In my opinion, and I speak as a long-term Seybold writer, this is the end of Seybold as we all know and respect it. The group of editors in Media, who have been declared redundant, are more than just editors and writers, they are the heart and sole that makes Seybold special. As a group they have all been together for more than 15 years, some for 20 years. They understand, live and breathe the industry. You cannot just put in a new editor without any background and understanding of what Seybold means, and continue with the brand.
This move however is just the final stage in the ongoing history of Seybold. I have been expecting to write this article for at least the last five years. With my understanding of Seybold’s owners, I am surprised I have not had the opportunity to write it before. Let’s first look back at what Seybold is, and what Seybold was.
In the early 1980s Jonathan Seybold started Seybold Seminars, as a meeting place to discuss the key issues that affected the publishing systems market. Again this rapidly grew to become the meeting place where publishing and printing professional met. At this time I was a vendor of laser imagesetting equipment, and I knew the power of Seybold, and the benefits of getting a good write up in The Seybold Report. In 1985 when I had started consultancy I began my 15-year relationship with the organisation, later becoming its international editor.
Seybold was a well known authority in newspaper circles where major operational revolutions had taken place in the 1970s and early 1980s, but it really came to major prominence with the arrival of desktop publishing (DTP). DTP, with Apple, Adobe (PostScript), and Aldus (PageMaker) was launched at Seybold, and The Seybold Report became the worldwide authority on the subject. Seybold Seminars developed to become a major trade show and became the world’s launch centre for anything concerned with printing and publishing. If your job was to keep up with the latest developments in publishing and printing, you went to the Seybold Seminars and read the Seybold Report. People like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, John Warnock and other industry luminaries, were the regular speakers at the events. Attendees came not just to hear them, but also to hear Jonathan Seybold’s brand of seminar moderation that brought the maximum from the speakers. Who will forget the emotions of Bill Gates on being torn apart by the audience for his lack of understanding of the needs of the publishing market. Also who will forget Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and above all John Warnock on the issue of making the PostScript font format an open standard? In newspapers and high-end publishing Seybold continued to influence well into the early 1990s with its "Fourth Wave" discussions, that again changed the face of the industry.
It was with PostScript that we really saw the benefit of Publications and Seminars working cohesively together in areas where Seybold became the absolute industry-testing standard. The issues of PostScript speed testing and later colour screening evaluation were real industry benchmarks that established PostScript as the publishing standard for the future. The same happened with PDF where Seybold, more than Adobe, established this as the ongoing standard for the future.
Seybold became a very successful brand, and a very successful trade show. Jonathan saw the opportunity to expand and sold the Seybold Seminars and Publications operation to publishing organisation Ziff Davis.
Ziff Davis thought they had bought an exhibition company that also ran seminars, and who also produced publications. Jonathan Seybold’s company was a newsletter publisher that presented seminars as a discussion forum and through that ran trade shows. It was a very different model. Seybold then started going through a series of ownership and brand changes. It was put first into ZD Expos. This was later sold to the Japanese software publishing company Softbank, who also acquired another trade show company Comdex. They brought the two together within the Softbank operation. Seybold being the smaller partner became a part of Comdex, a company that really only understood very large-scale trade shows.
At this time Seybold Seminars, being San Francisco based, and Seybold Publications being Media based, really operated entirely separately, and the unique bond was lost. In my opinion I believe that Seybold Seminars also really lost their way as they largely gave up on print as a publishing medium in favour of the internet. In this they ignored their core competence and their user base. The blackest day in my opinion was in a keynote to the Seybold San Francisco event, when the then seminar director told printers their only hope for the future was to sell their businesses while they still had time. I almost held my head in my hands and cried at the time. It was not that Seybold was wrong in seeing the Internet as the future and that print was a diminishing medium. They were as usual correct but too early. In this case Seminars without the influence of Publications forgot their role was to act as a force for continuity, not total revolution. The message should not have been that the only option was for printers to sell. It should have recognised that the printer’s role was to change and adapt to utilise new business opportunities.
Softbank decided not to continue in owning Seybold, and once again Seybold’s brand was passed on. The company taking it on, Key3Media, was again an exhibition company, and with the economic situation emphasising its poor management decisions, it later went into Chapter 11. It came back again, this time as MediaLive International. Recent events have shown how little they too know of where Seybold really fits.
I believe now that without a major investment in re-inventing and re-defining this brand, which I am sure will not happen, that Seybold as we have known it is now history. Seybold played a huge part in changing the whole graphic arts and publishing markets. For this, the legacy of John and Jonathan Seybold, and group of Seybold editors, will I am sure, not be forgotten.