must be as
objective as possible in our analysis of the opportunities and technologies facing the
marketplace, but at the same time our business requires ongoing relationships with all of
the industry's major vendors. It's a difficult balance.
What I enjoy most about my job is working with so many knowledgeable and
talented people. Our editors in Pennsylvania are the undisputed experts in
this field, and our Conference content team has to be on top of virtually
every aspect of the publishing business from content design and management
straight through to production and distribution of documents. It's never
And while running this business has its share of normal operational
obstacles, what keeps me up at night is the constant pressure that people
are looking to us for guidance and insight. That may sound gratifying,
which it can be, but it is also a huge responsibility. If we hype
technology that doesn't pan out, we look bad, and if we miss a new
technology or workflow process that takes off, we get called on it. So we
keep a close relationship with our vendor and attendee customers. We
As you've been listening and watching during the past
there been any particular developments -- events, trends and/or tools
-- that seem to be particularly significant as indicators of where the
publishing world is heading?
It was clear at Seybold San Francisco, in September, that much of what Seybold has been
saying for years about the influence the Web would have on publishing has come true. We took
quite a bit of grief over the years, often being accused of being too Web focused. But we
have always maintained that the emphasis in this business should be on the content, not on
any specific technology.
We are now seeing that those companies that are
using the Web as a tool, whether for distribution or for commerce, are
succeeding, often maintaining a very strong simultaneous emphasis on print.
I made the statement in a session in San Francisco that I expected to get a
print catalog from Amazon.com before the end of the year. That prediction
came true. It's now about cross-media, not one media versus another.
The ongoing problem facing most information designers and publishers, is
developing workflows that eliminate duplicate and unnecessary steps. Let's
face it: the needs of Web production and print production have some
similarities, but they are two distinctly different processes. We are only
now starting to see tools that automate and leverage the two processes so
that a publisher can focus again on raw content that is easily ported to
any appropriate device. Currently, a Palm Pilot or a cell phone is just as
valid as a publishing medium as a piece of paper or a Web page is.
Given this ongoing nature of industry change, what are
some of the
enhancements and additions to the program(s) for Seybold Boston
2000 that will continue the conference's reputation of being a primary
educational resource for the industry?
We continue to divide our educational sessions into two broad categories:
tactical and strategic. We know that not everyone is sitting in an
executive office trying to figure out where the company needs to go next.
Many of our guests are hands-on Web producers, creative directors and
production artists who are facing immediate problems around getting their
work out. That's why we have a heavy emphasis on things like XML and
PDF--these are tools that address today's issues.
In Boston specifically this year, we've beefed up our PDF coverage as this
is, in fact, becoming the preferred method of file distribution. We've also
added sessions on building corporate portals, digital asset management and
Adobe InDesign, which is gaining in popularity. And in our Publishing
Strategies Conference we're taking a hard look at the commercial printing
business and where it's headed, which is toward some hard times, we
As a former magazine publisher and now a
Seybold Seminars executive, you've had a front seat on the gradual emergence
of the Web as a bona fide publishing medium. Has it arrived? That is, is the
model for economic success -- a.k.a. e-commerce -- coming into clear view
for publishers and publishing organizations?
The Web has clearly emerged as a publishing vehicle--I don't think there is
any doubt about that. Just look at the AOL/Time-Warner deal. But the Web is
so much more than just another outlet for content--as you said, it's a
vehicle for commerce and community as well.These are areas the traditional
publishers are not necessarily adept at.
You'll see many newcomer companies
in Boston showing e-commerce solutions for print buying, content management
and content purchasing. It's a very exciting time. Who will drive these new
e-commerce businesses: the traditional players or startups? It's often much
harder for an entrenched company, whether an ad agency, printer, or
publisher, to adapt to new ways of doing business than it is for a new
business that isn't carrying any legacy workflows. Those are the times we
are in. There will be winners and losers as we move to a more Web-focused
What's interesting at this moment in time, is how quickly things have
shifted from a start-with-print and repurpose-for-the-Web model to a
start-with-the-Web and repurpose-for-print model. Either direction is
difficult, given the technical challenges of each medium. But the Web folks
have a lot they can learn from the print side--particularly when it comes
to things like accurate color models and accurate printing.
As you know, Planet PDF is serving as a co-sponsor for PDF
Day, one of the Special Interest Programs held during the
conference--on February 8 at Seybold Boston 2000. We've read
and heard comments from the likes of Thad McIlroy and David
Zwang that PDF Day has become one of Seybold Seminars' most
popular one-day special programs. In addition, PDF is part of
the discussion in many of the main conference's sessions --
niche topics like workflow, print on demand, eBooks, etc -- as
well as part of the tutorials being offered. In your opinion,
what does this say about the place of PDF in the big picture,
i.e. the future of print and Web publishing? Where does it fit?
PDF fits very nicely into many parts of the publishing industry. We have
been impressed with the rapid adoption of PDF for print, thanks in great
measure to hard work on Adobe's part in addressing early shortcomings. The
role of PDF, though, in Web and other electronic distribution schemes is
not quite so clear. Many large companies and government agencies are
adopting PDF as a standard document format--that's encouraging. But we
aren't seeing nearly as many Websites using PDF as a primary display model.
But as more and more Web documents end up being printed on some type of
device, we may see this change. On-demand printing and publishing, which is
starting to show up in some of the retail bookstores, requires an easily
distributed, secure file format. With the commerce features being added to
PDF, it could quickly become the best way for content producers to manage,
track and protect their intellectual property.
Along with XML, we think PDF is the format to watch. And we are, by the
way, very glad to be working with Planet PDF on our PDF programming. The
beauty of the Web is that it keeps communities in touch year-round. Seybold
events give companies and individuals a deadline and a physical place to
launch new products and exchange ideas and information. But products and
user needs don't stand still the rest of the year. That's where sites like
Planet PDF come in--they keep the momentum and dialog going.
Of course, there's much more to the Seybold Seminars
than PDF Day and PDF. In addition to a lot of good work-related
topics and sessions, I notice there are also several few light-hearted,
interactive events sprinkled throughout the week.
In addition to the usual line-up of over 100 educational sessions and
Special-Interest Days at Seybold Boston, we have planned lots of fun
activities and social events. Our Web Conference party is Monday nights, our
always-fun Game Show is on Wednesday night, and on Thursday our guests will
get a chance to meet artist Gary Baseman, who illustrated our brochure art
this year--he's quite a character and he'll be signing posters.
Additionally, you'll be able to see the results of a Seybold Editor's
Proofing Shootout done in conjunctions with the Graphic Arts Technical
Foundation, and a host of displays on the show floor that you can only
experience in person.
Any parting thoughts?
I'd love to hear from any of your site visitors on how PDF is working or not working for
them. As I said at the start of this interview, one of the
ways we keep ahead of the industry is by listening. Anyone can reach me at
Thanks for your time, Gene!