Cavemen, Gutenberg and the 'New' Stone Tablets
The Neanderthal man had the same reasons we do for wanting better print technology: More Neanderthals could "publish" their ideas, to make them available to others.
Initially, man could only "publish" his ideas verbally. Better printing methods—that is, the advent of cave painting as communication—enabled those who had something to say to make what they had to say available for others to read. However, cave painting was not portable, and it was "expensive."
Then, man began chiseling language onto stone tablets—6,000 years ago. The written word was portable. But it was still expensive and time consuming.
Despite modern advances in printing technology, the publishing industry still lives with the same basic problem. Most printing presses today remain labor-intensive and therefore expensive to set up. As a result, only a very small percentage of authors who write are ever published. Those who receive rejections are in very good company, as the following authors, and many more, were, at some point, turned down by a publisher: Mark Twain, Shakespeare, Dr. Seuss, Steven King, George Orwell and Agatha Christie. The list goes on and on.
The reason for this is that publishers are still essentially printing the written word on stone tablets. The printing technology used for the past 6,000 years, including its advancements, is the modern equivalent of stone tablets.
The Next Step in Publishing Evolution
Like Gutenberg, forward-thinking publishers are popularizing the next step in printing: on-demand technology.
The process is very simple. Instead of printing thousands of books, putting them in a warehouse and hoping they will sell, they print them digitally, as demand arises. More and more publishers, including mainstream publishers, are moving in this direction. Publishers who used to do initial print runs of 10,000 or 20,000 books now print just 1,000 books. Then they wait to see how the book is selling. If it is not selling well, it moves to being produced on-demand, and the publisher has not spent money on inventory sitting in warehouses.
A very similar on-demand revolution is occurring in many other industries. More dollars are spent by people renting movies to watch "On Demand" than by people going out to a movie theater. The music industry saw the same phenomenon occur a few decades ago when more people began listening to music in their homes than going to live performances. CDs and the advent of digital music simply made on-demand music more convenient.
It is not difficult to predict the future of the publishing industry. Machines exist today that take in a computer file on one end and, minutes later, spit out a finished book at the other end. Such machines will soon be found in bookstores, and will alleviate bookstores' perennial dilemma of deciding which books to stock.
Any Book You Want at the Flip of a Switch
Most published books cannot be found on the shelves of any bookstore. For bookstores to stock every published book would mean adding 15 feet of shelf space each day. Stocking all published books will soon not be a problem, however. If the book that you want is not on the shelves of your local bookstore, the clerk will simply press a button, the machine will make a soft whirring sound, and out will pop your book.
The book industry is simply following in the footsteps of the music and movie industries, and undergoing its own "on-demand" revolution. On-demand technologies will cause many industries to evolve their competitive advantages. Current book-printing methods are going the way of stone tablets and cave painting.
Picture a family of Neanderthals standing in their cave, considering how best to propagate their cave paintings. Would they have printed thousands of copies on a printing press, which they would have to carry on their backs? Or, would the Neanderthals have preferred their cave paintings on-demand?
— Larry Clopper
Larry Clopper is the president and co-founder of PublishAmerica (www.PublishAmerica.com), a publisher of first-time authors that uses on-demand technology.