Thoughts on bookmaking

It's difficult to see how traditional book printing can survive for much longer. The litho process produces the high quality product we have come to expect in the books we buy, but is commercially useful only for long print runs. The problem with long print runs is that everyone down the distribution chain has to store and pay for lots of product which might or might not sell. There is a finite on-cost right there. And then, if all the print run does not sell - and an uncomfortably high percentage of books printed has found and still does find itself in the waste system - this is another, both financial and ecological on-cost. Both of them difficult to accept in today's markets.

The answer of course is to print a book only when it is sold to a consumer or to a bookstore, should that bookstore care to risk his money. In other words, print on demand. Print on demand has come on tremendously over the past few years. The face cost of printing a single book one off is still higher than a book printed as part of a multi thousand litho run, but the difference is becoming smaller and smaller. If total cost including comparative waste is taken into account it seems to me that POD is actually cheaper right now. And then the quality of POD books has risen and risen. Today only an expert can tell the difference between litho and POD, given a similar print media.

How does this affect the marketing and potential sales of a book? What is the future role of the book publisher? Ah, these are huge and very juicy issues. More later ...

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