Thanks for all your comments. My intention has generally been to encapsulate the best of them into an appendix that will be included in the book, but sometimes they're so astute (or even obvious) that my only recourse is to change the text accordingly. To wit: I agree that it's a reach to say the "consumer" will become antiquated. At any rate, here's the next selection from Chapter 4:
A Template for Revolutions to Come
The 2005 Christmas season marked an important milestone, though few recognized it. For the first time a six megapixel camera fell below $300, considered to be a magic price point—the amount a middle class family will spend on a point-and-click camera. This might seem like a fairly mundane event, of interest only to the dedicated shutterbug, but the impact of this development touches us all. A professional photographer could now perform his or her job with a point-and-click camera. Or more to the point, the barrier to entry for an amateur dropped below the price of a cross-continental airline ticket.
Technology moves in simple directions: Cheaper, faster, smaller and easier to use. In the early ‘90s, a professional-grade digital camera cost roughly $13,000. That was almost twice as much as a new Honda Civic. What’s significant about technology’s inexorable progress isn’t that it makes for ever cheaper, ever cooler toys around the Christmas tree, but that with every seemingly minor advance, it puts ever more creative power into the hands of consumers.
It’s arguable that this trend started when Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type. Previously, publishing was restricted to those capable of providing room and board to a monastery full of tonsured transcribers. But Gutenberg merely shifted power from the ridiculously wealthy (the aristocracy and church) to the merely affluent (the merchant class). It took more than 500 years to lay the template for the upheaval we’re experiencing today.
One day in the summer of 1984 Apple Computer’s CEO Steve Jobs met with John Warnock, a co-founder of a little-known company called Adobe Software. The two had joined forces a year earlier. Earlier that year Apple had released the Macintosh, the first personal computer that displayed graphics instead of command lines of green text over a black screen. In the early 1980s the term “personal computer” still sounded, to most people, like an oxymoron. Computers were the province of programmers, accountants and egghead academics. Before the Macintosh, no one took for granted that computers should be personal, friendly and intuitive.
Jobs and Warnock were about to transform not just the computer industry but the world of publishing as well. Warnock and his colleagues at Adobe had written a computer language called PostScript that would allow those lush Macintosh graphics to be printed out by an affordable printer using laser technology. Warnock and Jobs had asked Jonathan Seybold, a pioneer in digital printing, to come look at their invention. “I went to Cupertino [the town in California in which Apple is based] and walked into this tiny room, and there stood Jobs and Warnock with a Mac and a LaserWriter.” Jobs pressed a few buttons on his Macintosh, and a page slowly emerged from the printer. “I turned to Steve and said, ‘You’ve just turned publishing on its head. ’”
In January Apple launched the LaserWriter, and it wasn’t long before Seybold’s prediction came true. A third software company, Aldus, completed the troika by releasing a program called PageMaker that enabled graphic artists to layout newspaper and magazine pages just as they would appear when they rolled off the press. It was a radical departure from publishing’s status quo. Instead of painstakingly cutting and pasting every element of a magazine or newspaper layout onto boards, then photographing them and turning them into a printing plate, a graphic artist could now simply send the file to a machine that made the plates.
Revolutions are rarely bloodless, and the “desktop publishing revolution,” as it was soon dubbed, was no exception. Between 1985 and 1990 the typesetting market cratered as publishers adopted the new technology. “At a Seybold conference shortly after the LaserWriter was announced, I was cornered by a guy who made typesetting equipment. He almost assaulted me,” said Seybold, who ‘You have ruined my business,’ he shouted. ‘You pushed PostScript and you ruined my business.’” Together Apple, Adobe and Aldus changed the course of human creativity. “The creative professional became the driver of the printing process,” notes Frank Romano, a professor of print media at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
Establishing a pattern that would be repeated time and again in the years to follow, desktop publishing put the power of production into the hands of the individual. One of those individuals happened to be me. In 1993 I was a senior at the Ohio University journalism school. By that time, of course, the desktop transformation was well underway. The mainstream press had already taken advantage of the cost-savings associated with the streamlined workflows made possible with digital typesetting. But academia was slow to catch up.
I’d arrived back at school that fall fresh from a semester abroad studying art history in London. Coming back to Ohio University, I was afflicted by a cultural claustrophobia. Drunk from an intoxicating brew of new ideas and youthful grandiosity, I searched for the most intelligent, creative and ambitious students I could find. It turned out I wasn’t the only one who felt constrained by the student magazine, Southeast Ohio, which tended to run features with titles like “Hometown: Newark!” and “Successful Spring Turkey Hunting.” I soon joined about a dozen other students in producing a magazine devoted to “alternative journalism.” We covered race, sex, politics and the kind of culture that rarely makes it to rural Ohio. The magazine was called insideOUT, and for the next two caffeine-saturated years we devoted our weekends and evenings to it. We all wrote; we all edited; and we all designed. The early ‘90s was an exciting time to start a new magazine. Programs like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and PageMaker had liberated a new generation of writers and designers, and insideOUT became a laboratory for graphical and journalistic experimentation.
Instead of creating a single issue as some sort of senior thesis, the new desktop publishing tools enabled us to create a magazine that looked as professional as anything else being published in Ohio at the time. We sold the ads ourselves, making just enough to meet our printing costs with every issue. We distributed the magazine from the back of the executive editor’s pick-up truck, leaving stacks anywhere an Ohio college student might congregate, from Cleveland bars to Dayton cafes to the student union at Ohio State University in Columbus. During its brief lifespan, insideOUT twice beat the journalism school’s own magazine for a Society of Professional Journalists award for best regional publication.
Not that we were exceptional magazine makers—far from it. We were typical of thousands of aspiring journalists who were freed from the confines of daily newspapers and regional magazines. Desktop publishing may have shut the door on the typesetting industry, but it led to a renaissance in publishing. Young Turks weren’t the only ones leading the way. Suddenly, everyone from church congregations to woodworking enthusiasts could create glossy, professional-looking publications. The technology dramatically altered graphic design as well, giving rise to the ground-breaking typography of magazines like Raygun and Wired. The impact of the desktop publishing revolution has diminished over time. In an age when teenagers can broadcast their own photos, videos and diaries to the world with a few keystrokes, putting out an “edgy” arts-and-culture magazine seems downright quaint. But the creative destruction wreaked by Jobs, Warnock and others did more than just fill the magazine racks with publications you’ve never heard of. It set a template for technological disruption, in which a threat to one industry leads to the creation of new industries no one could have foreseen a few years earlier. Desktop publishing was a small, but irrevocable step toward placing creative power in the hands of the crowd.