CD Pioneers

One of a series of biographical sketches of people who made the CD industry happen

Neil G. Enock

Neil Enock Besides Katherine Cochrane, who created and publishes The CD Information Center Web site, the person most responsible for its existence is Neil Enock. Although he is no longer active in the CD industry, he has constantly provided encouragement, guidance and support that kept the project going even when it seemed like a hopeless cause. Its present success (with over 1500 visitors per day) is a tribute to Neil's optimism and vision, as well as to his loyalty to a friend who needed someone to provide a sounding board during its development.

Those who have been around the CD industry for some years remember Neil. He was one of the pioneers of the early CD-Recordable days, and was among the first who saw the potential that this medium is presently realizing. While he was working with a CD-ROM software developer, the AND group, inc. in Calgary, Alberta Canada as their Marketing Vice President (or, as AND group founder Shawn Abbot called him, "vice president in charge of everything") Neil met one of the earliest developers of CD-R technology, Allen Adkins, founder of Optical Media International. Allen was working with Yamaha and Taiyo Yuden to create a device and software for making compact discs one at a time, instead of the then-necessary process of making a glass master from an image file on tape and pressing several hundred every time, even just to test a disc image. The first time Neil saw Allen demonstrate his recorder he said, "Oh, you're making a one-off CD." That was apparently the first time anyone had called them that, and being an astute marketing person, Neil kept the term in mind over the next few years.

Allen eventually succeeded in building and selling his recording solution, and several other companies followed closely behind. (The story of his perseverence in the face of almost universal lack of support is told in Chapter One of a very entertaining book by Christopher Andrews, The Education of a CD-ROM Publisher.) Within a few years, by late 1991, manufacturers got the sizes of these machines down from something as large as a refrigerator and costing $100,000 USD, with software that cost an additional $250,000, to something that would fit in a small box on a desktop and work as a peripheral device with an ordinary PC.

Neil had been keeping an eye on these developments, and when the first affordable desktop recorders were announced by Philips and Sony, he started talking to a few friends about an idea he had. While in those days many people thought CD-R would primarily be used for test discs before publishing pressed CDs, Neil thought these one-off CDs would be a popular product in themselves. He knew they were functionally identical to mass-produced CDs, and even at $40 USD per blank disc, they were cheaper than producing a large run, and prices would probably come down as user acceptance grew. $10,000 USD for a recorder and software, and another $5,000 or so for a system to support it could be a bargain to someone who had a lot of data to store, but only needed a few copies to archive or distribute to others who would not require any special equipment to use them, just an ordinary CD-ROM reader. Certainly it was better than paying the then-current rate of $10,000 for a short run of pressed CDs! But $15,000 is still a lot of money, and Neil realized many people who had a reason to use this technology would be shut out by the entrance fee. So he decided to start a service bureau to put people's data on CD-R for them. By investing in the necessary capital equipment and using his existing technical knowlege to make discs for many people, economies of scale would bring down the costs enough to make the service affordable for just about anyone. Several of his pals who heard about this also wanted to get in on the ground floor of what sounded like an exciting new field, and since they were in different cities (and even different countries), in mid-1992 he started a chain of independent associated shops, which he called The One-Off CD Shops. Greg Tjosvold in Vancouver, BC, Rick Roder in Edmonton, Alberta, and Katherine Cochrane then in Huntsville, Alabama USA quickly got on board, and were joined by Automated Graphics Printing of White Plains, MD USA in time for the original "shop training class" in Calgary in early September 1992. More shops signed up as word got around, and by mid-1993 there were 10 of them across Canada and the US. The total eventually got as high as 12 before Neil and his partners sold the concept, name and logo to the parent company of one of the shops, The Duplication Group of Salt Lake City, UT USA in early 1994.

During those eventful few years, the name "one-off CD" went from "one-what?" to a generic term describing an exciting, growing technology that is now hitting its stride as a mainstream solution for many data storage and distribution applications. Neil's energy, enthusiasm, and vision were behind much of this rapid adoption of what might have been a quiet little backwater niche technology if it hadn't been vigorously promoted through trade show and conference participation, advertising, networking with writers and reporters and potential users, and many, many hours and months of almost constant phone calls, meetings and generally hammering away at people to get them interested in the possibilities he saw for the medium. Maybe if he'd taken the job Apple Computer once offered him to become one of their early technology "evangelists" that company wouldn't be in such perilous shape today! (Neil is also famous among those who know him as a rabid Mac bigot.) Neil and his engineer, Derek Datta, developed some innovative techniques using an early beta version of Allen Adkins' QuickTOPiX for Macintosh premastering software to make shared hybrid (so called because they share data resources across operating systems) ISO9660, MacOS/HFS and UNIX/RockRidge discs, mixed mode (CD-ROM and CD-audio) discs, and even hybrid mixed mode discs before this was an easy thing to do (and THEN told OMI how they did it, eventually.)

So, where is he now? As well as being the first sponsor and principal supporter of The CD Information Center, Neil is now on to his Next Greatest Thing, a company called 4th & Vine, Inc. After he'd left The One-Off CD Shops, Neil had another idea, this time about a business based on his talents as a graphic designer and his organizational skills, which he combined with a hobby of home winemaking. During his days as a technology innovator, Neil had researched paper labels to use on CD-Rs, and the knowledge gained from that was applied to his need for labels to identify his home-made wine products. Since he can't do anything half-way, he naturally used his computer and graphic skills (he'd studied design and architecture in a previous life) to create some unique, attractive labels. But making labels is one thing, making a business out of making labels is quite another. Even those who had known him for years as a hard working, bright kind of guy thought he'd really lost it when he decided that this was his next venture. But he's proven that it's not only possible, but it can also be sucessful. His experiences working with allied companies have been applied to creating a network of dealers for his products all around the world. First there were labels, then dealers' display racks, then software to help dealers and users customize labels with their own printers, and now a line of packages and cases for bottles. Late last Fall (1996) his first 4th & Vine CD-ROM with label customizing software was released. It's going to be interesting to see what happens next. Whatever it is, it's bound to be something unexpected and cool.

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