Frankly Speaking: Are You Bitextual?
At one time, many book publishers printed their own books. Then they discovered that the cost of maintaining a printing enterprise was less cost-effective than buying book printing and binding from commercial printers. Over the decades, they dabbled in (photo) typesetting and desktop publishing, and enlisted legions of part-time workers. At some moment in time, most books in production in New York City are on the subway, as industry freelancers carry manuscripts and artwork back and forth.
In 1982, I authored a report on on-demand printing, and only two printing companies (and no publishers) took any interest. There was more interest in the abortive Cameron Belt Press than in anything digital. Yet, copiers had already established a niche. The University of Vermont was using the Copyright Clearance Center for authorization and an original Kodak Ektaprint for on-demand books. McGraw-Hill partnered with R.R. Donnelley to produce custom textbooks. The concept of the modular book evolved.
It took Lightning Source and Amazon to change the book production calculus. Digital printing came of age, and it was the perfect match for that universal distribution channel called the Internet. Throw in e-books, and you give book publishers a major tummy ache.
The dream of every publisher (and author) is the long run in a world that is tending to shorter and shorter runs. It is already apparent that the book world will consist of a handful of super long runs, lots of long runs, many short runs and a plethora of one-offs. We will print more titles, but fewer copies because of on-demand printing.
Those long runs will stay on offset presses, but we will not need as many presses to print them. All other books will be printed digitally, half on roll-fed printers and half on sheetfed printers. The sheetfed printers will use toner (some call them "laser" printers), and the roll-fed printers will use ink-jet.