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The publishing industry has been and is still vibrant and ever-evolving

As a former Production Director at McCall’s Magazine, my friend Samir Husni’s articles in this newsletter about the Seven Sisters had me fondly reminiscing. Did you know that while I was there in the 1980s, McCall’s and the other seven sisters were transforming the production process and making digital cylinders for the Rotogravure printing process ten years before offset caught up with digital plate making? The seven sisters went from letterpress to digital using a HelioKlischograph to cut huge brass printing cylinders. It was and is a fantastic technologic process to see. 

I thought I would take the time to recall a little media history and see if we can find some trends applicable to today’s COVID Time Machine. To start, I have been doing this newsletter since the beginning of accessible internet time, when there was no real web as we have today.  When I began the newsletter, I had no concept of what the newsletter, the internet, and communication itself would become. In fact, I didn’t start a newsletter at first. I was forwarding thoughts and any relevant magazine information to my college roommate, who was working in the production department at Time Magazine. In retrospect, he was my first subscriber. And his Time Inc. workmate was my second subscriber, and on and on. 

I was working for Ziff-Davis in the late 1980s, and Ziff sent me on loan to AOL to help develop production methods for inserting and on-serting 3-1/2-inch diskettes into and onto magazines. It was a team effort by many smart professionals, and when it was over, they gave me a free “house” email AOL account. This was when the public’s only entry to the WWW was with either Prodigy, Compuserve, or AOL. 

Did you know that the name of this newsletter “Heard on the Web” actually was meant to be an inside joke about printing on weboffset presses, not the World Wide Web?  Since I was a production guy, “Heard on the Web” started out tracking and discussing printed manufacturing production matters.  In those days I talked about paper, printing presses, and the cycle of the magazine production process. In those days I had my subscription list separated into various topics of interest—General, Production, Paper, and eventually, the new thing called digital. Back In the day, I had over 2,000 readers just on the paper list. It is interesting to me that we rarely talk about paper anymore, and I no longer have a separate file for those interested in paper. 

One of these days I want to write an article about what were the important topics we tracked in the past that are no longer of primary interest. If it was important then, why not now? 

In the 1990s, I also discussed physical circulation and newsstand distribution issues.  Then as technology progressed a new concept hit the production circles. And that was the invention and use of PDF files. Most of my peers were pretty enthusiastic about that. I sure was. Shortly after PDFs came the computer-to-plate wars (CTP).   My goodness, some people thought you were a total heretic to even think of using CTP over traditional film-based production.  Yep, there was many a senior management argument about CTP among production professionals. Oh, the naive things we used to argue about are humorous to think about now. Many of those production leaders are still subscribed to this newsletter and I’m sure they will remember our discussions in the Publishing Production Forum. Mr Dead Tree, I’m thinking of you and quite a few others. We, the long-time readers of “Heard on the Web,” have come a very long way from hot lead, which was how High Times Magazine and all magazines were initially typeset.   

For me, the topics for the newsletter always have had one continuous thread — what do I need to know to stay employed and be employable? That is still my ultra-simple criteria. Everything I send is distributed because I think it is, in one way or another, an essential piece of knowledge to help our careers. The adage that knowledge is power is correct. In this case, knowledge is employment power. 

What are we talking about these days?
Here are a few headlines from the last few weeks: 

  • How testing drives subscription strategies for the Boston Globe
  • Why we should be talking about the transformation of publishing, not its decline
  • 8 ways publishers are making money from podcasts
  • How Ad Fraudsters Are Thriving During the Covid-19 Crisis
  • ‘Nothing quite like being forced’: Publishers whip up quicker, cheaper ad products for advertisers
  • Elevated levels of growth…likely to persist beyond the duration of the pandemic

It is a broader range of topics than in the past because what successful publishing has become is a larger, broad-based eco-system of content distribution—a far cry from where we once were. We and our businesses have evolved and are still doing so. 

I believe that if we can keep a long-term perspective even under the cloud of COVID, we will see that the speed of what is happening technologically in our workflows is just another step in a long, evolving trend in the publishing industry. I assure you that five years from now, our primary topics of concern will be something completely new and different. Five years from now, we won’t be worried about the effectiveness of Zoom calls because it will be an antique process. I’m not saying the next few years will be easy; They won’t be. Hell, the next year alone promises to be a backbreaker for many. What I am saying is that in five years, our jobs and methodologies will have morphed into something new.  It has always been that way, only now it happens faster than ever. 

The publishing industry has been and is still vibrant and ever-evolving.  We still have paper magazines, e-zines and PDFs and CTP and tablets, smartphones, podcasts, and who the heck knows what is next.  The only thing that will not stop is the increasing speed of change in these horrendous times of where we were to wherever we are going.   

Somewhere along my career path, trite as it may sound, I realized that the way to enjoy being in publishing is not to seek a final destination/solution but to try to enjoy the journey and the problem solving.  For those of us here, there is no other choice. 

Bo Sacks
President, Precision Media Group

This commentary originally appeared on Bo Sacks daily newsletter and is re-published with kind permission. You can subscribe to Bo’s e-newsletter here.

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