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March 13, 2019

Finding the Drumbeat to Differ, Decades Ago

Drummer
LinkedIn likes to remind you about work anniversaries of the people in your network of contacts. Sometimes the reminders can be unfortunate, celebrating entry dates for jobs people no longer hold. That's not the case for my own anniversary this month. Twenty-four years ago in March, the first seeds of the NewsWire were being planted in the heart and soul of my family.

HP has been at hand for most of my fatherhood. I grew up as a dad editing the HP Chronicle for PCI, an Austin company specializing in trade monthlies. One tradition at PCI was a video produced by the staff of editors and ad reps. The movie always appeared at the Christmas party. One year my son Nicky, who was all of four years old, sat in my London Fog trenchcoat and wore my reporter's hat in a bit where my chair spun around and there he was, in place of me. I'm short enough that the joke was on me.

Years later I'd gone out on my own to freelance, still keeping a hand in writing HP news for one publisher or another. Nobody was covering the HP 3000 much, though. The action was all with Unix, either HP's or the systems from Sun, or in the swelling majority of Windows. Digital and IBM had big swaths they were carving, too.

My wife and I had plenty of publication experience from our days in Texas publishing companies. I looked at the growing lines of posts on the 3000-L mailing list, right alongside the precarious nature of marketing and freelance writing. Dreams of a publication about the 3000 were soon on our lips at my house. Nicky was 12, and the NewsWire was on its way to delivery.

We had our realism bridles on for awhile. There was a reason the 3000 news appeared infrequently in the likes of Computerworld. The pages of Open Systems Today where I was freelancing made a little room for MPE, but nobody really wanted to acknowledge future growth for HP's original business server. Not anymore, not with the drumbeat of Unix so loud and HP's ardor for the 3000 so withered.

Then Abby said what many others who wanted to fly in the face of business trends say: "Hey, people made money in the Depression." I had maiden aunts who did just that, mostly on the strength of shrewd stock trades and a little high society retail commerce. I only worried how we'd find out enough to fill a newsletter month after month. Even if we filled it, more than a few key advisors thought the NewsWire would be worth less than a dollar a month. This month a few kind LinkedIn followers called me a legend, or maybe they meant the NewsWire, when that 24th anniversary notice popped up. I know there would be no legend without Abby.

We flew in the face of a trend. We saw plenty of companies doing just that in stories nobody was telling. Change must overcome inertia. Those of you who own 3000s know about staying stalwart about unneeded changes. We could only celebrate this anniversary because of you—plus the companies that made your 3000s reliable. Those advisors of ours were wrong about the one dollar a month. But Abby and I were wrong about what would drive the NewsWire. Sponsors came through when the top end of the subscription pricing was just $99 a year.

Abby and I built extensive spreadsheets in March of 1995, projections that showed where the advertising in the newsletter would no longer be required. She was a wizard of circulation from those Texas publisher days. Give us enough $249 subsciptions and we could rule the world.

She also sold advertising for those publishers. We were overlooking the real current in the market: innovators and caretakers who built and sold what HP's 3000 was missing. Better support. Software that HP couldn't risk building. Pricing that let the smaller companies who'd built the 3000 as a superior business tool make the best use of MPE.

Nobody knew exactly how many 3000s were out there. Those sponsors believed in the promise of a focused newsletter about MPE systems. We chose to call them sponsors because "advertiser" didn't describe a company that drummed to a beat that differed from trends — and was ready to invest in that beat with a message for the market. We even tried calling those ads messages, but like the subscription-only prospect, we had to bow to what people knew.

Those sponsors, who buoyed up the Newswire beyond its readers' support, made the difference to lead us into our Year 25. They did business in the 3000 marketplace while explaining to themselves and the markets why they weren't into Unix more, or how those choices to back HP's proprietary hardware made more sense than servicing millions of PCs.

Sponsors would only arrive if readers were engaged and discovering news. I'm thankful for those 24 years of connection and support. LinkedIn knows where to find you, too. Joining the HP 3000 Group at LinkedIn is a simple and rewarding way to connect. You will be able to reach out when an anniversary rolls by. Perhaps it will lead to experience you can put on your LinkedIn resume.

08:19 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink

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Comments

Comments

You’re the best Ron.
Happy 24th anniversary and wish you 24 more.
Although I’m mainly a spectator now, I always read your newsletters.
Spending most of my time now enjoying my grandchildren and playing hockey to keep in shape.
I’m amazed at how you continue to write really informative articles about the hp3000.
You truly are a treasure.
Best regards, Gilles Schipper.

Posted by: Gilles Schipper | Mar 14, 2019 10:36:06 PM

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