Silicon Insider: Book Publishing's Tech Evolution

I'm in the middle of writing a book -- and getting a lesson on how the business of book writing has changed in just the last two decades.

I wrote my first book 22 years ago, after almost a decade as a corporate public relations guy, then as a newspaper journalist. I arrived in both jobs during a period of technological transition. Both at Hewlett-Packard Corp. PR and at the San Jose Mercury News, I began my career working on an IBM Selectric typewriter and finished on a computer terminal.

Though I never used a manual typewriter in my newspaper work -- except for in the occasional press room when I was out on assignment -- I did at least catch the end of the old newsroom era: I typed my story each day on a long, carbon-papered double-sheet, tore off the top page and rolled it up, stuffed it into a glass tube with rubber caps, and fired it (with a loud POIK sound) in a vacuum tube to the composing department in the back of the building.

Within a year, all of that was gone, replaced by a computer terminal on my desk with a fuzzy glowing screen and complicated word processing software that required all sorts of coding and formatting, with a fixed keyboard and a miserable viewing angle.

Unlike some of my older peers, I was neither impressed nor upset by the change. Had I been more prescient, I might have foreseen the end of newspapers. Instead, I was simply annoyed. This was Silicon Valley, after all, and I was the world's first daily high-tech reporter: I knew there was already a lot better hardware and software out there. I'd seen Jobs, Woz and Fernandez build the Apple I, attended the introduction of the Apple II in San Francisco, and worked on some of the world's best terminals and computers at HP. I knew the equipment I was working on at the Merc, revolutionary as it was in the newspaper world, was obsolete junk.

The World of Freelance in the 1980s

That's one reason why, almost from the day I walked out of the paper, I told myself I needed to score a real personal computer if I was going to create any real sort of freelance career for myself. As it happened, Mike Markkula, the chairman of Apple, asked whether I'd be willing to ghostwrite an article for him -- and when he offered to pay me with a new Apple computer, I jumped at the chance. Despite having once been a flack, I fell for Apple's PR, and when the time came to choose my machine, I stupidly chose the new Apple III. Four years later, when helping to write the infamous 1984 Apple annual report, I was again offered the same deal -- this time I took the money.

History generally describes the Apple III as a failure -- which it was, business-wise -- but it did the job for me. It wasn't long before, armed with my 300 baud Hayes modem, I had set up what was likely the first-ever personal online newspaper syndicate. I started out writing stories for The New York Times, and eventually shifted to a group of four papers that included The Boston Globe and Dallas Morning News. Each week I would write a feature story, call up the computer at each paper in turn, type in a dozen numbers and letters, then watch as the story was slowly fed to the distant computer. It typically took three attempts or four attempts to get a connection, and the feed usually lasted several minutes, but it was a kind of miracle nevertheless. And it paid my bills.

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