Dave Ahl and Betsy Ahl
This is a transcript of an audio interview. This transcript may contain errors - if you're using this material for research, etc. please verify with the original recorded interview.
Source: ANTIC: The Atari 8-Bit Podcast
Interviewer: Kevin Savetz
Date: 3/4 April 2013
Kevin: I'm interested in how you guys got together. Was it some sort of office romance? [laughs]
Betsy: It started before then. I was working at Drew University and I was dating the computer science professor. He invited Dave...he was a subscriber to Creative Computing. I can remember being at his house and picking up a copy of this magazine and thinking, "Creative Computing," and laughing. "What kind of a title is that?" He invited Dave to come speak to one of his classes. While he was there, he said, "I should stop by your placement office. We're starting to expand. I'm looking for some people." Right? Am I getting this right? I was looking for other opportunities, so I sent him my resume. Many months later, he hired me.
David: She still smarts about that. [laughter]
David: I interviewed her in, I don't know, April or so.
Betsy: You interviewed me on April 17th and you did not hire me until August 1st. [laughs]
David: A lot was going on that year. That was '78.
Betsy: It was a really long time after that that we got married. We didn't get married until 10 years later.
David: Actually, I had hired Betsy as our business manager. That's what I really needed.
Kevin: Not a wife, then.
Betsy: Not wife then, either.
David: Not at that point. We had 2 buildings.
Betsy: We had one.
David: Oh, well I was looking for...
Betsy: My first job was to find another building.
David: We were expanding like crazy. In fact, one of the reasons that I didn't hire her sooner, I had just left my day job at AT&T, and was facing up to, "Oh my gosh, can I afford to take a salary out of Creative Computing?" Yes, we had expanded a lot, but can I even pay myself, much less other senior people? I left AT&T in July, and finally by August it became clear I really have to get this administration end of things under control. The editorial was OK. I had enough outside contributors that were going along with what we were doing in-house that I could continue with that, but it was the other end of things where we really had some problems. So then we go to 2 separate facilities. One was a 2 family house on the other side of Morristown, and the other was a converted greenhouse garage, which is where I started. So, Betsy was in the greenhouse garage where I had the administration side of things, and I was at the house and that was the editorial and art and...
David: ...putting the magazine together. Software, right. So she would come over from her place to my office every day or two just to let me know what's going on, and we'd get together. But it wasn't until I don't' remember the date when Betsy was saying, "Well, I'd like to get into..."
Betsy: Well I had spent all my summers in college and two thereafter working at our local newspaper, writing editing and putting the whole thing together, so I think I more or less just said, "We've got all these new product announcements that we don't have anybody to do, why don't I just do them?" So, I started out doing the press releases and things.
David: Her newspaper experience was first in high school covering sports.
Betsy: Yeah, I started out covering the unpopular sports as a senior in high school. Because they didn't want a girl to write about the important sports. So they let the girl write about the unimportant sports, which turned out to be the winning sports, at this small New Jersey high school. That's how I started.
David: And then at the newspaper, you started by writing obituaries, right?
Betsy: Well, it's one of the things I did. I always wanted to be a Spanish teacher. I didn't know anything about this. So, I got this sports- writing job by way of a babysitting job, I babysat for the publisher's kids and on the way home one night he said to me, "We always have a boy from the school who writes about the sports for the paper, do you know anybody?" and I said, "Well, I know the guy who did it last year, and if he could do it, I could do it." So I did that and didn't' think much more of it. Went off to college, came back over spring break, and ran into the guy in the grocery store and he said, "Would you like a job working for the paper this summer?" And I said sure. I had no idea whether he wanted me to sweep the floors or what, but it was a job so I took it. It was in the editorial department.
And I learned from some very serious journalists who had worked for a very good paper, the Newark Evening News, which was a very serious paper that probably was too serious and folded, probably in the mid '60s, but these people were really good journalists and they taught me a lot.
I think it was that first year, about halfway through the summer the publisher was on vacation, the editor was going to go on vacation when the publisher came back and the publisher, the day he was supposed to come back had appendicitis, had to have an appendectomy which back in those days was a much bigger deal than it is now. The editor said, "Well, I'm leaving." [laughs] And there I was. I was running this little paper.
David: So I figured if you can run a newspaper, even though it's just a summer job, she could do a lot for us. Well, Betsy continued to handle the administrative things for really quite awhile and, as she said, probably was initially doing new product releases. Cause you get just tons of it over the transom and from these smaller companies...
Kevin: So you'd like get a press release and then you'd rewrite it, that sort of things?
Betsy: Well we had a new product section and it was a format, a style for them, for each one. If they sent a photo, do a photo, a cut line for it. Basically what I do is let them pile up and then sort through and figure out which ones were worthy of attention. And then it was kind of just filler. They ran in one column and when you came to the end of the magazine whatever you had leftover you would fill in with these.
David: And the thing is that the companies that were putting out these press releases, this was back in the, what '76, '77 or so, tiny little companies. They had no marketing expertise so they were sending us, in some cases, not quite handwritten but pretty crude. So it took some editing and some real work to make them readable. And then, as Betsy said, you had to guess. OK, which one, this is a significant product but is this guy going to be able to make this company go or is it just going to flop? And we tried to be responsible to the readers. Reporting on things that weren't just a wonderful great new idea but something that they were going to have on the market that was going to get some support and everything else. So anyway. That was a long story of how we got together.
Kevin: I still don't know how you got together.
Betsy: We were working in an office about as large as this banquette here together. Because when we first started working together we didn't have this other house. So it was the two of us. You had an actual desk I believe. I had a table that he had made out of particle board. Yeah it was fancy and I had to put duct tape along it because the edge was making holes in my clothes. So we worked in this office back to back, sort of got to know each other, and became friends, little by little. He said to me, when you're looking for this building, it would be a good thing if there was a place for me to live because I'm in the process of getting separated from my wife. Which it turned out you didn't do right away but eventually you did. Right?
David: Well, it was three months later. That was right away in a sense. What precipitated that was we had a woman that was working in the mailroom and she got in cahoots with somebody in the accounting department and they started working a little embezzlement.
Kevin: Was this at D.E.C. or at...
Kevin: at DEC or...
Betsy: At Creative Computing.
David: No, at Creative Computing. This was just after Betsy was hired. In fact, they had it going on before and I mean they were very good at it. What they did is they set up a bank account in the name of Creative Computing in the next county. And they would take very fourth or fifth check and it might be a subscription, it might be paying for an ad or something...
Betsy: It was mostly the advertisers.
David: Well it was both. And then they put that into their bank account. And then the one that was in the accounting department would mark the thing as paid.
Betsy: No, she didn't. That was her mistake.
David: Well, she didn't.
Betsy: Because that wasn't her job.
David: Well she blew one. In any event it was my advertising manager that we had sent an overdue notice to one of the advertisers.
Betsy: It was Apple.
Betsy: It was Apple. It was Regis McKenna, it was Apple's agency.
David: And they said, we paid that. And a woman said, well send me proof. And they did. And we looked at the bank where it was deposited and then we called in local detective, police department. And they got the bank records and said, "How much do you think this was?" Well no they didn't say that, they said, this is probably a lot more than you thought. And it turned out to be well over $100,000. And our total annual, not even profit at that point...well, the gross was just about a million at that point, not quite, but close to it. So $100,000 was a big, big chunk 10 percent.
Kevin: When was this?
David: '78. And, so, obviously we fired these two. And then the court finally, well they determined that they had also, one of them had been involved in welfare fraud and other stuff and the court ordered them to pay it back at the rate of, I don't know...
Betsy: 47 cents a week.
David: It was some tiny amount.
Kevin: Still paying you... [laughter and crosstalk]
Betsy: Course they'll never pay anything.
David: And we got one payment you know, and that was it.
Betsy: And she was ordered to do public service. Like who wants someone doing public service for them who's done something like that?
Kevin: Magazines back then, probably any business but, they were a hotbed of intrigue. You had that happened and then the whole Bike Magazine getting stolen.
David: So Betsy actually, in response to that brought, in response to the embezzlement brought in her Sister-in-Law Bobbi, and I think your mother too...
Betsy: It was Bobbi's mother.
David: Bobbi's mother, OK. But one to...
Betsy: My mother in law. I was a widow at the time.
David: ...do some of the accounting because we didn't have an accountant and wanted just to help out and make some calls to advertisers and say can you speed up your payment a little bit and also calls to people that we owed money to, hey we're going to be maybe a little late. It really didn't look good. That was just a huge amount of money and so we had to stretch things out and hope that the growth continued so we could recover some of this. Betsy really rescued us there. It was amazing. We finally did stretch things out. What precipitated the separation with my wife at the time is I went home and told her this had happened and everything.
Betsy: It was Thanksgiving weekend. Day before Thanksgiving.
David: The day before Thanksgiving is when we got all the information from the police department and I went home to my wife and she said, "You dumb...," well I won't repeat the whole thing but, "You are so stupid. You trust people." "Yes, I trust people." "You shouldn't trust people like that. Get out of the house. I can't put up with this anymore." So it was a good thing we had a two family house.
Betsy: We had this two family house.
David: I moved into the bedroom on one side.
Betsy: He had his office on one side of the top floor in the back bedroom and his bedroom in the back bedroom on the other side and his kitchen. [laughs]
Kevin: Is this the place I was reading about where your bedroom was above the kitchen?
Betsy: Yes. The Ted Nelson.
David: Anyway, a lot of things precipitated. Because of that, we had to make some other changes on personnel and move some people around. I think after that then Betsy took more of a role in the editorial end of things.
Kevin: Stayed there until the bitter end.
Betsy: The bitter end. Actually, I was there after he was gone.
David: That's true.
Betsy: Ziff continued to pay me several months after they closed the magazine to stay behind and clean up because we have a 75,000 square foot building. Make sure that we don't dispose of the hardware and just basically get it ready.
Kevin: When you quit at the phone company to start a magazine, that must have been scary.
David: I had left Digital Equipment in 1974, and I'm sure you read the whole rationale behind that, and joined AT&T in marketing, educational marketing. Same thing I was doing at DEC but obviously marketing different products to a different mix of customers. AT&T, back then and perhaps today, they had a real formula that you're in a job for two years and then they rotate you out or they put you in another job. The way AT&T works is they have certain steps. There's a manager and then a director level. There are levels, one, two, three, four, five. The operating companies, like Pacific Bell and so on, have similar steps that are considered a half step below AT&T. What they do is they rotate you out to an operating company, a half step promotion, they rotate you back into AT&T, now you're a full step. You never get a full step in one company.
They had offered me a rotation to Southern Bell. Birmingham, Alabama. "No. No." Then probably two or three months later said we've got an opening in Wisconsin Tel. "Oh my gosh. Come on, something sensible." I turned them down, which was bad. You can't turn down. If you turn down three you might as well retire.
The third one was, in a sense, it wasn't a promotion but it was a sideways job jump within AT&T itself. I went from having the education group, which was about eight people, to corporate communications, which is about 100 people and a huge budget. I was responsible for all of the marketing communications for the whole Bell system. Not advertising.
We had seminar centers, put out all kinds of educational pamphlets, even a magazine for our customers on how to use the equipment. I was doing that. It's a big job. It's a 50 hour a week job. Creative Computing was halfway down the block. I'd go there at lunch time, see how things were doing.
As I said a little bit ago, when it looked like we were going to hit a million dollars I said I've got to get serious about this. That's when I resigned from AT&T. That was probably the first, I shouldn't say the first, but that was a major problem with my wife at that time. You're leaving AT&T? You're leaving all those benefits? What are you doing, you idiot? We were on the downward spiral at that point and then the embezzlement just sealed the whole thing.
Leaving any job for an unknown thing like you started a little company and you leave your day job. You're making a real commitment.
Kevin: Even once you were at Creative full time, it looks like you did a lot of everything. You were writing, you were doing programming, you were being the editor, the publisher and the editor which is not done anymore.
David: Yeah. I don't know. You can correct me. I don't think I was a control freak.
Betsy: No. You had Phil Ellenberg. You had just hired Phil Ellenberg as the advertising manager. Richie was doing it. Where did he come from? He came from some respectable place. He came from some respectable place, Phil Ellenberg.
David: Yeah, he did.
Betsy: He was like a real person who had a real job, not like the rest of us. He was the ad manager. I think once you made the step to leave AT&T then you mostly concentrated on the editorial. You weren't selling ads and writing and you had Steve North who was doing a lot of the editorial.
David: At the beginning, yeah. The thing is I'd be lying if I said I knew how things were going to go, I knew this was going to be a huge magazine some day. I had no clue. When I started Creative Computing there weren't even personal computers at that point. I was convinced, I guess, that they would come about. I had no idea that it would be three months later that the Altair came about. It was more that I thought that an educational magazine like we had been publishing at DEC should continue. DEC had dropped off. They stopped publishing Edu when I left the education group. Well, they published an issue or two but they really weren't serious about continuing it. Then you had all of these people out here in the west coast, the Hewlett Packard computers. They were publishing some good software, they had some good arrangements with Minnesota Educational Computers Consortium and some others to distribute stuff that they developed, but there was no information source for schools and teachers and kids that were using computers.
That's what I envisioned initially, but then once the Altair and the others came out people buy this kit computer and say what can I do with it? We've got these programs that will run.
Betsy: First you have to steal Basic.
Betsy: First you have to steal Basic.
David: Yeah, yeah.
Kevin: I noticed that, I don't know what it's called, the public opinion or I don't know the word, this part here. The number one magazine of computer applications.
David: That was a Davis thing.
Kevin: It started off first issue a non-profit magazine of educational and recreational. That was November 1970. May/June 1975 the words non- profit disappeared.
Betsy: He never set it up as a non-profit.
David: I did not.
Kevin: You started making a profit.
David: That's right. [laughs] Betsy; It was the unintentionally non-profit.
Kevin: Three years later it quietly changed into the number one magazine of computer applications and software.
David: That was when Ziff Davis took over.
Kevin: Really? No, that was '78.
Betsy: No, that was '78.
David: Oh, '78.
Kevin: He stayed until the end.
David: Right. OK. You're right. Who knows. We changed it.
Betsy: It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Kevin: It's clearly a shift from education to education plus other things.
Betsy: I think it was when he realized that if you really wanted to make a profit you had to leave education behind because teachers want everything for free, or they certainly did then.
Kevin: They have some websites for teachers. They still do. [laughs]
David: Schools, teachers, yeah, they want everything for free and they get a lot for free. Places like Huntington Computer Project. There was one out here, Oregon. Yes, there was. I think it was based right here in Portland. It would have been, right, if it was in Oregon? Yes, there was a computing consortium at that time, Hewlett Packard oriented. Then you had People's Computer Company down in California that was sort of providing stuff to schools. They were mostly into alternative schools and there were a lot of them in the Bay area at that time. In fact, there was a magazine or a newspaper, big thing, I don't know how often it came out, called the "De-school Primer".
It was for people that...I won't say they were hippies but basically homeschoolers but they got together and said, "We're going to educate our kids outside of the public education system but we don't want to do it individually. We'll get together." There was a big movement there and they were into computers, unlike the public schools back in '75, '76.
Betsy: Homeschooling back then was very avant-garde. It was not approved.
David: Not like today. The shift away from education. That, of course, was partially driven by the hardware that was then available to people at home. When I first started the magazine, I had four editors over the years, five I guess, but Steve Gray had been publishing a newsletter, what he called the "Amateur Computer Group Newsletter". It was for engineers who were scavenging up old parts from Honeywell and IBM and GE and DEC and trying to put together a computer. You've got success stories and here's how you can make this worth together.
That was a long way away from an Altair, but that's what I was focusing on, people that were doing that and education. Changed our focus. You're right. Good observation.
Kevin: After that, do you feel the focus changed in the next 10 years?
David: The focus changed largely due to selling the magazine to Ziff Davis.
Kevin: When's that?
David: We were negotiating for a while and I think the sale finally went through in '83. Yeah, '83. Maybe late '82 but roughly then. They felt that you need more of a business focus, small business and people running businesses out of their home. That's where it started but then we got into real small businesses. I shouldn't say real but a store front or a small manufacturer, something like that. That's probably a direction we would not have gone. I wouldn't have gone on my own.
Betsy: We had a magazine called "Small Business Computing." Remember?
David: That's right, we did. I would have kept Creative more targeted on the home market and still education, to some extent, but more on the home and people that were running a business, a single entrepreneur. You could review a spreadsheet or a small business computer or higher end printer or something but not lift it up to that next level up. When you're owned by somebody else and they say this is what we want to do you've got to be responsive to it.
Kevin: Why did you sell? Was it something that had to be done? I've read the official line.
David: I think the official line is pretty close to the real line. What happened is the first magazine, maybe not the very first but the first sizable magazine, to sell was the Byte and they sold to McGraw Hill. Then there were three or four other sales. At the time there were maybe eight special interest publishers in the country. You had Hurst and CBS magazine and Ziff Davis. Maybe eight serious ones. There were some others that were, "Oh, it'd be nice if we could get into it." What happened is all of us at that point were spending maybe $100,000, $150,000 on circulation promotion. McGraw Hill says we want to get out there, we're going to spend a million dollars. They're mailing 10 times as much as we are. They're going to trade shows with big, elaborate booths and handing out all kinds of...
Betsy: Free magazines.
David: Not only free magazines but other stuff. That was half of it. The other half, which was probably more than half, was the advertising sales. We were using reps. We had different reps in different parts of the country, paying the rep commission on the advertising. When you are a McGraw Hill or a Hurst or a Ziff Davis you've got an in- house staff. They would have a reception at one of the computer conferences, a big deal.
Betsy: We used to have a hospitality suite at the hotels in some of these conferences and then we would bring little hunks of cheese that we cut up from home and sneak the bottles of wine up the back stairway and they were having these big things with the giant balls of shrimp.
David: Yeah. It was just an order of magnitude different than what we could do. What happened, really, was that it got to the point where there were only three, really two, serious bidders that were still looking for a magazine and there are still about four magazines, four decent quality magazines, on the market and one was Compute, one was Interface Age. Personal Computing had just sold, there was us, and I forget who the fourth one was. There was four.
Kevin: There were more magazines than buyers at this point.
David: That's right. There were a lot more magazines, too, but there were four major players. One of the buyers, I didn't really regard them as serious, and that was Atari. I think they wanted to back into the thing. The two buyers left were CBS, and they had a magazine division at that time, and Ziff Davis and that was it. I said, "Man, I've got to make a deal here." That's what happened. I look back with hindsight. I said the guy, Robert I forget his last name, that owned Compute magazine, he held out. He held out until the end and he said, "I'm better than Interface Age," and he was and whatever the other one was, Family Computing, "I'm better than them." He got a really nice payoff from CBS because it was the last one and they wanted him. I don't know. If I had held off a little more would I have gotten more? Probably.
Kevin: How much did you get?
David: Can we publish this figure?
Betsy: I don't know. I don't think we ever have.
David: No, we never have.
Kevin: It's my chance for a scoop.
Kevin: It's my chance for a scoop.
David: [laughs] I'd rather not say. I can tell you Compute, if you ever read that number, which you will, it was seven times that much. It was huge. Huge. At that point, I think CBS just said we've got to get into this. We've really got to do something. The big loser was Bob Jones at Interface Age. He had a good magazine. That was a good, solid magazine. Bob Jones, he went to shows, he was always in a suit and tie. He would have fit into the corporate environment very well but he held out too long. I think he was holding out for even more. That's what I was afraid of. Less than a year later he was out of business. There was no way you could compete with these big guys. I mean Ziff instantly started having these receptions at PC expo...
Betsy: They had ad reps all over the country.
David: Ad reps, yeah. Oh my gosh. So we would not have survived.
Kevin: So again, you timed it right.
David: Yeah. Not exactly right but yes. Wasn't bad. Wasn't bad.
Kevin: But Ziff didn't have it for very long before they let it go. It was only a couple of years.
David: It was almost four years. Three and a half years. They did a study, and this is one of the classics. I've been making a presentation at Leslie Park last year on the 10 biggest blunders in personal computing, and actually it's up to 12 now. One was, and I still feel that it was huge, is that Ziff Davis analyzed that market in '85 and determined that the home market, the market for home computers, had reached saturation. Five percent of the homes have a computer. That's it. There were three things, three major conclusions from their survey. I think probably one and a half of them were pretty good and one and a half were just absolutely wrong. The home market reaching saturation, wrong. The second one was that they said that the magazines that would be successful would be those that were focused on specific brands of computers. Are you getting all that?
David: With the IBM PC it really brought standardization to the industry. Their analysis was that Apple and PC were going to be the dominant players in the future and in that they were right. They said we've got to have a magazine that's just focused on those two and they did. What was their Apple magazine? They had two Apple magazines.
David: But they also had the one for the Mac.
Betsy: Mac User.
David: They had two Apple magazines and then PC. PC they spun off a whole bunch. PC Week.
Betsy: PC Junior.
David: A bunch of them. In any event, they were right in that. The other one that they were semi-right, in the long term future they were totally wrong but in the short term future they were probably right, and that they looked at...We had been covering bulletin board systems. CompuServe, whatever its predecessor was, basically online type of stuff.
David: Yes. They said that's just a flash in a pan, online stuff. Well, in '85 it was. It took a while. It took another 8 to 10 years for that but then oh my God. You know what's happened today. If they had stuck with Creative Computing and rather than trying to make it a small business focused magazine but kept the home and the online focus we would have owned the Internet market today, absolutely owned it. It would have been a bigger magazine than all the others put together. Hindsight is 20/20.
Kevin: I know it wasn't your choice but do you have regret about that?
Betsy: At the time it was devastating.
Betsy: It was like someone killing your child.
David: At the time, we sat in these meetings up in Stanford, Connecticut, of all places. The reason for that is Bill Ziff. What happened in the interim a year or two after they purchased Creative Computing and PC, Bill Ziff came down with cancer really big time and was afraid of dying next year. So he was moving all of his resources and the holdings outside of New York to avoid really major taxation. I'm not sure that Connecticut was much better but he was splitting them between Connecticut and Florida. Anyway, we wound up having a bunch of meetings.
Betsy: He was trying to maintain residence in Connecticut.
David: Yeah, I guess that was it.
Betsy: He was living in the Crown Plaza.
David: I remember the last one. We were up at the hotel.
Betsy: Crown Plaza. It was Stanford, it wasn't Harvard.
David: Yeah, Stanford.
Betsy: I said Harvard.
David: When they finally came and said we're going to shut this down. That was a devastating time. We probably could have continued to work for Ziff if we had been willing to go into New York but when you get used to working a mile or two from where you live the idea of commuting into New York, who knows what the job would have been. Bye. That was it. That was, in retrospect, a mistake. The other thing that happened as a result of Bill Ziff having this bout with cancer is that Ziff Davis sold off all of their other special interest magazines. Popular Boating, Popular Photography.
Betsy: Yachting, Modern Bride.
David: They had a big group of travel magazines. Actually, one of the things they did after Creative Computing was to shut down...we got friendly with the publisher and some of the people in the traveling division and we started doing some freelance travel writing. I was writing a monthly column for one of the travel magazines that went to travel agents on automating your travel office and so on, which was an interesting thing because there's a small business that really depended upon computers with the reservation systems and all the airlines had a different reservation system. You had to have Saber.
A lot of them would go with one and make an agreement with somebody else to make their other reservations. In any event, it was a bad system and I was writing a column on how to make this work for you. As you know, I don't know how many months later we got into the Atari camp.
Kevin: That was your next gig?
David: Yeah. It was Joe Sugarman, remember, that hooked us up with Atari.
Betsy: I thought it was Neil Harris.
David: He was the one we worked with but it was Sugarman.
Betsy: Because he came from Commodore. I didn't know it was Joe Sugarman.
David: He ran a company called JS&A for Joe Sugarman and Associates. They were the first one that took these full page ads in lots of different magazines and the quarter page...
Betsy: The first advertorials.
David: Yeah, advertorial. The first print advertorials. Really serious stuff. Out of that, he spawned at least a dozen other companies. Sharper Image is a Sugarman and it's a spinoff. They've got a whole page just focused on this air ionizer or some crazy product, but he sold tons of that stuff. Then he started offering courses. He was on the verge of doing some big deal with Atari and so he knew all the people out there. I had taken his course and started running the ad. In fact, there's probably one in one of those issues that is basically a Sugarman ad. And so anyway, you took the course, too. So we got to know him. He got to know us, and we kept up. And, oh, OK. Creative Computing has folded, and I'm trying to get something going with Atari and getting their magazine really serious. And so he was the one that hooked us up with them. By the way, I'm surprised that you don't have Atari Explorer on your website
Kevin: On the website? Well, the deal with my Atari magazines website is I've always strove to get permission. Atari can't be owned by the same company for more than three months at time. [laughter]
Betsy: It's hard to get permission that way.
Kevin: You can't get permission. But it's out there, elsewhere. There are other archivists who don't bother to get permission. That's another good way to do things. Yeah, it's out there. I think Archive.org has it.
David: Really? Yeah, because I hadn't seen it. I was looking for something...I still get inquires every once in a while from somebody that wants something in one of the previous magazines that we've published.
Kevin: That's why I don't' risk it. There's a few magazine that I just absolutely would not, because it's owned by some giant monolith corporation now, and they need to hold on everything even if it's 30 years old.
Betsy: Because someday they might be able to make money from it.
Kevin: Right. That's why that's not there. Talk to me about...You did some weird stuff. The weird stuff I'm thinking of is the board game.
David: "Computer Rage."
Betsy: We just saw that. We might not have even remembered what it was it, but we saw it last night at the museum.
David: They have one in the Collection's area of the Computer Museum. They didn't even know that we published it. I thought, "Look at this."
Kevin: You did Computer Rage, which was weird; I want to ask you about that. You did the record album.
Betsy: The record album made way more sense than the game.
David: Yeah, well it was a guy named Allan. He was a colonel at that time and he came to see me with the idea for the computer game.
Betsy: I forgot about that.
David: He was a colonel in the Army and had something to do with educational programs. The Army said people should know more about how computers work and everything else. He said, "The games that are on the market are pretty tacky and not fun. I've devised something." We worked together with him. We finally decided, "All right. We'll publish this game." By the way, he's a general and finally retired.
Betsy: But he's not financing his retirement with the royalties of the game. [laughter]
David: No, not at all.
Kevin: Will anyone buy this?
David: Oh, absolutely.
Betsy: We did overprint.
David: It wasn't a big seller or big success, but we sold enough of them. Now the record was a little different. There was a guy named Dick Moberg who, at the time, was the president of the Philadelphia Area Computer Society. The first two personal computer festivals were actually in New Jersey, not the west coast. The West Coast Computer Faire came later with Jim Warren and that group. John Dilks started this computer festival in Atlantic City. This was before Atlantic City was a big casino place, but...
Betsy: Well, it was a casino place, but...
David: ...but it was pretty tacky.
Betsy: It still is.
Kevin: Not like now.
Betsy: Not like now where it's so classy.
David: In any event, they were having some issues with the hotel and the convention center in Atlantic City. Dick Moberg said, "We people in Philadelphia can do a better job than you guys in New Jersey." And he got together with what was his name? Lenny? And
Betsy: Oh! Saul Levis.
David: Saul Levis, who was the president of the New Jersey amateur computer group. The two of them got together and said yeah, it'll be more convenient if we do a thing in Philadelphia. And Saul Levis, he had put together the first Trenton computer festival. It wasn't a big huge thing; it's gotten to be gigantic. In any event they said OK, we'll do this. At that point, this was '78; the Apple had just come out and people were making little plug-in peripherals. There was a company that...I'm not going to be able to remember who it was. They made a nice little plug-in board for the Apple. What they had was a very nice thing on the screen where you could position notes and then have them played back. So it was a visual programming of music.
Kevin: Music Construction Center?
Betsy: There were ads for it in magazines.
David: No, it was a guy out of Denver. I don't remember. Anyway, before that everything had appeared line by line. But there were some reasonable playback systems that were starting to come on the market for the S-100 bus. There were about four of them. The programming was a little bit harrier, but nonetheless they sounded OK. And then there was still the leftovers in a sense that people that were doing work on mainframes to process music. So Dick Moberg said, "Wouldn't it be cool if we could get a number of these together?" And of course there's the Philadelphia Orchestra, we'll make it a Philadelphia Computer Music Festival! So it was largely his idea, but then, how do you publicize it? Well, you've got this magazine that's in your backyard, that was willing to recruit some people and publicize it. So we got about...I don't know at the festival there were probably 25 or 30 people that had stuff.
They recorded it all, which in retrospect was a bit of a mistake because they had problems with one of the two channels in the stereo. They had the big reel-to-reel tape recorder, one of the channels was seriously too low. And then they said, "Well, we've got this wonderful tape; what are we going to do with it?" And I said, "Well, I'll do something with it."
I hooked up with a studio in the city that made records, and we went in there and corrected the low channel a little bit, not totally, but enough that it sounded like stereo. And put together a vinyl record!
I edited out a lot of the poor quality performances, made the record, and that sold! It sold pretty well. Our biggest problem was shipping. How do you ship a 12-inch vinyl record without it breaking? But that sold pretty well. That, of course, died off along with everything else when Creative Computing got killed by Ziff. But, I still had the original test pressing of that, the original, original.
I played it back, and it sounded very good. Put it into, I forget what the software was, but, it was one, the digital routine. It would have been nice if I still had the original tape, but, I didn't. But, OK, it's got a little bit of deterioration, going to a record.
On the other hand, we're not talking about losing overtones of a violin up at 15,000 hertz. It was within a narrow band, to begin with, in any event. But that did let me totally correct the left channel and bring it up to what it should be. I put that out. I'm selling CDs now, of that.
In fact, a guy from Australia ordered one, and obviously, the postage to send anything overseas is a lot more. He said, "Why don't you just make MP3 files out of it?" Because, they're WAV files, the way they are now. I go, "OK."
This is very recent, like within the last couple of weeks, I downloaded some software, "Convert WAV to MP3," converted it, sent them the files. They said, "That's great." What I think what I'll probably do is try to figure out how I can make them available from a website.
Kevin: You've apparently forgotten that, like, 10 years ago, I did that. They're there.
David: Yes. I know.
Kevin: They're at vintagecomputermusic.com.
David: Are they MP3s?
David: Well, then, I don't have to do it.
Betsy: You dummy.
David: Bam. I did remember. I didn't know that you did them all. I thought you did a sample.
Kevin: No. They're all there. I can see you're getting reflux.
David: Boom. I wasted a little time. I waste a lot of time, these days. That was a cool thing.
Kevin: I just think it was neat that you guys were willing to take chances with weird stuff.
David: Where we took chances with really weird stuff was in the software.
Kevin: Software publishing?
David: We had a brand called, Sensational Software. Unfortunately, Ziff decided it was competing with some potential advertisers, which it was, in a sense. They killed it off. But, we had some really good stuff. We had the Apple game, what the heck was it? It was ported directly over from the arcade games.
Betsy: Was it, "Space Invaders"?
David: "Space Invaders."
Kevin: It was a clone of, "Space Invaders"?
David: It was the real.
Betsy: You got it from, Jeff Lee's guy.
David: Because, "Space Invaders," the Japanese game, was one of the first full-sized console video games where they used a general-purpose chip. "Space Invaders," was programmed for the 6502, Apple. We bought it from this Japanese company, and we had the only real "Space Invaders" game. That was one, and a couple of others that we really could have gone places with. That was just about the time that Ziff came in and said, "Nah, you can't have this anymore."
They were into printed media, so, they kept the books going, but, not any of the other stuff. The other thing we had, was, speaking of computer music, a little division, that probably could have gotten a lot bigger, called Peripherals Plus. We were marketing a little computer music board, it was an S-100 bus once. But if we had then...
Betsy: Didn't we have a plotter, too?
David: Yep. We had about five or six interesting, low-level products. But, again, Ziff.
Kevin: That stuff was really competing with the advertisers.
David: Yeah. Obviously, that wasn't our intent. But, yes it was. We also offered courses at that time. Do you remember, at County College?
Betsy: I don't.
David: That was just at when we moved into the new building at Hanover. We had two people that were doing that.
Betsy: One of them was that crazy, Larry guy. He was seriously weird.
David: County College of Morris, we reached an agreement that we would teach their Introductory Computer course. Not for their day students, but they offered evening courses, adult education, we were doing that. Fingers in a lot of pies, at that point. Actually, from that standpoint, it was, probably, good that Ziff got us a little bit more focused, and back to the roots of publishing. Getting spread a little thin.
Kevin: You went to Atari, got the Atari game, and you did the "Atari Explorer," right?
David: "Atari Explorer." They had had an occasional publication, not really a magazine, but one that was focused on the games, and they decided that they could start that one up again. It started up with a new name. We called it, "Atarian." It was focused, basically, on video games. You buy one of their video games and you get an issue. Anyway, there were different ways that they were going to promote it. But, a year later Nintendo just, absolutely, buried "Atarian," in '89. They kept Atari Spore going for, I think, two more issues, right?
David: Was it two?
Betsy: I don't remember the details.
David: It wasn't much.
Betsy: I remember why they killed it.
David: Ms. Feisty here. Come on. You've got to tell the story here.
Betsy: They were playing games with our printer. Production schedule. Everybody had a production schedule. We never missed our production date, getting things to the printer, getting them mailed. We just did it because that's what you had to do. I will probably get sued for this. Atari started not paying the printer and the printer says we're not going to print this until we get paid. The date kept slipping and slipping and the subscribers would be calling up and saying, "Where's my magazine?" This went on for.. it was bi-monthly. It went on for maybe six months. I finally wrote an editorial in which I explained to the readers exactly what was going on. They didn't see it until it was printed. [laughs]
David: That didn't get into the magazine, though.
Betsy: It did.
David: That's right, it did.
Betsy: They never saw it. We were producing it out of Mendham New Jersey and printing it in eastern Pennsylvania and they never saw it until it was too late. My tenure was cut short but I didn't really care at that point. I was sick of them. It was really hard. They're not easy people to deal with, even when the owners last for more than three months. That was my suicide by editorial. The only time in my life I've ever been fired.
David: I didn't realize they didn't read that beforehand but I should have. I should have.
Betsy: [laughs] I probably wouldn't have gotten fired if they had.
David: That was kinda the straw that broke the camel's back.
Betsy: But then John Jainschigg kept doing it a little bit.
David: I know. In a lot of cases, particularly with the games magazine, they wanted to approve everything that went in it. If you do an objective product review, you call it like it is. Oh my gosh, there was one, it wasn't just one product but a roundup after Consumer Electronics' show, and I don't remember what it was. Atari had brought out some new products that really weren't ready to go. In some cases I just said, "I'm not going to say anything about this one or these two or three. I'll focus on the ones that are ready to go or are in good shape." Oh my gosh. "What about this? This is a wonderful thing." "Well, maybe it will be but it isn't yet." We had issues all along on censorship and them changing what we had written and everything. As Betsy said, they were not nice people to work with. I forget, the two brothers.
David: Trammell, yeah. That came from Commodore.
Betsy: Jack and somebody else. Jack and his brother.
David: It was interesting because yesterday I saw Nolan Bushnell. He was at that event. Nolan was flamboyant, but basically he had integrity and he was an honest guy. Man, oh man. Didn't stay and the corporation changed after he left.
Kevin: Then you're done with Atari and then it's straight to military vehicles there?
David: [laughs] No.
Betsy: There was a hiatus.
David: Oh, man. We published magazines, in-house magazines, for a couple other organizations. Did one for Nabisco called...I don't even remember but it was for their marketing department. Published that for some period of time and then they decided to bring it in-house.
Betsy: It was more like a newsletter.
David: It was 16 pages. It was getting there.
Betsy: 16 pages is a newsletter.
David: All right. Magazine format. Let's put it that way. We did some fulfillment. Basically, a lot of freelance writing on the travel field.
Betsy: Stuffed dogs. The stuffed dogs. Remember those four dogs for my brother?
David: That's fulfillment. Fulfillment for Con Edison. I published a couple newsletters for a while, one called "Effective Investing" and one called "Effective Communication" for writers. We're talking early '90s.
Betsy: That was when people still cared, thought that there might be a correct way to do something and they wanted to know what it was.
David: That was focused on "Take this computer and start to use it as a tool. Don't be afraid of the thing." '91/'92 not everybody was using a computer yet or a personal computer. That was the orientation of that. Then the other thing we got into big time was we'd been involved with a local rescue mission for men with drug, alcohol, homeless issues and we were writing and producing their newsletter.
Betsy: We were producing all of their fundraising material.
David: We started, I think, with the newsletter.
Betsy: No, we did everything. Appeal letters and newsletters and maintaining their database, the donor database. It took a lot of time.
David: We did that for five years. Then '96 I got an opportunity to buy this crazy military vehicles magazine for people that were restoring old historic military vehicles. It was a magazine but it was I guess more of a glorified newsletter.
Betsy: It was horrible.
David: It was horrible but it was really terrible. In fact, the editor or the publisher, whatever, the owner, he'd take the articles however the writer would send them. If it was double spaced type, boom, that's what would appear in the magazine.
Kevin: Save all the typesetting.
Betsy: He had zero typesetting expense.
David: Zero editing. He just took anything that came in, put it in. Ads the same way. Half the ads were hand written. Well, not half, but a significant number had corrections on them by hand. Oh my gosh. It was so terrible. I made it into a real magazine and built it up. At that point the circulation had been about 10,000. We built it up and we were pushing close to 20,000 magazines. It was a real magazine. I sold it to Crowsey publications. Then they, which I did not realize at the time, the owner, Chet Crowsey, had put the whole company up for sale and he sold the company a year or two later to some other specialty magazine publisher. We're talking narrow, narrow niche. They published a lot of, what'd they call it, white tail bow hunting. Really, really narrow stuff. Up in northern Wisconsin is where they were based. In any event, he sold it.
The new publishers, their whole stick was making money. They immediately raised the subscription price of military vehicles. We were charging $18 a year which was fine and they raised it to $21.95 or something and they raised the advertising rates and everything else.
The last I knew, the circulation was back down around 10,000. [laughs] It doesn't pay off to take that approach. I didn't have the same emotional connection, with that as I did with Creative Computing and the other magazines there. But it, fine, you do what you want with the magazine, it's OK.
Kevin: You didn't care too much?
Kevin: So, what do you guys do now? It seems like charity work and [inaudible 01:18:45] ?
Betsy: Yeah. I run a non-profit called Beyond the Walls, and he runs his website and does Bible studies.
David: Right. Actually, Betsy, the organization she has, she's executive director of Beyond the Wall, that's gotten huge.
Betsy: It's getting bigger and bigger.
David: It's gotten huge.
Betsy: I think huge is probably an exaggeration.
David: Well, not huge like a Gates Foundation thing.
Betsy: I wish. We started in 2005 with 26 volunteers going to Guatemala to work with this organization that works with the people who scavenge in the Guatemala City garbage dump. The dump is in a ravine. It started in the early '50s and as it has filled up around the edges they put a couple layers of sand on it and let it sit for a bit and then the people build houses on it out of scraps and things that they made. This organization called Potter's House that we work with has been working with them for 26 years. They have an education program, micro-enterprise and health and various things that they do. Since 2005 we've been sending volunteer teams. We're not the only ones sending volunteer teams down there to build houses and do healthcare and do stuff with the kids. So we started with 26 and by the end of the year we'll be well over 150 volunteers. We'll have three weeks this summer, I'll have 135 over three weeks this summer. It started in our backyard and one of the reasons that we wanted to...It started in the church and we started the organization partially because it's easier to raise money if you're not a church and it's also easier to make the volunteer opportunities available to people. If you say "Oh I'm going to Guatemala." "Oh I'd love to go with you! Who's going?" "It's my church." "Oh." But, if it's this local non-profit it's more appealing and we've really succeeded in doing that because we have people not only from in our own community, but this year we're going to have a family from Oklahoma, about six families from Texas, several people from Florida.
David: You got the Virginia.
Betsy: Virginia. It's like oh my goodness, how is this happening?
Kevin: And everyone goes out to Guatemala and does the [inaudible 01:22:31] ? [cross talk]
Betsy: Yeah. We all meet in Guatemala. I have three teams. One each week, and I'll be there the whole time and they'll come down and probably each team will build two or three houses. They'll do medical clinic, they'll do day camp for kids, soccer or baseball, sports things. They were about teenagers, so they love to do the...Everybody does construction in the morning. Then, in the afternoon teenage girls and some of the boys who want to do other stuff will help out with these other kid-related activities. That's what I'm doing.
Kevin: My wife is in Africa this week and last doing something similar.
Kevin: Which is why I have to leave shortly to go get my kids. [crosstalk]
Betsy: What part of Africa is she in?
Kevin: She did some stuff for Special Olympics. Then, they were helping build something at a food bank. I don't know that much yet, because she's not home yet.
David: That's terrific. She'll be changed.
Kevin: She keeps telling that she wished I could've come, and I do, too.
Betsy: You have this kid. [laughs]
Kevin: We've got the two kids. The six-year-old doesn't feed herself real well. [laughter]
Kevin: She can't drive to school.
David: Your annual budget has gone from 0 to what? Are you going to hit about 150, 200,000 this year?
Betsy: It's over 300 already.
David: Oh, OK. [laughs] 300. [laughter]
Betsy: It's small potatoes compared to, say... [crosstalk] David: Yeah, but in six, seven years...
Betsy: As my boss, the Chairman of the Board, and I'm the only employee, is fond of saying, "The people out there don't realize that we're just a bunch of schlumps sitting around a table making this stuff up as we go along. Very good leadership. He's a very good leader.
David: We were trying to maybe see if we can touch base with the Gates Foundation when we were up there. Of course... [laughs]
Betsy: We got a brochure into his hands. [laughter]
David: Yeah, we got a brochure into his hands and some other stuff.
Kevin: Was Bill Gates there?
David: Oh, yeah. I had a picture of him that I had taken at the first Altair convention in 1976, before he had actually made the deal with Altair to develop BASIC, well he had said, "I can do it," but they hadn't signed the whole thing. I've got a picture of him as a 20-year-old or thereabouts, talking at this little convention.
Kevin: You showed it to him?
David: Yeah. I gave him a copy of it. The problem I had is that...some people keep everything. I pretty much give everything away.
Betsy: Oh, you are lying. You keep everything.
David: I do keep a lot of stuff. [laughs]
Betsy: Then, you give it away later. [laughs]
David: Yeah. Well, when Stan Freiberger was putting together the "Fire in the Valley" book, I gave him a lot of photographs and I gave him the originals. Then the publisher said, "It's not good enough. The photo. You get the negative." OK, they're gone. Never any of that came back. In fact, what I had to do is scan the photo from the book to make the print to give to Bill.
Kevin: Photos of being young and cute.
Betsy: That was his Woody Allen phase. He looked exactly like Woody Allen did at that phase in his life.
Kevin: [inaudible 01:26:30] too.
Betsy: I'm sure there is.
Kevin: Its got a lot smaller.
David: She improves with age. Every year.
Kevin: I saw the picture! You look the same. [laughter]
David: Anyway, the instant Paul Allen showed up, of course, everybody's mingling around this museum. All of a sudden there was like an arrow head over in that direction.
Betsy: There was this sucking sound.
David: And that wasn't even... then Bill shows up and, oh my God, everybody has to go see Bill.
Betsy: I was talking to Bob Rynett this morning, the guy who organized it, and he said, "Oh, Paul was very happy. Paul was very pleased with the way the event went." He said his only regret was that he and Bill didn't have enough time to spend with the people. And I'm thinking, "Well, OK, if you just stayed a little longer." [laughter]
David: Well, at least Paul Allen did come to the dinner.
Betsy: Yeah, he stayed a little longer, but Bill, he was in and out like a...
David: Bill was there for maybe an hour.
Kevin: He just showed up because he had to.
Betsy: Yeah, exactly. It was a cameo.
Kevin: Was this your cameo there?
Betsy: Oh, yes. There I am. I was thinner then. Oh! There's Ted in his hat! And Peter Fee! Who's that guy?
David: Dick Heiser was at the convention and he had one of the hats, a Xanadu hat.
Betsy: He was wearing one of those hats. The rings were actually silver. Oh and there's Johnny Anderson. He's the one that wrote that crazy...
Oh, and this was our building.
David: That was the greenhouse garage building that we started. [laughs]
Betsy: And there was a hole. Was it you or my brother that made a hole in the wall for an air conditioner?
David: It was your brother.
Betsy: And the building was painted white after...
Kevin: Is that the air conditioner? You comment about the low tech air conditioning.
Betsy: No, that was in an actual window. This building had been painted white after and right about here a hole had been made in the wall for this through-the-wall air conditioner. It was rented and when we moved out, we had this hole in the wall. So, my brother takes this spare ceiling panel that we had. It was white and sort of stuffed it in the hole and filled it up so that it really didn't show any more. We never heard any more about it.
David: That building today is...
Betsy: They've made it very fancy.
David: Oh my gosh! It's a boutique shop and it's really nice. And they didn't even tear it down. It wasn't a tear-down and rebuild. At any event, we were not into spending money on facilities. Absolutely not. The last place that we were in was a printing company had owned it and they had taken three very small houses that backed up to railroad tracks and then they built a large warehouse at the end that was relatively modern. Then they just connected the three houses with little walkway and so we were in the first house.
Betsy: You couldn't tell that it was two houses.
David: No. The art department was in the second, then the software group was in the third one. We had our fulfillment and storage and stuff in the warehouse.
Kevin: How much money did you spend on the facility?
Betsy: Not much.
David: We were spending money on expansion, growing, grow, grow. Then Ziff Davis comes in, they say, "You got this wonderful warehouse."
Kevin: It's our warehouse now, right?
David: That's right.
Betsy: It wasn't though, because you owned it.
David: I know, but in any event, they said we're going to use it. We're moving some of your operation, advertising, sales into New York, therefore you will have more space. It wasn't the trade-off of the same kind of space or anything. What they did is, they have all these other magazines at that point, things like "Popular Boating" and "Yachting" and everything else. All of those magazines, when you subscribed you got a premium. You got a tote bag or something.
Betsy: A backpack or a cushion.
David: Yeah. They moved all of their premium fulfillment out to our warehouse. They said, "Because you're not going to have a software department anymore, so you won't have to ship any software. We're going to bring all of our premiums out there." We still have "Yachting" bags. [laughter]
David: Yachting bags and seat bags.
Betsy: Speaking of fulfillment that was something that we did. We were real pioneers in doing our own fulfillment. [crosstalk]
David: That's true...
Betsy: All magazines then used fulfillment houses. You would just send all the little cards and white mail and everything to your fulfillment house and they would just take care, enter it.
Kevin: Reader service cards and... [crosstalk]
Betsy: Exactly, and then they would send the labels.
David: Everything went either to Boulder, Colorado, Des Moines, Iowa, or some place in Florida.
Kevin: So when you say pioneers, does that mean you were cheap?
Betsy: Well no, because we were not getting good service, we weren't happy with the service the readers were getting. And so we decided to bring it in it house, and we brought a program from a company in Boston that had written a program to run a PDP-11. And we did we brought the whole thing in-house. We had our own data entry people. Did all the caging, taking the money out in-house. Printed our own labels and ship, because then you had to print them and ship them because there was no electronic delivery.
David: You know we were real pioneers there and we did spent some money. Because PDP-11/70 was not a low-end, with a platter and disk, 12 inch, maybe 15 inch, but a big, big platter drive, and data entry terminals, DECWriters, VT05. And when Ziff came in, I mean they were blown away that we were doing our own fulfillment, and doing a very efficiently. And the other thing we were doing also was the reader service cards. We were doing all our own processing of that. The same computer is same system. A Mini Data System, that's what it was.
David: No? OK.
Betsy: Mini data was the one you were using...
David: A couple of the questions you asked yesterday got us to thinking about things we probably should have mentioned or clarified.
Kevin: OK let's go, let me grab a pen.
David: One of the corrections, Betsy remembered better than I, that the embezzlement that we were talking about was actually 79 not 78 it doesn't make a lot of difference but was a year later. It was a year after I had left my day job, and I was really depending upon Creative Computing for my income and everything else. So to lose that was a big blow at that time. So that was...
Kevin: So that could have put an end to things right there?
David: Yes absolutely it could have.
Betsy: It was 79 not 78, is what you're saying.
David: That's what I said it was 79 not 78.
Kevin: I was going to ask you to move closer to the microphone.
Betsy: Actually I don't have to do this. My ego is completely uninvolved. I would go sit and play with the cats.
Kevin: Please, please be here. You supplement Dave's memory.
David: Yes exactly, she's very good at that. David: And you were there and have some very good stories... [crosstalk]
[clipped out of audio?]
Betsy: I want to know, how are you going to know how to spell things? He used the name John Dilks. If you go to write it out, how do you know how to spell John Dilks?
Kevin: I'll either Google it, and if it's not in Wikipedia, I'll have to come back to you and ask, or if they're mentioned in the magazines. I'll do my best.
Betsy: I'm not saying it in a critical way, I'm just impressed that you don't ask.
Kevin: I just feel this way, I can have everything. I don't have to write it down. I can concentrate on the conversation, rather than taking notes.
David: OK. One thing I thought would be kind of worthwhile...putting the whole era of the early computer magazines into a perspective. In a sense, personal computing itself went through several eras as it accelerated and became so widespread. It certainly didn't start that way. You almost have to look at a period before there were personal computers -- the pre-personal computer era, which I would say would be 1972 or so up through '75, when the first computers came out. And what was happening then was you had big time-sharing systems. But then, manufacturers like DEC and HP were making smaller time- sharing systems for terminals on a computer. Specifically, Bob Albrecht opened up People's Computer Company down in San Carlos, San Mateo, one of the "Sans." It was an open to the public place. What were people going to do with computers? Well, he wrote this book of What To Do After You Hit Return, of games.
Then I wrote my book, not for his center, but for people in the east that had access to the same type of things on DEC computers. Those two books actually came out in '72, so that was well before....There was an impetus for people to use computers. Even though it was mini-computers and they didn't really have their own, they did have access.
So that, I think, was an important thing because, then, when the kit computers first came out, which is '75, we really had the kit computer era from '75 to around '78. That's when it primary was, the do-it-yourself, build-it-yourself.
Well who did those computers appeal to? It was largely people who were OK with things like soldering guns and that was largely HAM radio people. You look at "73" magazine and "Radio Electronics," those were the ones that dragged the hardware people into the field, and "Popular Electronics," of course, with the Altair in January, '75.
You had to know something about, and be a little bit capable with your hands to get into it. That continued but dwindled off by 1980, because of course, in '78, you had the three biggies, not biggies, but self-contained, assembled computers: the Commodore PET, TRS-80, and the Apple all came out in '78. They were proprietary platforms, nobody was sharing stuff.
Actually, the S-100 bus was more shareable. More people got a card that you could plug into the S-100 bus. There was more, but on the other hand, you had to build it. That was really a stumbling block for a lot of people. Then Processor Technology with the SOL. OK, here's an S-100 bus machine, but it's all built. That was a big leap.
Anyway, you had the, what I call, proprietary era from '78 to '82. Then it kind of dwindled off, although Apple certainly kept going. When the IBM PC came out, '81, '82, '83, that ushered in the standardization era. Everybody, "OK, we're going to make an IBM PC clone." It was really only Apple, and to a lesser extent, the Atari and the Commodore that kept going with their own proprietary stuff. They really couldn't keep going.
At that time, we started working with Atari. They using the same chip that Apple had. I thought, "Man, that's an opportunity. Why don't they just make an agreement with Apple to run Apple software and everything." They got a 6502, that family of chips in there, why not? But that wasn't Atari's way of doing things, as you well know.
In any event, they went through those stages. As a new one came along, the other one died off. That though then affected the magazines, Creative Computing, we came from the pre-era, in a sense. From the education applications and people having access to small, minicomputer time sharing systems. When Altair basic was announced, then it was the obvious thing that we would port over programs to that.
Other magazines such as "Byte" and some of the hardware magazines, they really came from the HAM radio end of things. Wayne Green, who started "Byte," was publishing "73," which was the biggest magazine in HAM radio. HAM fests were one of the earliest places where computers were, or at least hardware, do-it-yourself computers were really seen and popularized. Wasn't till a little later that we had computer festivals.
The real early computer festivals in '75, '76, had a big overlap with Ham radio. The early ones in New Jersey. That was the earliest ones. It was, I think, more, not more, but at least half was oriented to Ham radio. Then, it broadened out, of course, with more applications being reproduced. Anyway, I think it's kind of important to know how things fit into that whole scheme of things.
Magazines either came from the Ham radio and hardware side of things. They had a different perspective than those like Creative Computing.
Well, Peoples' Computer Company, Bob Aldberg, could have had a real winning magazine, but he was too much in the alternative mode. So, Peoples' Computer Company never really made it as a magazine. He didn't want to do advertising or anything that would...
Kevin: That was a different avenue. It was more like a tabloid-style newspaper.
David: Newspaper, yes.
Kevin: It was more glossy.
Kevin: It was a very different field.
David: Yeah. Again, magazine publishing. I remember, early on, I was on a TV show, McNeil Lehrer Report on Public Broadcasting. Life Magazine was being re-launched and Time-Warner was spending a ton of money on this re-launch. They had the publisher of Life Magazine.
Betsy: It was probably Time-Life back then. I don't think it... [crosstalk]
David: Yeah. That's right. It wasn't Time. Well, I think it was close to the time that they merged. Anyway. Yeah. It was Time-Life. Then, they had me. Sort of the opposite extreme.
[clipped out of audio?]
Kevin: You're going to be covered in cat hair by the time you're here.
Betsy: Oh, I am sure.
Kevin: I'm sorry.
Betsy: It's OK. But it matches and sort of goes with it.
Kevin: Yeah. It matches fine.
Betsy: You have kind of a theme here. The black and white.
Kevin: Yes. Yes. Sorry to interrupt.
David: Anyway, they were interviewing both of us. They were going to spend more money on their first issue than our entire annual budget, for everything. The difference in big publishers, because we we're talking about that a little bit yesterday, is huge. Really huge. Now, the interesting thing is there was a magazine back then. I don't know if it's still around today, called Folio. It was a magazine for magazine publishers. They covered all aspects of it. Subscription fulfillment, typesetting and everything else and the business aspects of running a magazine.
They had some figures, which were true for a long period of time. That one out of seven magazine startups makes it for one year. One out of seven. That's low. Of those, one out of seven makes it for five years. So, were talking about...
Kevin: I think Wayne told me almost the exact same statistic.
David: Yeah. One out of 50 new magazines makes it for five years or more.
David: Once you make it five years, you're probably good to go for awhile. [laughter]
The new Life Magazine comes back, roaring back in. Where are they today, or even 10 years later from that point. Gone. Didn't make it. In any event, yesterday we were talking a little bit about where did we put all our money.
David: Well, all our money wasn't an awful lot compared to big publishers. We were a small player. We're big in that field, but...
Kevin: You're a big fish in a little bowl.
David: Yeah. Yeah. There wasn't a lot. Betsy reminded me this morning that one of the things we did to, in a sense, keep control, is we bought our own typesetting equipment.
Betsy: Used of course.
David: Used. Yes, yes. We didn't want to send stuff out to a typesetter where... what did you you call it?
Betsy: It was the same thing with the fulfillment. You are sending it to a service that gives your work to a minimum wage person who couldn't care less. Puts her time in and...
Kevin: Plus you still had code and things that needed to be done right.
Betsy: Done right. Yeah.
Kevin: Otherwise it was useless.
Betsy: Yeah. We didn't typeset the code usually. We would actually pace down the printouts. Part of it was for efficiency and probably, in the long run, it was cheaper. Just to turn your typesetting around, send it out and wait for your galleys to come back. Then you proofread them. Then you'd send it back. Then they make the corrections, maybe, and you get it back again. So we said, well...and then we got this used, CompuGraphic was it?
David: Mm-hmm. Yep.
Betsy: Typesetter. Found a young woman who knew typesetting and hired her. We bought our own stat camera. We always used to have to send all the stats and V-Luxes out to be made. [crosstalk]
David: That was huge then before...
Betsy: ...had our own darkroom.
David: ...there was computerized publishing. Yeah. We had our own darkroom and our own stat camera with the thing that goes over a screen basically to make it into dots.
David: a...nd to do that. To make those negatives or V-Luxes, which are the positive. That was something again. You sent it out and you get it back. I said, "Oh, you know what, we got a little more type here than expected. We want to crop this." Well, we send it out again, and oh my gosh. Doing all of that in-house, but it cost money. In a sense, just for the hardware and capital improvements that you needed to do that.
We were spending it on that and expansion into other things like the software. One of the other ones that I was thinking of that we did, that certainly, really didn't bring us any tangible reward, was that we were doing some consulting when we started developing software. We started doing consulting to places like the Exploratorium in San Francisco. And Sesame Place. That was a big one for us.
Sesame Place was a theme park right in our own backyard in New Jersey. They were going to have these terminals that you could go up to. One of the programs was Mix and Match the Muppets. You could take different parts of Muppets and combine them. We wrote a part of that routine and a whole bunch of stuff that made computers and these things not computers but approachable things for kids.
We did some work for the Capital Children's Museum in Washington and Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. Again, did it help us? Maybe. Did we gain a little reputation? Maybe. Did it translate to the bottom line? Probably not. As Betsy said, it was fun for you to do that, wasn't it?
Betsy: Yeah, it was fun. It gave him fun things to do.
David: That was one way that we, in a sense, spent some money.
Kevin: It makes sense. You guys were the computer experts, probably by orders of magnitude. Who are they going to go to?
David: That's right. Interactive games, yeah. I already had a good selling book out there that was visible, known. We did a lot of that kind of stuff. Some of it was just fun to do. Another place where we put I won't say a lot of money but we went to a lot of these shows, well, there were some that were strictly personal computer shows, but then also tried to push into things like the consumer electronics show. We were the only magazine at the consumer electronics. That's a huge, huge show. Twice a year, one in Chicago and one in Las Vegas. We'd take the smallest booth that you could but, still, it was a fair chunk of change to go to that, but that's how I felt we got the reach. They were pushing at a lower level. That was video games mostly at that point. Although we weren't in that market, I just felt that that was someplace that we wanted to be.
Kevin: Do you think that was worthwhile?
David: I don't know. We were mainly looking for retail stores to sell the magazine. That was my main purpose for going there. No, it probably wasn't. It probably was not and it cost us a lot of money to go to the shows. You have to experiment and do those things. We started reporting on new developments at the consumer electronics show and there was some overlap with computers but it was mostly video games. No, it didn't have a real good payoff. [laughs] Then there was the Boston show we went to where Betsy's feistiness really came out. You go to those shows. I'm not talking about one of these local computer shows or something. You go to a big show. You've got to use union labor. We had a computer at our booth. We wanted to plug it in. You're going to plug in your computer? No, you can't plug it in. You've got to hire an electrician for an hour for $75 to plug in your computer.
Betsy: That was a bit extreme. I don't think that was actually true.
David: I don't know how much it was but you had to use union labor for different things. Betsy took exception to that at one show and actually came to blows.
Betsy: I was carrying stuff off the show floor. We were trying to get out. It was in Boston and we were going to drive back and we were trying to...
Kevin: Go home at the end of the show?
Betsy: ...go home at the end of the show. We were just carrying our cartons of leftover magazines and books and some union guy comes to me and starts telling me you can't do this and he was being very rude. So I punched him in the arm. [laughs] They were not happy.
Kevin: Did you have to hire a special punching person to do that?
Betsy: Yes, exactly. I should have consulted with the shop steward before doing that.
David: There was a follow-up to that. I'm not absolutely sure but I think the guy that was running that show was Shelley Adelman. He then approached us after that little incident. You can't do this. Betsy was really in his face about come on. We're a tiny little nit. Sure we can do it. We can carry our own stuff. Shelley Adelman, whose name you probably heard today, in a sense, got his start by running these smaller shows around the country and then he built up to running PC Expo in New York and Las Vegas and then he got into you run a show in Las Vegas you've got to make deals with the hotels and so on.
The earlier PC shows in Las Vegas did not use the convention center. They were held in I think probably the Hilton. He got to know hotel people there and he started buying into hotels and today Shelley Adelman is huge. Not Caesars but he owns one of the really big casino operations. He's on Forbes list of top 100 wealthiest Americans.
Kevin: I'm sure he only uses union labor.
David: I'm sure he does, absolutely. [laughs]
Betsy: That's how he got where he is.
David: We've crossed paths with some interesting people in different ways. There was another one I was thinking of. Actually, this is jumping around a little bit. Editorial, in different people submitting articles and then some people I would ask would you do something for us early, early on. That's another thing we went to. I went to comic cons and the sci-fi cons to promote the magazine.
Betsy: That was early.
David: That was early, very early. I've got to tell you one little incident there. I also went to small press publisher conventions. I went to one over Labor Day weekend, and I don't know what year it was. It was probably '75, '76 maybe. The place that they gave this small press to exhibit was one platform up in the subway under Lincoln Center. Lincoln Center, of course, huge, but down one level is not shops. There may be a few shops but it was a big, open platform. That's where we were exhibiting. I had my magazines out there on a table and I was talking to these other underground publishers and so on, typical.
Betsy: That's why they put you there. It's underground.
David: Underground, yes. It was a Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Saturday, Sunday, Monday. I said, "I can't be here on Sunday." Talked to the person next to me and I said, "I'm just going to leave a cigar box that says put your money in the box." He said, "You're nuts. We're in a New York subway system. You're going to come back with nothing in your box." I left a bunch of change in it.
Kevin: And your ex-wife said you were too trusting.
David: [laughs] Yes. I left like 15 single dollar bills in there so people could make change and I just left it there, from Saturday to Monday and I came back Monday, about $40, $50 in the box. I don't know whether it paid for everything that was taken but it worked out fine. Yes, I was obviously too trusting, but at roughly the same time there was something going on. I think it was a sci-fi convention or world future society. Yeah, it was world future society convention. They had some notable people there. I was sitting down with Alvin Toffler in the lobby of the Colosseum and along comes over to us Isaac Asimov. What a wonderful little party. We had some coffee in the Colosseum and I said, "Isaac, can you write me an article?" "I got a good story from the I, Robot series that hasn't been widely used or published and you can use that." So I got an early contribution from Asimov and Alvin Toffler wrote something for us.
Anyway, got to know some interesting people at that point. Then who should submit an article, and by this time Betsy was the editor...
Betsy: Out of transom comes an article from Michael Creighton. It was a program. I can't remember what it was about.
David: For the Apple.
Betsy: It was a program for the Apple, but it was something really dumb.
David: I don't know if you remember, we were reminded when Harry Garland was up at the thing in Seattle. Harry Garland was one of the first ones to produce an independent manufactured a board, a S-100 bus board, for the Altair, and this was really early, and he called it the TV Dazzler. It made little squares light up but he could make lots of them light up in different colors or just a few. It was a silly program but people said, whoa, we can do graphics on this. He eventually developed it into quite an interesting graphics tool, I guess. People did buy the TV Dazzler for itself but the purpose was here's a board you could produce graphics, do some graphics. So in any event, that's essentially what Michael Creighton's program did for the Apple. Not much.
Betsy: This was not early on.
David: Yeah, it was after the Apple 2 was out.
Betsy: It was probably...
Betsy: 1980, yeah.
Kevin: So did you publish it?
Betsy: No. I rejected it. [laughs]
David: I'm like, my god, we're going to reject an article from Michael Creighton?
Betsy: We both liked Michael Creighton as an author.
David: Oh my gosh. But we did. We really did. We had standards.
Betsy: Later on, though, he wrote something. It was better. It wasn't great, but he did write something better and we did accept it.
Kevin: Orson Scott Card wrote for Compute, I think. I don't know if he was Orson Scott Card yet at that point, but some flub who was writing, yeah. But who else?
David: We've crossed paths with some people.
Betsy: Michael Creighton was actually very nice.
David: Yeah, 6 foot 8, big guy. He was a very nice guy. Unfortunately, he died On the other end of things, early on, we really were...this was probably even before Betsy got in...kind of in the small press underground publishing movement as much as in the legitimate big magazines, because that's kind of where I started.
Betsy: When I came, we had just published the first sleek, coated paper magazine and coated stock. In October 1978, I believe, that was published. That was the first one on coated stock. That was kind of the bridge to legitimacy.
David: For the first two years, it was published on news print and I had a little tie in with some of the small press people. I was learning about publishing from small press review, and I got to know some of the people who were doing successful publishing. A lot of them were magazines and comics out of San Francisco. So I got to know a little bit... R. Crumb and Gilbert Shelton and Sherry Flannigan, and some of those early, Bobby London. So anyway, one ad we ran real early on was an adaptation of an add that Robert Crumb did. He said "Go ahead and change my thing to creative computing. Go for it." Sherry Flannigan she did a comic strip called Tronch and Bonnie, Tronch was a little dog and Bonnie was a little girl and they occasionally got mixed up with a robot dog. So I published that.
Kevin: Was there some sort of falling out with that person?
David: With Sherry? No. I'm still friends with her on Facebook. They had a major, major problem, she was involved with Gary Hallgrin and I forget who the publisher was, McNeil, Bobby London. They were the Air Pirates funniest group that Disney took to task, and really, oh my god, that caused the death of a lot of publishing in the underground comics movement.
Kevin: I don't understand.
David: Air Pirates were funny, they were just looking for trouble. They had Disney characters flying planes and getting into all kinds of trouble and getting into problems that Disney characters never would have done, sexual problems as well as just acting badly.
David: Disney just said, "We can't put up with this." It was an interesting case, because was it a copyright violation? Not really because they were character look-a-likes, but they weren't calling them Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck but they looked the same or very similar. But, it was a landmark case in the underground comics movement and it really caused a lot of them to pull back, a lot on the satire and stuff that they were publishing.
Kevin: I asked about Sherry because a number of years ago when I had first put the Best of Creative Computing books on my website, they were up for a while, then I got an email saying, "You have to take this content, these pages down... copyright violation", it was just like waving their arms. So I took it down but it was, I thought, maybe it was...
David: Well that whole copyright trademark thing, there interpretations that go from really, really strict...everything that goes on the Internet is a public domain. Well, that is not really true either. Are you making money from copyrighted material? If you are then that's a pretty clear violation. Are you affecting the copyright owner's ability to make money with it? That's a violation. I'm kind of in this right now with Hergé and TinTin, those books have inspired a lot of people to make parodies and fake TinTin covers, you know, TinTin at the beach, you know, places TinTin wouldn't normally go. Well is it affecting the sales of TinTin books, or is it actually increasing them?
Casterman, who owns, and Mulenard, own the TinTin copyrights. They are really going after some of these people, but I'm not sure that they have a really good case. So some people take everything off and want nothing on the website. And others are saying, "Hey, this is legitimate." I have collected a lot of those covers, and put them up on a website.
Betsy: I guess you'll find out soon enough.
David: I will find out, soon enough.
Kevin: They may not be right legally, but how hard do you want to fight it. [crosstalk]
David: I think that they have to demonstrate that it's hurting them in some way. One last thing, from the question you asked yesterday, back to the money issue, where does the money go, well when I sold the magazine, right at that time I took 15 percent of what I had received, and donated it to charities. I have in a sense signed on, although not as an official signee, to the Gates-Buffet initiative to give away half of my wealth, while I am alive. At one point in time you can compute that, I have already given away more than I have received for Creative Computing to charity. Of course, it had grown a little bit and we made reasonably decent investments and it continues to grow. But, I'm really committed to doing that. My kids are not going to inherit it all. That's just the way it is, the way I believe. Put my money where my heart is. Anyway,
Kevin: I have a question for you Betsy, you said something yesterday, I should follow up that one. You said something about stealing BASIC.
Betsy: Well there was this big thing. Just the night before last, at this dinner we went to, where all the people who were at the first MITS conference and they referred to the letter that Bill Gates wrote.
Kevin: "Why are you stealing my software?"
Betsy: Well exactly. That was just a reference to that Bill Gates, which had just been brought back to my memory by that. People were telling stories at this. Instead of having an after dinner speaker they were just passing the mic around and people were talking about incidents and things from the past.
Kevin: Did you get to tell a story to this group of...?
David: Not really, I just followed up on something Nolan Bushnell said.
Betsy: Some of those stories were really boring. [crosstalk]
David: Oh yeah, long and boring. Betsy: Way too long. David: It's an interesting thing though, about basic itself, because, well it was developed at an educational institution originally by Kemeny and Kurtz at Dartmouth. And they, either deliberately or because they had gotten a lot of grant money from General Electric in the early time sharing systems, they basically let anybody use their Basic. So it was developed at Dartmouth but if GE, or later Ge/Honeywell, put a system in at Minnesota or Florida or someplace else. They could use Basic, they could have a no license fee or anything. That made Basic a universal language that was available, at least that version of Basic. Well then if you write a different version of Basic, where does that fall? These are some sort of violation and you need some permission. And basically Kemeny and Kurtz said, "No, you don't." [background noise due to cat] And they allowed Basic to be used and developed by others.
Digital Equipment, at the same time, maybe even earlier, but roughly the same time, had developed also an interactive language called Focal. And Focal in many regards was more efficient than Basic, because they were running it on mini-computers and there was less memory to work with. On the other hand, and this was true Digital...as time went on, they said, "No, no no, nobody else can use Focal. We are not going to let, especially those people at Data General, but any place else, nobody could use Focal."
I think it wound up with a situation like Sony and Betamax. Sony saying, "Betamax is ours and it is a better format that VHS," which it was, it definitely was. But then, JVC saying, "We have VHS. Ok Toshiba, hey do you want to use it? Fine, we'll license it to you for next to nothing."
Kevin: You think Focal could have been Basic.
David: I think it could have been very big. I think it could there could have been very serious competition between the two languages, but by Digital limiting it only to their own computers and specifically to their minicomputers, not even the big mainframes, it really limited the spread of Focal. In fact, it forced me, at DEC, to go out to the developers, and people in educational institutions they wanted Basic. There were a few schools and colleges in Boston area, near DEC that were OK with Focal. But stuff was getting published by Minnesota Educational Computer Consortium and others in Basic, and Huntington Computer Project. So they wanted Basic. [laughs] I had to go out, I hired one group, actually it turned out to be just an individual guy in Brooklyn that developed a Basic for 4K PDP-8. Well Basic took 3.5K, that gave you 500 words, 500 12 bit, not even 16 bit, at least get 2 bytes per... but 500 words to write programs. Wasn't much.
So that forced Lunar Lander and Hamurabi and some of those programs actually. Some of them I imported over from Focal into Basic. And then we had a machine that had 8K, we had a different version of Basic and then because Hewlett Packard had a machine that read cards, mark sense cards, we had to have a different version of basic for that. Then we had a timeshare Basic. We had six versions of Basic, five actually on the PDP-8 family. It was absurd, it was crazy, but well, we had to do it.
Kevin: I was going to ask you, kind of the process of like... you started saying... you interrupted yourself really, you said, "People would submit articles and then..." I don't know what you were going to say next. But it reminded me that I wanted to ask you like, kind of, just the process of how the magazine got made. You got an article was, I assume it was typed up or something and...
Betsy: You mean the mechanics of the production?
Betsy: We can receive most of the articles for the magazine came over the transom. And we would get these articles and our editorial assistant would log them in and pass them around to the editorial staff. John Anderson and Russ Lockwood and...
David: Peter Fee.
Betsy: Peter Fee.
Kevin: What does that mean, over the transom?
Betsy: Means they weren't solicited. Somebody in the middle of the night dumped them overboard [laughs] or through the mailbox. We put a little piece of paper on there and the guys would write their opinions.
David: [laughs] That is serious. [crosstalk]
Betsy: Some of the things they said. [laughs]
Kevin: Like what? What would they say?
Betsy: "Don't quit your day job." [laughs]
David: And then they had the rubber stamp.
Betsy: Somebody found a stamp. Everything that we had was used, including our desk and everything. And somebody found, at the back of the desk, a stamp. It said San Marcos on it. This was like the ultimate insult. [laughs] San Marcos, like you know, "Get out of here." [laughs]
Kevin: Send it to San Marcos?
Betsy: Send it to San Marcos, wherever that was. Ultimately, I would make the final decision whether we were going to publish this or not. Once we were well established, the vast majority of them went back. We never returned manuscripts. And they would come with piles of code. A lot of them were programs and, then we would decide, and then it was the editorial assistants job to notify the person. Then we bought all rights, didn't we?
Betsy: North American Serial rights, that's what we bought for everything. Then they would go into a queue. Sometimes we would say something, "Oh, this is going to go really well with this educational institute that we're doing in June," so slate that one for June, or just put it in the queue and we will see when it comes or rises to the top or whatever. The more technical editors like, John Anderson, he was our best guy ever... they would go through the code and make sure the code worked, and I would edit them for content and correct them.
David: For English, for grammar.
Betsy: Yeah, with a pen and pencil. Then they would go to our typesetter. Typesetter would correct them. And then they would come back, and I think, our lower level editorial assistant would proofread them, but proofread a lot of them too. When they came out typesetter, it was on a smooth shiny paper.
David: Photographic paper.
Betsy: And then, if they had screenshots or anything the art department would make them into photo stats or v-luxes. And then when it was time for them to go to press they would put them on boards, pieces of cardboard, white paper...
Kevin: So like paste up?
Betsy: Yeah, they do the paste up and put it on there.
David: The boards were using non-reproducing blue on its photograph. They had different outlines, blue defined columns, both two and three column pages and upper limits and page numbers can go and all that kind of stuff.
Kevin: We were still doing it in college newspaper in 1990. [laughs]
Betsy: Well that's exactly it, so you know what we're talking about. And then once you get it all together and then again somebody has got to read it to make sure there is no lines left out, particularly of the programs. Make sure that those all still make sense. There were many cases where line got left out or artists cuts off the thing and realizes, "Oh, I mean to cut it shorter." and that little line disappears and then you send it off to be printed and all the subscribers get a little upset because Star Trek doesn't run. [laughs]
Kevin: So that sort of thing happened infrequently, or often?
David: With typeset material, not much at all. But with program listings, program listings were really tough. Because you would have people that would submit something, and they'd have a really cheap, low- end dot matrix printer. And we always encouraged people, if you're going to submit a program, submit it in some machine-readable form. We don't want to type them all in to make sure they work, even though our readers are going to have to, but we don't want to have to do that. So send us. But even so, we might then print it off on one of our slightly higher end printers. But I'll tell you what, you have page breaks and everything else. And the Art department didn't have a clue about programs and stuff. The program would get stated down. We weren't using the full sized type for program listings.
Betsy: Yeah. At that point we hadn't the ability to make them fit.
David: That's where the most common place that you'd lose a line or something. It would get photographed, and when it's coming out of a line printer, you might have one or two lines on the following page. "Oh, we forgot that."
Kevin: Personally, I know it said so much about magazine that when it continued, there were just sometimes a handwritten arrow going, "Continued over here." [laughs]
David: Oh, absolutely.
Betsy: That was early.
Kevin: It wasn't professional, and that was awesome. It was just like, "OK."
Betsy: Then what we would do, we would request when we... we would solicit articles. Like if there was a new Apple peripheral that we wanted to review, we'd get the product. Then a lot of times, our own guys wanted to review the stuff, but if it was something that we didn't have time for, or that was better suited to one of our freelancers, we would send it out and ask for a review of it. A lot of reviews came in over the transom too, but we tried to be careful of those, that they were not either trying to justify their own purchase of whatever it was or get even with the publisher for producing it. [laughs]
Kevin: Or written by the [ED: manufacturer]... [crosstalk] David: That didn't really happen.
Betsy: That really wasn't an issue at the time, it was a more innocent time. That really didn't happen much, but it was, sometimes, people would get a product they didn't care for and totally bash it, then we have to go and figure out is it really that bad. We tend to not produce seriously negative...if it was a really bad product we just ignored it.
David: We tried to be objective with reviews, but before I got into the computer field at all I was in market research. There are a number of biases, too, that really overwhelmingly affect all kinds of market research, polls, or surveys. One is that people think they're better than they are. For example, if we were doing a poll or a research study, we'd put a question on basically designed to show the executives who were using this data that there were some biases.
Betsy: He's not talking about Creative Computing. [crosstalk]
David: No, no, way earlier. I'm talking about Proctor and Gamble products or General Foods or that kind of thing. Anyways, the question we put on was "please rank your driving ability," and we had from well below average, accident waiting to happen up to Mario Andretti, Danica Patrick, over there. And you know what, 99 percent of the population ranked themselves better than the average. Where is your average then? Its way high. The other thing, equally pervasive in a sense, is that people wanted to justify a decision, a purchase decision. In fact, back the 30s, the slogan for Ford Motor Company was ask a man that owns one. You ask a man that owns and has made a decision to buy this car, he's going to say "Yeah, it is the greatest car." So you put on questions, again, throwaway questions.
If you had this, or if you were an owner of whatever car it is that you have. "What do you have now? Would you buy another one?" People "Oh, yes. This is a great decision. I love this car." I'll tell you where you can find out, is you look at what percentage of people that did own that particular car did buy another one? They're always way lower than they those that say they would buy another one. And it gets more pronounced with higher prices. If you've made a decision to buy a high-priced car, you're going to think, "Man, I'll tell you what. This Land Rover was the best car I have ever bought." And 78 percent of people might say, "I'm going to buy another one." and you know what, about 15 percent of the people actually do.
Kevin: So this gets back to the magazine because people want to justify in a review...
David: Yeah. That's exactly right. And as Betsy said, it could go the other way, too. "I think I'm getting screwed here with this product and I'm going to knock it." So when you get reviews, in essence, over the transom, they're either justifying, "This was really wonderful. I made a great decision buying this particular product," or "I hate it." It's hard to know whether the review was really objective and realistic.
Kevin: Do you ever push-back from advertisers?
Betsy: All the time.
Kevin: Can you tell me?
Betsy: We would feel the pushback from our ad sales people. They would say "So and so is annoyed with you because you didn't put it." We very rarely put anybody's totally negative reviews, but we tried to be objective, and not every product is perfect. Almost every product is going to have some negative feature. We would put those in and the advertisers would then go to their ad rep and complain. Then the ad rep would come to us and say, "Why are you doing this? These people are mad. I have to sell them ads." We would just say "Separation of church and State. You are advertising in this magazine because it's a credible magazine, and if we let you push us around, it won't be credible anymore, and then it will reflect on your ad."
Kevin: Do you remember anyone ever pulling ads, you know...?
Betsy: I don't, offhand. Do you?
David: No, but I can tell you the opposite. There were a couple of magazines that almost ran manufactured press releases as product reviews. They did get more advertising than we did from some manufacturers that liked that. I hate to name names, but Compute magazine. I don't think you'll find any negative reviews in Compute magazine. Everything was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Personal Computing, similar, very positive "Wow, gee whiz" reviews on almost all the things that they saw. It just isn't that way.
Kevin: You have talked a lot about Creative and we've talked briefly at least about the other magazines. Sync, the one about Timex Sinclair. I understand the allure of publishing a magazine geared to a specific system, but why did you pick Timex Sinclair? [laughs]
David: Probably two reasons. One is that we had more of a presence in England than most of the other magazines.
Betsy: Still do.
David: We had a very early agreement with David Tebbet, who was the co- publisher of Personal Computer, something-or-other. It might have been Personal Computer World. Yes, it was.
Betsy Ahi: Yes it was Personal Computer World, and when PC world started they had to call it PC World because there was already a Personal Computer World in England.
David: And we had an agreement that they could reprint materials from Creative Computing, which they did for a while but then they developed their own in-house capabilities and there was enough differences. We went to England and very early on had an agent in England that we could take subscriptions.
Betsy: A housewife who kept the back issues in her spare bathroom. [laughs]
David: Yeah, we still know her. Hazel Greaves, Hazy. Anyway, so we were getting enough subscriptions from England. We were sending over, I don't know how they packaged them up, but they call them Mbox, or M- bags, mail bags basically of magazines, then we remail them from England. So I had more of our connection with British market than probably any of the other magazines, well definitely did. And so I get to know Clive Sinclair and what's going on over there. And then when they bring over the computer to this country and Timex, I mean my God, big outfit. They were going to market it. By that time you know, there was no point starting a Commodore magazine or an entire magazine. They were, Or Apple, they were already existed. So maybe this is going to be the next big one. We will be right there when they start. When they were.
Timex actually put, what we had simple, simple Sync or something but it was in the package with the computer. So that was one way of getting our subscriber base and we couldn't possibly afford to advertise and do direct mailings for a magazine like that. But they were, in a sense, helping us get going. So that's why. It was pretty successful actually. We were making money on that magazine mainly because we didn't have to promote it.
If we had to get subscriptions, we could not have possibly made it work. There wasn't enough advertising really. I don't know what the ratio here was, but it was not as good as we would have liked it. The magazine would have been tiny if we maintained the same advertising to edit ratio we would have liked. But we didn't lose money on it but we didn't make anything on it either. I think it was a break-even proposition.
Kevin: OK. Microsystems. I'll say I don't think I know anything about it, but it was on the list.
David: Microsystems... I said there was a lot of early development in New Jersey and there was a guy named Saul Libes, you will find him probably, [laughs] who was the first president of the Amateur Computer Group in New Jersey. He was a Professor at Trenton State College, and he felt that Byte magazine started out fine but then they were focusing more on assembled hardware and things that were already made. So he wanted to get down on really lower level of do it yourself, build it yourself. Microsystems was more like Byte was in the very beginning, publishing circuit diagram with logic in PC's and everything.
Betsy: The first name was S-100 Microsystems.
David: Yeah, for the S-100 bus, then it became Microsystems in '78 or '79. When some of the others came out they started covering the 6800 and 68000 chips from Motorola. But I would say it was a really techy magazine and it was one that I think, Ziff probably killed that one off.
Betsy: It was dead before before Ziff. [laughs]
David: It might have been. I don't know, but it was...
Betsy: I mean, S-100 bus did not survive into the 80's.
David: It was dead before as there was these eras and the do it yourself S100 era, that was '75 to '78. Then it kind of had a downward spiral of two or three years and it was gone. Well, maybe it wasn't gone but it wasn't the same. And so Microsystems was tuned into that and they were running hardcore stuff. And the reason that Saul... we reached an agreement with him to publish it, is basically he didn't have any real magazine background. We thought we could do something with it. It turned out not to be a good fit, but we published it for a while. I don't know if we made money or lost money on that. Probably it didn't make anything. [laughs]
Kevin: Small Business Computers, or Computing.
Betsy: Small business computers? Who do we buy that from? I can't even remember. You can't even remember that we had it, I can tell by the look on your face.
David: I can't.
Betsy: That one of my brother... my brother was the publisher remember?
David: Yeah, I don't know who or where we got it.
Kevin: That just fold into Creative or...?
Betsy: Eventually, but that we post it for a while. I think is something that somebody basically left on our door step.
Betsy: I think it was kind of like a puppy on the... [laughter]
David: I think it came with your brother.
Betsy: No, because my brother wasn't doing publishing until after leaving college.
David: It sounded like a good idea at the time, but...
Betsy: I think we saw a future in business computing.
David: Yeah, we did, and unfortunately that was one Ziff Davis... I mentioned yesterday that they wanted to really shift the focus of Creative Computing away from home and broaden out and shifted into the small business market. And just did not, it was an uncomfortable fit. We would've been better to have a separate magazine.
Betsy: I don't remember where we got Small Business Computing from or where it went.
David: I don't either.
Betsy: But I know that obviously it wasn't a huge acquisition.
David: It was a footnote.
Betsy: A footnote in the story. [laughs] [laughter]
David: Actually, a bigger acquisition was earlier and that was ROM Magazine. ROM was published by who? (ED: not the Atari-related magazine of the early 1980s.)
Betsy: Erik Sandberg-Diment.
David: Connecticut. He did a nice job with the magazine, very nice job with it. Published nine issues and a little different focus than Creative but it really overlapped us very nicely. He had more graphic stuff and it was through him that I got to know George Baker and some of the people up there. The other guy that did the pixelated blocks photos. You've seen those.
Betsy: The Einstein.
David: [crosstalk] The Lincoln with block pics.
Betsy: Block pics.
David: Block pics. OK, he and George Baker sort of came as a package with ROM, they knew of each other. We actually, for I would say, four or five issues, ran ROM as a whole separate section and even set it on the cover of Creative Computing and ROM. And then it became evident...
Betsy: I think that was because he had a whole other editorial kicking around. [laughs]
Betsy: That we bought.
David: Could be. And then we would just merge it in completely, but that was a very good fit. It brought us more editorial than it did subscribers. They did not have a big subscriber base. But it was a nice marriage in a sense.
Kevin: Video and Arcade Games only published I think four issues.
David: Actually, three but if you've got a hold of the third one, you're doing well. I think Ziff cut that off after two real issues got mailed out. We did a third one but it wasn't sent out to subscribers.
Kevin: My website only has two issues.
David: Yeah. There were only two that really were distributed.
Kevin: So now I have... [crosstalk]
Betsy: A goal. [laughter]
David: Yeah, if you can get a hold of the third one. [laughter] I don't even have that. There's a same thing on Atarian. There were three issues of Atarian that I did not keep the third issue. Oh, man. Shoot me.
David: But Video and Arcade Games, there were at least five or six other magazines focusing on that. Talk about magazines that were running non-objective manufacture-provided reviews, all the others were. I, maybe, convinced myself and some people at Ziff Davis that there was a need for really objective...
Betsy: Ziff? Did Ziff do that?
Betsy: Were we with Ziff when we did that?
David: Oh, yeah. That was a late one. So we said, let's...
Kevin: Continue it through.
David: Yeah, that was definitely. Let's do it. But again...
Betsy: Not only that but it was going to be fun.
David: It was going to be a lot of fun. [laughter]
Kevin: So why did it fail?
David: OK, again you got to look at the eras and what was happening. Arcade games then really were on the decline. Video arcades where you go in and pop a quarter in, because there was so much more capability in the home computers and the Coleco and the Mattel and the different home systems. They could do all, well, not as much, but you get a pretty darned good game that you could take home with you and not have to pop a quarter in the slot every time you play. So arcade games were kind of on the downward spiral, so that eliminated a lot of potential advertising. We weren't going to get any advertising from Namco and all of the producers of the arcade games, which was, "Hey, it is advertising along with..." And the other home producers of the games, there were four or five magazines already that they were pouring money into. They didn't really want another one.
So it was advertising that or just lack of advertising that killed that off. We just couldn't get it. I think there was still a need for what we had sort of in a sense proposed to do of objectively reviewing games and secondly, we're telling people how to play them.
Betsy: Yeah, it was strategies.
David: Strategies. It was advertising that we just didn't have, couldn't get.
Kevin: Ok, the others I have are Atari Explorer and Atarian, I think we've covered pretty well.
Kevin: Military vehicles, which we talked about.
David: [laughs] Yes.
Kevin: So the other magazines, Byte and Kilobaud, was it rivalry? Was it friendly competition?
David: Byte, we were in bed together. Not in bed together, but we published the best of Byte. Creative Computing did.
Betsy: For awhile.
David: Well, just one.
Betsy: No. That wasn't that friendly a rivalry. It wasn't that friendly after awhile.
David: It wasn't friendly once they sold to McGraw Hill, and they sold early. Then everything was off. We did some joint promotions with Byte for hardware creative software. We ran the ads for each other for a short time.
Betsy: That's when McGraw Hill cutoff.
David: Oh, yeah.
Betsy: [laughs] In a heartbeat. No more of that.
David: We felt that basically we weren't even competing for the same advertisers. Just a few, but not really. Certainly, we were not in direct competition at all with Byte. So that was just kind of all in the same place and you're going in a hardware direction, we're going on the software. When Wayne Green threw this intrigue with his wife and everything else, lost Byte Magazine. He was fit to be tied. "I'm going to kill them!" and he started Kilobyte. It wasn't killable. It was Kilobyte for I don't know how many issues.
Betsy: Not many.
David: 1000 bytes. [laughter] and a kilobyte, it had a dual meaning there.
David: That was a ferocious and very nasty. Oh, horrible rivalry. Somebody early on forced him not to use the name byte at all.
Betsy: I'm sure it was Byte. [laughter]
David: So they changed it to Kilobaud.
Betsy: Which didn't mean anything. [laughter]
Kevin: So did you have a relationship with Wayne?
Betsy: Nobody had a relationship with... [laughs]
David: Nobody really had a relationship. I knew him, of course. He was going his own way. Now the one area actually where we got into more competition with him than in the magazine itself, because again, he was trying to be like Byte, hardware oriented and he published 73 Magazine so he was basically focusing on the ham radio people, the do it yourselfers and so on. But they started a software division. It was pretty good. They had a lot of the same types of software that we did on cassette tape. In any event, we really had more of a head to head rivalry on the software than in the magazine publishing. We never really had anything to do with the magazine products or books. They also published some books but more like the magazine hardware type of thing. We weren't quite as selective, but our book publishing we did get into things that weren't in the magazine. We published books with more of a hardware orientation. We had a little broader line of books than the type of things that we had in the magazine.
Kevin: I don't know if you want to open this can of worms, but you said to me in an email, "You couldn't find two people whose vision, philosophy, ethics, and view of business and life was further apart than Wayne and I." Can you elaborate on that? [laughs]
Betsy: He was just basically unpleasant, is my take on him. I didn't know him that well but it was just sort of like he had a chip on his shoulder and was daring you to knock it off. Wouldn't you say?
Betsy: You knew him before I did but by the time I arrived on the scene that was just sort of the general industry perception of him, I think. It was just stay away from him, leave him alone, he's not very nice.
David: Well, one other thing, which we sort of touched on a couple of times, I'm very trusting. [laughter] Overly so, according to my ex- wife and I think there would be a couple of examples. Wayne would walk out of that door, boy, out of sight, 'you're going to do something to screw him' is what his view would be. He did not trust anybody.
Betsy: [laughs] And least of all, his ex wife. [laughter]
David: It's the old saying, "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean that somebody isn't out to get you." He thought everyone was out to get him, everybody. So we were totally philosophically different. Our ways of doing business were different. I shake hands with you, we have an agreement. You don't shake hands with Wayne.
Betsy: I don't think his employees were ever happy either.
Betsy: You talked to them and it shows. He didn't have like a great...
Betsy: Well it was not. The culture of his organization I don't think was particularly, I think it was probably permeated with this lack of trust.
David: Well, one thing, we had fun. We really did have fun at Creative Computing. Perhaps some of the editorial staff, too much. There was one point where Betsy had to away their...
Betsy: Well they were all young guys. Some of them even still in high school, they would play games for hours and hours and hours, long after the reviews were done. There was one, self-contained thing that played football, and, man, they played it for hours. I had to take it away from them. Like "don't make me be your mother".
Kevin: Was there any drug culture at all? If you read stories of Atari, if you were a programmer at Atari you used cocaine and pot everyday...
Betsy: Not that we knew of. [laughs]
David: The East coast was quite different than the west coast.
Betsy: No there was nothing, really. I don't think so. In fact, my client John Anderson and Peter Fee, they were actually kind of protective of me in a lot of ways. I can remember being in John's office and they were talking about a movie or something like that. John said, "No, you wouldn't like this movie, don't go to this movie." That kind of thing, they were funny guys. They just kept laughing. David Lubar. They were free spirits but they were very funny, talented guys.
David: He is coming out with a line of children's books, weird, weird stuff. The last one, something about the lawn mower weenies. He has a line of 6 or 8, and they're all little short stories. Some of them were adaptations of stuff that almost got published in Creative Computing, probably some of them did. Lubar is a funny guy. When he left and went to work for one of the video gaming companies, his first big successful game was "Worm Wars." You were like, "Worm Wars?" [laughs] Other people are fighting real serious warriors and you are fighting with worms. We just had a different kind of culture, it was just a lot of fun.
Betsy: Jonny Anderson went to work for A+ in San Francisco. He was one of the five people killed in the San Francisco earthquake of 1986. He was in a car and a piece of the building fell on the car. He was a really funny guy.
David: We did not have a serious business culture.
Betsy: No, we had this great big room with a bunch of tables set up around the edges, in the middle. It was kind of like that, nowhere near as neat.
Kevin: I will clean that up for you.
Betsy: [laughs] Just tangles of wires, and we had to have one of every kind of computer so we can test all the software, and this one would be running this kind of peripheral, and it was like a young guys dream job.
David: You commented yesterday about how we had a bunch of high school, not quite, but still...
Betsy: I said that they were in their early 20s but they basically had the maturity of high school students, they needed a little bit of mothering. But I wasn't that myself. They were just really nice guys, we did a good job hiring those kids.
David: When you talk about the Atari cultures and some of the others, where every Friday some of these companies have parties, that kind of thing. We had an annual party, a picnic. We didn't need weekly parties and stuff to let you have fun because that stuff was going on every day, not really partying but playing the games and bantering and everything else. As they say, it wasn't a real efficient business culture. Heck, I had worked for Digital Equipment, which was still a pretty relaxed place, but AT&T which was anything but. This was as far away from that kind of corporate culture as you can get. But it worked. Didn't make a lot of money, but it worked.
Kevin: Yeah... [inaudible 01:26:58] Betsy: Yeah. And I think they appreciated it because they weren't making tons of money either, but they had a lot of fun. They enjoyed going to work, they really enjoyed it.
[section in wrong place?]
Kevin: Speaking of Kindle, I've done it but haven't told anybody yet that best of Creative Computing too is now available on Kindle. And I have been working backwards. [crosstalk] I just had it on sale.
Kevin: I haven't publicized it yet for sale.
Betsy: They won't let you do. [laughs]
Kevin: Yeah, I think they will have two.
David: Did you do that through Amazon? How do you convert is to Kindle? I scan them and then I do CRM and I use Elance or utilize some service in India that converts it back to ASCII, and then they convert it into an E-book from there. It's a lot of work, I want it done well, and I want it to be super awesome. And they just [inaudible 01:28:40] , like we were talking about before.
Kevin: Outsourcing and stuff. But I can do it myself but that would take way too long. So I just try to do the quality control [inaudible 01:28:49] . It's not perfect but better than nothing.
David: I have reached the point where with my Dodge restoration book, that yes, many of the borders around the pictures are terrible, they're hand drawn and so on. But I'm not going to bother to re-do that, I just want take the book, get it into some sort of machine readable format, PDF or something. [inaudible 01:29:24] somebody that can...
Kevin: Yeah, I can get you off with that. We can then figure it out.
David: I found one extra one that I can cut up.
Kevin: That will help a lot. [inaudible 01:29:37] . If you want to sell a PDF of it, that would be up in couple of day. That's easy, but a searchable Kindle version that takes longer.
David: I don't want a Kindle version because people want to print out something that they can...
Betsy: Take out to the garage
David: When people slide under the vehicle they have it there, "Oh, OK this is what I should be looking for."
Kevin: If you scan it and upload it to Amazon, even create space from [inaudible 01:30:06] company, then there could actually be another book, that looks pretty identical to the first one. We will figure out.
[back to original recording]
Kevin: Do you read any computer magazines now? Not even read, but are you familiar with...?
Betsy: Are there any?
Kevin: There are but they are very different than Creative.
David: Somebody out there said, "What did you read today?" The only magazines that I will occasionally pick up in the computer field are mostly from England, Internet magazines, well there are several, which is sort of interesting that the dominant Internet magazines come from England, but they do. If I want to do something, and I haven't lately, but I wanted to get into doing something different or interactive or something with my website. I'd pick up one of those magazines and kind of have same kind of thing that Creative used to publish. Here is a code to do it in Pearl or HTML, whatever.
I converted all of my website, some time ago, quite a while ago now, to XHTML from old HTML. I did not like any of the programs that generate web pages, mainly because... Well, today its probably OK, but I felt that earlier on, they were very inefficient. You'd have this much code for something and XHTML would write it in five lines. Kevin: Yeah, using Dreamweaver or something, it was terrible. [crosstalk]
David: My old-fashioned [inaudible 01:32:23] the interpreter or compiler or whatever, has to go through all of that just to pick out what is going to be displayed." My web pages are very compact and short. They are all XHTML, none of this extra garbage and style pages and everything else.
Anyway, so that's what I'll pick up a magazine for. I'm was doing a little bit of programming in Pearl and then I said, "No. You know what, I can get routines that I can download and I don't have to learn it myself." I learned enough to know that I don't want your Pearl programmer. [laughs] Or what is the other one? I don't know. I'm right at the point now where I'm wanting to do some more things that I can't, so I'll probably purchase some more computer magazines and learn about it.
Betsy: Has anyone talked to you about the purchase of PC by Davis?
Betsy: This is a big story.
David: She was involved.
Betsy: I was involved. There was a magazine called PC. I was in San Francisco.
Kevin: PC Magazine?
Betsy: PC Magazine, right. And, there was a guy named Tony Gold and there was somebody else that I can't remember. There was Tony Gold and this Mr. X started this magazine and they hired... David Banell will probably tell the real story, I don't know all the details but I'm sure he has it engraved in his brain. They hired David Banell to run it and I guess several other people, and my understanding is, that they told them they were going to give them a piece of the action, they weren't going to pay them very much but you're all part owners and everything, but nobody ever wrote it down.
So when Ziff Davis approached Tony Gold and Mr. X and wanted to buy the magazine, and the guys said, "Oh yeah, sure," and they sold it to him and all these people that were working for them said, "Well, what about us. We're part owners too." But there was no proof of it. So Ziff bought it, and they were right in the middle, just about to go to press with an issue and they got word that it had been purchased by Ziff.
So David Banell took just about the entire staff and they walked out and went across town and started PC World. Apparently their lawyers said, "Don't take anything with you." So they just walked out and left the offices as they were, And Ziff, who now had a magazine to get out and no one to do it, sent me out to San Francisco for a couple of weeks and there was like an editorial assistant and a couple of freelance writers, were the only people left. So I had to figure out...
Kevin: So this is when you became the interim.
Betsy: This is how I become the editorial director of PC. So I basically went out there and walked into this office and had to pull together their issue and get it off to the printer. They had a big dummy on the wall where everything...
Kevin: They lay all the pages...
Betsy: The lay out of all the positions where all the pages and the stories were going to go and they moved everything around. [laughs] But they couldn't resist.
Kevin: That is awesome.
Betsy: This one guy, whose name I wish I could remember. Barry Owen, worked with me, and we were able to get it off to the printer and then pack everything up and send it back to New York and then they hired Barry Owen, he moved to New York and he eventually become the editor, because that was who they had. I was sort of the editorial director for a while and they said that, "If you were going to do this, you would have to come to the city. We are going to really set up an office here and make it real." And I said, "Nah, I am not going to drive into the city every day or take the train or the bus or anything." It was a interesting story and we were getting much more interesting version of it from David Bunnell, who was there. [laughs]
And in the mean time, they were all starting up PC World and taking all of their freelancers and trying to make it as difficult as possible for PC. That was a big rivalry, obviously.
David: And then it created a couple of months of problems at Creative too, because my editor was gone. I had really gotten very dependent to rely on her for so many things. "I got to edit this myself?" And then the whole question mark was, OK if PC Magazine, is Betsy goint to stay with it? It was a time of uncertainty.
Betsy: I'm sure it was a bad career move.
Kevin: Yeah. But PC Magazine still exists and Creative Computing doesn't.
Betsy: Yeah, exactly. But I don't know if I would have existed if I had to commute to New York, that's a nasty commute. Millions of people do it but, I just didn't want to be one of them. I didn't mean to interrupt, so back to your...
Kevin: What are you most proud of, of everything you've done? What's the thing you want on your tombstone?
David: OK, that's obviously not a one word answer. Proud isn't... I am not crazy about it. I guess the fact that I continued to hear from people that said, "Hey, I got my start in computing from Basic Computer Games" or Creative Computing, or something that I had my hand in, that makes me feel pretty good. You have a long term, or longer term influence than just what you do at the time, it's living on. It's no going to live on forever. Basic isn't going to live on forever. But I think the idea that having some positive influence on other people, on their lives, on their careers, that's a good.
Kevin: You helped send people into the computer sciences field.
David: And you know the specific individual accomplishments. Yeah, I wrote a couple of programs that are probably in some cases, maybe not the program but the routines, are still in use. That's minor compared to having an influence on people and their career and their outlook, and their future. That's way more important. "OK so I wrote a great scheduling algorithm, so what."
Kevin: And you really think it's the same algorithm that's being used in Google maps and...
David: Portions of it, yeah. But that is minor. I look back and I say, "Almost anything that I wrote in the last 30-40 years, if I were doing it today, I would have done it a little differently, but I didn't know then what I know now." So there's no one thing I could say, "Oh, that was a really great article, or great insight," or something. Anything can be improved upon.
Kevin: Sure. That's what disappoints me about computer magazines today is I don't think that it seems like children going to be able to go. It's not going to motivate anybody to do anything, other than use Word version 18 or whatever. There's no Basic programs to type anymore and it's not exciting. [cross talk]
David: Yeah. Well, you know, Lee Felsenstein was mentioning that at breakfast, oh gosh, that was just yesterday. [laughter]
Betsy: It was yesterday. [laughs]
David: [laughs] That kids today don't have any feeling about, or I should say knowledge about the real basics of bits. What is a bit?
David: Nobody knows anymore. He wanted to find some little simple piece of hardware. Really, I guess he has, that every kid when they're in the 5th or 6th grade will be exposed to this so they'll have some concept of what bits are all about. Are you ever going to get that into schools today? No. So anyway, it's just kind of, hopefully there's been some long term influence. And what I'm doing now even, which is mainly developing bible studies for... well, I mostly have guys that have had a drug or alcohol addiction problem coming to this. They're in a rescue mission. I'm hoping that these studies can have a little bit of an influence on the direction of their lives. They're a positive influence on where they go from here. So it's kind of, people more than a specific thing or whatever.
[not in recording]
Those are terrible copies.
Kevin: They are copies. These are from the scans. I was printing scans and I wasn't trying to make them pretty. Just for my reasons, it was quick and dirty. I could've bumped the contrast and stuff.
David: There's Carl. [pause]
[back to recording]
Kevin: Do have anything left, like how many subscribers you had over time? Is that data around anymore? Or how many newsstand copies you had? I assume that is a lot.
David: OK, maximum, I think we mentioned that. We hit just about a half a million before Ziff killed it. Then, they gave people a choice of three magazines that they expected to continue to publish, PC, Apple's A+, or Mac User. I'm guessing that most people went with PC. One of the reasons actually was Ziff's rationale at that point was, PC World had really grown a lot and the circulation base of PC World and PC were very close. They were both about a half million. PC might have had a small lead.
Then, by killing Creative Computing and rolling all of those subscribers, there was some overlap. Certainly, there were some subscribers that got both magazines. You probably had a quarter of a million additional subscribers into PC. All of the sudden, they go to advertise, "We've got three-quarters of a million and PC World only has half a million."
That was when PC had a huge growth spurt. You know, they started publishing those telephone-book-thick issues.
Betsy: I would think that it probably still holds the record for the largest magazine ever published, whenever the issue was that they published it, it was their biggest one. Certainly magazines aren't getting bigger now. They didn't continue to increase in size after that.
David: Then they started publishing it twice a month. The nudge that the subscriber base at Creative gave to PC really separated them completely from PC World. So they had their reasons.
Kevin: OK. This is a chart of the page count of Creative Computing over its life. It's not a question, I just made a chart. Every December there's a peak for the big December issue. Right at the end it just, all of the sudden, stopped.
David: Well, that's when Ziff had decided to kill it, which was almost a year before. They basically let us publish for another eight or nine months after they had made the decision.
Betsy: There was a lot of back and forth. Are they going to kill it? Are they not going to kill it?
David: They weren't promoting, no subscription promotion. They were saving their money. Kevin: Sure. David: If you don't promote the subscriptions, you're not going to get them.
Betsy: This is page count.
David: It was advertising.
Kevin: [inaudible 01:48:59]
David: It wasn't actually subscriber base didn't drop them. That's cool.
Kevin: I just thought I'd do a comparison, even though that's not really what I'm doing here. In the beginning, you guys were bimonthly and they [Kilobyte] were monthly. I couldn't know how to do it accurately. Their page count's actually higher, because they were doing twice as much. I don't have all the data here. You guys tended to publish larger issues than "Kilobyte?"
David: It was so dependent upon advertising. You got some magazines, they would run 80, 90 percent advertising, if they could. In some special interest fields, you can get away with that, because people are actually buying the magazine for the advertising, not for the editorial content.
Betsy: Computer Shopper, yeah, a good example.
David: That's exactly right. Even the guys that bought Military Vehicles, they just went over so heavily to... I always believe that you should have at least one-third editorial content, preferably more. They dropped down to 20 percent to edit.
Kevin: There was one issue, the 10th anniversary issue, I don't mean to be picking on Wayne here. There was this quote he happened to say, which I thought was really interesting to me, I wanted to get your take on it. He said, this is in 1984, "A computer system doesn't really stand a prayer anymore unless there's at least one dedicated, independent magazine for its users."
David: Wayne said that?
Kevin: Wayne said that. Is that true? At the time, would you have agreed with that?
David: In '84? Again, you've got to look at where we were in the cycle at that point. The cycle was then, there were more computers dying off than there were new ones being released. Standardization had come in really. You've got the IBM PC, and everybody's producing a PC clone. Apple kept going, and Atari, and Commodore attempted to. But yeah, if you were to start a computer company at that point, with a new computer, yeah, you'd need something to give your user base something to do with it, more than just what the manufacturer was selling. So, that's probably accurate. What do you think?
Betsy: Yeah, I think it's accurate. That's what people started to expect.
Kevin: Yeah. Another quote in the same issue which we've kind of touched on from Tom Dwyer, this is in 1984, he's saying, "Computer magazines used to have personality [laughter] and now they don't." Now, they really don't.
Betsy: They really don't! [laughter]
Kevin: I think they still have personality in form but now it's just inconsistent.
David: Yeah. Right.
Betsy: Who was Tom Dwyer? I don't remember him.
David: Tom Dwyer? He was at University of Pittsburgh. He came up with all those neat applications. He and Margo... He had the best BASIC primer of anybody, in fact the only one that both Kemeny and Kurtz endorsed outside of their own material. He had really written some good BASIC books.
Kevin: I'm just finishing up here. The Internet says you were born in 1939. Is that right?
Kevin: Where were you born?
David: New York, New York.
David: I was born in the hospital that my father had a hand in designing.
David: He was an architect up until the Recession. I think he, perhaps, designed the restrooms but he wasn't the... [laughter]
Kevin: When were you two married?
Betsy: 1988. 25 years ago.
David: June 18, 1988.
Kevin: What's your last name now?
Betsy: I tried keeping this professional thing and it was just way too confusing, since that really wasn't my name anyway. That was my first husband's name, and then just... "this is way too complicated."
Kevin: My wife kept her maiden name and now she wishes she hadn't. It's just confusing. It just made sense to do.
Betsy: If had been my maiden name, I might have, but it really wasn't.
Kevin: What haven't I asked you that I should have?
David: [laughs] We kind of were noodling it around last night and said, "Man, the guy's thorough."
Betsy: You the most prepared interviewer ever.
[not in recording]
David: I jotted down a couple of notes. Nope.
Betsy: Got everything?
[back to recording]
David: What's your thinking? Because originally you were talking to me about covering Wayne's magazines and so on.
Kevin: My original thought, when I had put no thought into it, was that it would be half about Wayne's magazine and half about Creative. First of all, after talking to him, I thought there's not enough to do that.
David: Did you talk to Wayne?
Kevin: I talked to Wayne.
David: Well that's good to know, right? Carl Helmers didn't know if Wayne was still alive.
Kevin: He's still alive.
Betsy: That's true. We asked Carl Helmers if Wayne was still alive and he was "huh, dunno".
David: Actually, there was another guy up there that published a computer magazine. What the heck was the name of it?
Betsy: Who are you talking about?
David: Up in New Hampshire, Peterborough. It was one of the earlier would- be competitors to Datamation. So, it was much earlier. He was absolutely totally convinced about the Kennedy assassination and published a computer analysis of all the photos and everything else. Every single issue of the magazine had this stuff. He and Wayne were on the same wavelength on that. You ask Wayne about the conspiracy. [laughs] You'll get an earful.
Kevin: In answer to your question. First, it was going to be the two, and then that happened. Also my wife said, "If you're doing two, then it's going to seem like a compare and contrast thing." That's not what I want to do. Now I'm thinking that this will be a project about the earliest computer magazines, the first computer magazines. That way, I can, whatever, four or five chapters. One on Kilobaud, one on Creative, and maybe Byte I'm meeting with the editor of Byte in a couple of weeks at an event, maybe Interface Age or one of the other ones.
David: If you can find Bob Jones, that would be an interesting contrast. He was Interface Age. He had a different perspective on a lot of things, and I had a lot of respect for him. He just didn't sell at the right time. Too bad. Bob Jones was a very serious, good guy.
Kevin: Who were the other early people? Dr. Dobbs? I don't know what...
Betsy: Oh, Dr. Dobbs...
David: Oh Jim Warren! Oh my goodness. That would give you another perspective altogether.
Betsy: That's, again, the California...
David: Jim Warren and Bob Albrecht are tied together very closely. They're both in sort of in the alternative lifestyle. I don't know what you'd call it.
Betsy: That probably had Friday afternoon pot parties. [laughter]
David: Oh, boy. Did they ever! Yes, yes. Jim also was the one that started the West Coast Computer Fairs. He's a very capable guy. Dr. Dobb's journal was in a sense, well, you've probably seen it. You have, right? OK, so you know. That's really low level programming rather than higher languages. We're talking about machine languages, assembly language, programming, and there. It was sort of like Microsystems was to Byte. Microsystems, for the really serious hardware guy. Dr. Dobbs was for the really serious programmer, compared to Creative which was for people who just wanted to type something in that would work.
Kevin: Lets play [inaudible 01:59:35] in BASIC, right. Yeah.
Betsy: Dr. Dobbs. That was sort of like a totally different... it wasn't a competitor.
David: We didn't compete at all. I had a view that we competed at all with them; they may have thought we did but I didn't think so.
Kevin: Did they even have advertising?
David: Oh yeah, actually they did, and it kept going for a long time because it was a small little niche magazine. But, yeah, Jim Warren would be an interesting guy, very interesting guy, early on. I don't know about Albrecht because you say he published more tabloid newspapers. I don't know if they ever really published any magazine size thing or not. Probably not, but it would give me a totally different perspective because they're coming from the west coast, looser, or whatever.
Kevin: That sounded pretty loose.
David: Yeah nothing compared to that.
Betsy: I think he was sort of in rebellion when he started working full time at Creative Computing because he was coming off of AT&T where he had to wear a suit to work every day. So the first thing he did was burn his suits and wear t-shirt and jeans way before anybody was doing that.
David: I went extremely in the other direction, yeah I did, but who else real early. Personal Computing, which I think David Barnell somehow involved in it at some point in there. Because they moved from the west coast to New Jersey, and they were bought by... who was that? It was mostly a company that published things like hardware age and advertiser-driven magazines. What was the name?
Betsy: I don't remember.
David: Oh, gosh. Begins with an 'H'.
David: No. Anyway, when they brought Personal Computing... I think Barnell maybe even started it, and then they moved it to New Jersey, and then David said "I'm not going to New Jersey. I'm a west coast guy," or whatever. And then, they changed the whole thing totally. That's why I said they're one of the ones where they were so totally advertiser driven. A press release is a product review, as far as they were concerned. They had some interesting stuff. They were a competitor only in name, but also because they got the advertising. "I think I'm going to advertise"... "Oh! We're going to publish a wonderful review! Give it to us." And so they were early, and they made money. There were a bunch of flash-in-the-pan magazines that lasted 2 or 3 or maybe 6 ssues, but nobody...
Kevin: But only one in seven made it, so...
Betsy: One in seven, right?
David: That's right, exactly. I can't remember the name of some of these ones, but there was a very successful big magazine that published all Apple... reviews of Apple stuff. What was that one? Apple by themselves spawned I'd guess half a dozen magazines.
Kevin: There was A+, and Insider, and Apple... a bunch of others.
David: Right. Actually, there's one that I can't think of the name of, it turned out, it was bigger and thicker and creative. They were publishing a lot of stuff, but again, it would all be positive and so they really killed us on getting advertising. We had been a leading publisher of Apple material for a while. Then all these others came along. That one, whatever it was, was really took a lot of advertising from us. I'll think about it.
[not in recording]
Kevin: You'll remember.
David: I'll remember some of this.
[back to recording]
David: When it all settled out, you came back down to eight or nine, but the ones we're talking about...
Kevin: Well, at one point there was 200.
David: Yeah, I think that's correct.
Betsy: You are probably counting newsletters..
Kevin: Probably industry-specific stuff and niche stuff but still, you went from one to 200, 10 years ago.
David: Yes. That's true.