Books While You Wait
The ability to print material directly from digital files has opened many new doors for publishers, printers and authors alike. One of the more exciting and revolutionary trends to come out of the shift to digital printing is print-on-demand (POD). Print-on-demand, which is currently marketed as a specialized service by a number of printing firms, makes use of the latest in digital printing technology to enable printers to offer their clients two main benefits—short-run jobs and fast turnaround times. So far, the technology has yet to reach actual "on-demand" status, and is often used to refer to any short-run print job with a quick turnaround time produced from a digital file, whereas most companies advertise turnarounds of 1-2 weeks. But POD enthusiasts insist the real potential of POD has yet to be realized.
Imagine walking into your neighborhood bookstore and having the ability to literally purchase almost any title—including books that have been long out of print. With POD, bookstores may only need to stock one or two "display" copies of a particular book and print the rest as needed depending on customer demand. Other, more obscure titles, can be filed in a database and retrieved instantaneously when requested by a customer. You order the title, get a cup of coffee, and by the time you come back, your book is ready.
Not only can POD offer bookstores an unlimited stock of a particular title, but it will provide first-time authors with the ability to publish their works without a large investment. Publishing companies, or self-publishing authors, will literally be able to run a sample title—for example, 100 to 200 copies—promote the book, and still have the ability to print more books on-demand or ax the project if it fails with little financial loss.
Equally important is the effect POD could have on the environment. Paper production not only diminishes natural resources, but is also known to create a fair amount waste (Read BookTech the Magazine's January/February 2002 issue for details on the "Greening of Print"). With POD, stores could only print what they need, eliminating wasted backlogged inventory. Presumably, the customer could choose the option of having his or her title installed onto and e-book instead, further reducing paper waste.
But the fact is while most would agree that POD has potential at the retail level, it's much too soon to start selling your stock in the commercial printing industry. Significant obstacles still face the transition to on-demand printing in the retail space, not the least of which is price. With the most state-of the-art digital presses running as high as $500,000 to $1 million, the technology is simply too expensive for most retailers (and even smaller publishers) to afford just yet. Another issue is the daunting task of digitizing book titles. Though many titles released today may already be translated into digital (and e-book) format, classic books and more obscure releases will need to be converted before POD at the retail level can really take off. For this reason, on-demand will likely remain a limited offering attracting more printing and publishing houses—at least for the next several years. Still, the implications of the technology are astounding and, in the future, POD is likely to change the way we buy (and produce) our reading material.
-Chris Moraff (email@example.com)