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CNI USES the Comdex show in Las Vegas to review the core technologies it employs in building open prepress systems. In that perspective, it found some items at the show that weren't covered in the Seybold editors' report from the show (see Vol. 10, No. 4). Here is the CNI view of what was most interesting and how it all fits together.
Rather than offering surprises, the show confirmed many of the implications for prepress systems that had been present at last year's show (see The Seybold Report on Publishing Systems, Vol. 24, No. 9). However, if you listened to and believed even half the hype generated about the Internet during the past year -- at Seybold shows, Nexpo, Internet World and especially Comdex -- you would have been convinced that the entire world of computing has lately been turned inside out: Internet-centric computing is in and distributed PC-centric computing is out; publishers planning prepress systems will never purchase another PC or Mac, but will immediately invest in Sun, Netscape (even though the price-earnings ratio of its stock defies gravity), Oracle and any other company even vaguely connected to the Internet.
Don't you believe it. This article will outline why, in CNI's opinion, Internet-centric computing is as much hype as it is fact.
We will explain how the Internet is extremely important to publishers, but not because of any paradigm shift in how computing will function in the future. We will discuss the theory, advanced by Oracle, Sun and others, that the future of computing (both Internet-centric computing and prepress systems) will be done on $500 dumb terminals.
We will look briefly at the joint company formed by ten major (print) publishing companies to learn about and use the Internet to keep the newspaper positioned in its community.
We will look at the Java programming language Sun has introduced for the Internet, and explain why it will be important for prepress systems -- although it won't be the most important thing. We will outline how publishers can use the Internet to protect their "franchise."
Communications to remote PC users are becoming very complex, with many paths. We will explore how newspapers can simplify and contain the number of electronic paths through which their communications take place, especially for electronic mail, eventually aiming for "the universal in-box." We will explore the amount and cost of the bandwidth by which we can access our prepress networks from other locations besides the corporate office. In fact, CNI sees this as the key limiting factor by which both Internet-centric and PC-centric computing are currently constrained.
We will explore the new buzzword, the Intranet. We will outline what this will mean for newspaper publishers.
We will revisit one of our favorite topics, operating-system and platform wars.
Last, we will look at a Comdex introduction: a PC bus structure we will see in 1996. It will deliver much higher peripheral-device performance, resulting in productivity gains in prepress systems. We will explore how this will affect the still-raging platform wars.
Why publishers must learn to love the Net
CNI likes to look at the Internet as structured layers of communications. We find it helps our thinking about and planning for prepress systems. Last January, in our last article, we outlined how something as vast and growing as the Internet would have to become segmented, by market and by product. That is now clearly happening, and the layers help us and our clients deal with it.
* Staff. The first and most important layer is your inhouse staff. You create the content that drives the physical connection (conduit) for communications.
* Online services. The Associated Press and other services provide base-level information to help create content.
* The Internet. This is really just a "telephone company" for computers. Your E-mail address or your company's home page is simply your computer's telephone number.
* Internet access provider. This is the link in your local community through which you access the Internet. It serves as a local telephone company for your computers. (In fact, CNI believes it likely will be your local telephone company -- and that there will be more than one.)
* Developers. These are vendors creating products and services for prepress systems and publishers. You use their products on top of the above four layers to service your readers and advertisers.
Protect role as content creator. CNI believes publishers must embrace the Internet (and other online publishing forms) to protect their core franchise, which is content creation. Research done by the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) and the larger media companies shows that the local newspaper is one of just a few sources readers use to gather their daily information. (The same research explains why large broadcast-media company stocks are rising again. Ten years ago, everyone thought that, with 500 cable channels, the big networks would shrink. In fact, lack of content has made 500 channels rather uninteresting. We are tired of watching Gilligan's Island reruns on the 499th channel.) The newspaper is one of the "old friends" where people look for their daily information.
Any form of communications that attempts to fill this need is head-on competition for the newspaper. The Internet is such a form, for it is a vehicle through which anyone can offer the same information assimilation and reporting functions. So publishers need to embrace all these electronic communications facilities as ways to further their own reach to and within their own communities.
Why all the hype? We view it as natural. Everyone likes new technology, new things to learn about and play with. So it attracts a great deal of attention. The Internet has connected our PCs into a giant global network. However, CNI doesn't see any fundamental change in how information is assimilated, digested, reported and put into a form that readers will use. It's just that one new tool has been added.
To find something on the World Wide Web, you need a fairly robust PC, a fast modem, an Internet access provider and a lot of time and patience. We don't see many daily newspaper readers spending the time to do this. Rather, we see the newspaper publisher (or someone else) as providing this filtering and assimilation service.
Stock-market mania. The hype is due in part to everyone's trying to figure out how to capitalize on this explosive new growth. For example, Netscape is a company expecting $40 million or so in revenue, yet with a market valuation of several billion dollars. Netscape stock was one of the first true Internet market plays, so it was a red-hot IPO. Others have rushed to capitalize on the hot market for Internet-based stocks. Even companies that are not pure Internet players (e.g., AOL, Prodigy and CompuServe, each of which is owned by a larger company) have experienced run-ups in their stock prices.
A year ago, as the old, "closed" model of online services began to break down, lots of people thought the online service companies were dead. Not only have they survived, they have prospered (so far) by joining, not fighting, the "open model" of online service.
We see continued stock-market mania behind any significant Internet-related company. Whether all of these companies will eventually grow to support their valuations is another question. Remember, no one is really making any serious money …