Sunday, June 29, 2008

Saying Goodbye to Print Media

When I started The Dick E. Bird News in 1987 the personal computer was still a device that most people didn’t know they needed. At the time they didn’t, but that would quickly change. I can remember showing my UPS man the Mac he had delivered the day before. It had graphics. He was an avid fisherman so I showed him a graphic of a fish and how I could copy and paste more fish. It had 1 mb of memory, whatever that was. There wasn’t a lot of information available on this new technology. I heard that if you had one of these magic machines you could do your own typesetting. I figured that if I could do my own typesetting, I could rule the world. First I had to learn a few things, like, what is software and hardware. I had no clue. I bought Mac Magazine and read the ads, that turned out to be my best source of information. The magazine was full of mail order computer companies. All of them would take your money and some of them would even send the computer. Besides figuring out the difference between software and hardware, I spent a lot of time deciding who would actually send me a computer after they cashed my check. Finally, I sent $3,000.00 off to some warehouse in New Jersey and then I sweat bullets for a week. My computer didn’t show up on schedule—more bullets. I called and got an answering machine—more bullets. I finally threatened to report them to the New Jersey Attorney General, hoping New Jersey had one—more bullets. UPS finally delivered a computer to my doorstep, it wouldn’t turn on—more bullets. I sent it back and demanded my money or a next day delivery of a computer that would turn on. How was I going to rule the world if my electronic typesetter wouldn’t fire up—more bullets. I had the maps out. I figured I could make New Jersey in two days. During this time I was manufacturing bird feeders. I had to sell a lot of bird feeders to come up with that three grand. I wasn’t losing it to the Sopranos without a fight. Two days later I had a computer on my desk that did everything Steve Jobs said it would. There were a few little snags I had not figured on. First, I needed software. I rented it. It was called PageMaker 1.0. We threw everything we had in our Airstream travel trailer and left Michigan for Florida. I spent the winter on the banks of the Ockalawaha River reading computer and software manuals. By spring of 1987 I had typeset the first issue of The Dick E. Bird News. The next problem was output. It looked great on the little computer screen, although I could only look at about 1/8th of the page at a time. I had not thought about printing a positive out for the press. In fact, I had no idea what a positive was, it just sounded so much better than a negative. Back in Northern Michigan I tracked down a company in Detroit that had a $50,000.00 Linatronic Machine. This was the mothership that would turn my creative pixel paper into reality. I had to drive six hours round trip to print out my pages. A couple from India that owned the machine didn’t know how to use it. They told me to figure it out and print my own pages. With fifty grand invested you would think there might be some incentive to read the manual but I seemed to be their only customer. Technology was screaming along and within a year a young couple just four hours round trip from me bought a new machine called a laser printer. They could print my output. Twelve months later a print shop right in my home town of Traverse City had one. Soon I could purchase my own laser printer for a mere $6,000.00. I was ruling the world from the top of my desk. If I had bought stock instead of stuff I would be a millionaire today, but no, I bought stuff. Finding a print shop was not an easy task. Most would just chuckle when I told them I could do my own typesetting on an Apple Computer. They said, "Those are just toys and we won’t be getting involved with any of that." Little did they know the Mac truck was coming straight at them. They were deer in the headlights and had no clue. Ironically, twenty-one years later, this same technology that excited me into the newspaper business destroyed me as quickly and as efficiently. Print media will soon be history. I am just one of the first victims. I could see it coming I just couldn’t get out of the way. Like the historical Buffalo Jump, I ran as fast and as hard as I could and finally just had to leap off the cliff. So this is where I landed. I’m a little BLOG in the big Universe of the internet—the new Milky Way of the Media. If you happen to find me here in the BLOG galaxy, and enjoy my ramblings, please stop back and bring a few thousand of your closest friends. —Keep Smilin’, Dick E. Bird