Ebooks get a lot of attention, but there is another publishing world that exists in parallel with the commercial publishing world we see and know. It is the shadow world that evolved from the copier and later the digital printer — for the first time, individuals could make their own books.
As the first key operator for the first Xerox 914 in Brooklyn, N.Y., I saw how convenience engenders changes in behavior and creates new market opportunities. Before the copier as we know it, we used something called a Thermofax — which would drive you to drink just to make one copy. The plain paper copier made it easy to be a publisher. Over time, technology continued to make it even easier. The Canon LBP-CX in 1981 became the HP LaserJet and the Apple Laserwriter. The original Kodak Ektaprint could re-circulate original sheets and copy them in order and then bind them in the machine. The University of Vermont was producing customized course materials in the early 1980s using an Ektaprint.
From 1990, the Xerox Docutech scanned all originals into memory and then regurgitated the information to printed and bound publications. In the early 1990s it produced most of the technical manuals and documentation materials in the world. After 1993, digital printing blossomed into color with Indigo and Xeikon. Over time, many digital color printers integrated perfect and other binding. Desktop finishing allowed anyone to bind their own books.
The rise of Adobe Acrobat gave us a standardized format for file submission. Without such standardization, there would be file chaos. Project Gutenberg goes back to the early 1970s when it shared public domain books used by cable-connected minicomputer users. Most users printed those books out even though they were not formatted very well for printout.
After decades, publishers have discovered print on demand (POD). The long run is a thing of the past, except for certain titles. Technical publisher O'Reilly Media abandoned traditional publishing methods and prints copies of its books as needed. The POD service will be handled by Ingram Content Group. Around 200 O'Reilly titles are already in the POD program, and more titles will be added as time goes on. The advent of higher-speed sheet and roll digital printers has given all publishers access to a new business model: Print what you want when you want it.