Print On Demand

March 6, 2007

Tom Slee continues his critique of Chris Anderson’s book “The Long Tail” with his post on chapter 6 The New Markets. Near the end of the post Tom has this to say about print-on-demand.

Inventory on Demand [94-96] is yet more Amazon smoke and mirrors. By this time it is really getting silly. Anderson talks about Amazon’s big commitment to print on demand publishing as a way of selling all those niche books. But while he notes that “the potential of print-on-demand is extraordinary” [96] he doesn’t give any real-world numbers.

I think print-on-demand is one of the best examples of The Long Tail in action (or on the verge of action). Blurb and Lulu are two print on demand companies that ultimately service niche markets. This type of printing is very appealing to amateur photographers, for instance. The following article provides an overview of Private Photographic Book Publishing. The article describes an entry level cost of about $10,000 for one hundred books using traditional printing. Print-on-demand changes the equation.

There is an adoption lag for any new technology or service and I’m sure that print-on-demand will reach a tipping point within the next few years. Forget the type of book that Amazon sells. Publish-on-demand tackles the market of books without ISBN numbers and sales figures in the 10’s. Right now when I go on a diving vacation, the resort or dive operator normally offers a video of your week for about $75. I suspect that these operators will soon offer a print-on-demand book which you can put on the shelf beside your wedding book and the book of your kids’ terrible twos.

That reminds me, I need to start planning my first annual garden book. RAD’s Garden 2007 :-)


4 Responses to “Print On Demand”

  1. tom s. Says:

    “I think print-on-demand is one of the best examples of The Long Tail in action (or on the verge of action).”

    – so we agree that POD has nothing to do with “the type of book Amazon sells”, and therefore Anderson’s argument (that Amazon’s adoption of POD will push demand away from hits and towards niches) is wrong, or at least not very relevant.

    Community sharing and peer production is a separate phenomenon from The Long Tail. The uses you envision of POD have more in common with scrapbooks or photo albums (even slide shows of coral reef life) than with Anderson’s Long Tail idea – it’s more a social thing than an economic thing. It’s none the less valuable for that, but it isn’t The Long Tail.

  2. RAD Says:

    I think print-on-demand **WILL** have something to do with the type of book Amazon, or a significant Amazon competitor, sells. We are seeing early adopters using the technology now. Blurb or Lulu or maybe Amazon will reach a tipping point where the model becomes important.

    Print-on-demand fills a gap. It is not just “community sharing and peer production” in book form, in my opinion. Some of these books, photo or otherwise, will be very high quality. The difference is that the economics shifts somewhat so that selling between 1 and 1000 books does not entail financial loss for the author or anyone else involved.

  3. tom s. Says:

    I think you are overestimating the importance of printing costs in book production. Marginal book production costs are already small. The big costs are upfront costs – reading and discarding manuscripts, editing, design and production costs, marketing costs. For small publishers, who may print a few thousand copies of their books, I think these costs would be more than the whole print run. For big publishers, marginal book printing costs of a few dollars is no big deal at all.

    So I think POD may be good for what I think of as social publishing (without a publisher). This doesn’t stop some books being high quality – although a high quality book without professional editing is rare – but the big question is whether you go through a publisher or not.

  4. RAD Says:

    Ahhhh… I thought of “social publishing” as “publishing for friends and family” rather than “without a publisher”.

    For a book of mostly photographs made without a “publisher”, I think the low marginal book cost only kicks in somewhere between a few hundred and a thousand books. I think many artists prefer to layout the book themselves if they can and they will initially use viral marketing.

    I’m sure there are many other niche book markets that are similar to photo art books that will also benefit from the new gap that Print On Demand publishers fill.

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