E-publish or perish

Move over Mr. Gutenberg -- Dallas Internet entrepeneur Patrick Seaman is hunting for the "killer app" to create the next revolution in publishing

He sits at a desk in the conference room, the proud papa of his new start-up, apologizing for the hammering overhead; Timberwolf Press is still a work in progress. He is bearded and round at the belly, a product of too much international travel for Broadcast.com, he says. Still, he's not so corpulent that he didn't become one of 11 finalists in February's first "The Sexiest Geek Alive Contest," which drew more than 18,000 entries and national media attention. Though looking at him now, you wonder about those who didn't make the finals.

"Patrick was a geek before they were fashionable," says longtime friend Sherman Swartz. "He and I both liked slide rules, and at one point in our lives, we both knew how to use them."

Seaman is Dallas-bred to the bone: born in Oak Cliff, raised in Mesquite, and educated at the University of Texas at Dallas. He exhibited nerdish tendencies at an early age, drawn to sci-fi novels, computer programming, and mathematics. Upon college graduation in 1983, he plunged himself into programming, hopscotching between a variety of jobs in corporate America, from Teledyne Geotech to LTV to J.C. Penney. But the fit was never quite right.

Jim Cline, a partner at Timberwolf Press, is also the author of A Small Percentage, the first audio book ever broadcast on the Internet.
Jim Cline, a partner at Timberwolf Press, is also the author of A Small Percentage, the first audio book ever broadcast on the Internet.
Dallas writer Laura Parker has written 30 books for traditional publishing houses. She e-published her novella Everybody Loves Ramon with MightyWords, which neither edited nor promoted the book.
Dallas writer Laura Parker has written 30 books for traditional publishing houses. She e-published her novella Everybody Loves Ramon with MightyWords, which neither edited nor promoted the book.

"I have always been a maverick," Seaman says. "People who are mavericks end up getting set aside from the mainstream." Nowhere did this become more evident for him than when he worked for J.C. Penney beginning in 1988 as the retail giant moved its corporate headquarters to Dallas. "You get a lot of turf wars going because people don't like change. It threatens their little sphere of influence," Seaman says. "In the corporate world, you are constantly having to fight the infrastructure to do anything new, to be creative, to take risks."

His approach was to attack a problem until it was dead, and this left some colleagues bitter and resentful. He turned to writing, he says, as an outlet for his frustration with J.C. Penney. Seaman decided to learn from all the great authors, voraciously reading their works, both classical and modern. He labored diligently over a techno-thriller for years, sent it to agents and publishers and was rejected by them all. The book "was really pretty bad," he admits.

Only after he joined the Lesser North Texas Writers, a local critique group of published and unpublished authors, did he learn how to write, he says. Unlike his wife or friends who might read his work, the group could be ruthless, tearing down his words so they later could be rebuilt--along with his ego. It was here that he met Jim Cline, who would later become his partner at Timberwolf, and Carol Woods, who would become his senior editor.

When his job grew unbearable ("If you don't change, you are inherently dead," he says), he decided to quit, going out on his own in 1995 and working as a technology consultant. His first customer was a company called AudioNet, the Internet start-up that began in Mark Cuban's spare bedroom and eventually become Broadcast.com. Cuban was the evangelist, the cheerleader for the company; his partner, Todd Wagner, was the businessman. Their idea was simple enough: to broadcast college football games and radio-station programming over the Internet. That way, a Southern Methodist University alum would be able to listen to Mustang games over his computer in Japan. "It was really bad audio, like a short-wave radio during a solar storm," says Seaman, who became their first hire and did everything from developing the company's technology to sweeping its floors.

He couldn't have been happier. There was no corporate culture averse to change, no bloated bureaucracy thick with meetings and status reports--just some fast-paced, fast-talking entrepreneurs who quickly realized they were onto a good thing and had better work even faster before the rest of the world caught up.

"We made the rules up as we went along," says Keith Swartz, Sherman's brother and an engineer who worked with Seaman. "We made decisions on the fly. The founders had a global plan of what they wanted to do, but didn't know how to get there."

Their changing vision was "to grab all the content on the planet," Seaman says--sports, news, music, religious programming, both audio and video--and become a broadcast network, reaching the Internet's global audience. More content meant more viewers and more market share. With Broadcast.com as the industry standard, the big media companies would never be able to run it out of business.

Seaman's job was to make certain the network worked, improve its quality, and guarantee its consistency. "He usually came up with something that was cutting-edge, packaging all the different technologies in different ways," Swartz says.

Though Seaman had little time for his own writing, in October 1995 he produced the first audio book on the Internet, broadcasting A Small Percentage, a sci-fi novel by Jim Cline. The Webcast, dramatized in 16 high-impact unabridged episodes, would become Seaman's prototype for Timberwolf Press. "It developed a very loyal following," he says. "If we were late in getting a broadcast up, we got flamed by our fans."

As Broadcast.com grew in size, Seaman became vice president of special projects and international development. The lofty title meant little difference in a corporate culture whose organizational flow chart was virtually nonexistent. Among his other responsibilities, Seaman helped close major international business deals with Intel and Microsoft, broadcasting business conventions and corporate seminars online for their offices around the world. For Intel, he produced the only two live Internet broadcasts originating in mainland China.

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