A Conversation with Gene Gable
Seybold Seminars' VP/GM talks with Planet PDF

Seybold Boston 
2000With the 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.

Q.1 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 dull.

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 listen.

Q.2 As you've been listening and watching during the past year, have 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.

Q.3 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 believe.

Q.4 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 future.

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.

Q.5 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.

Q.6 Of course, there's much more to the Seybold Seminars conference 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.

Q.7 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 Gene_Gable@ZD.com.

Thanks for your time, Gene!

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