Frankly Speaking: A Brief History of the Short Run
It all has to do with economies of scale. The more books you print on an offset press, the less costly each one is. The high up-front make-ready cost is absorbed into each unit printed. Digital printing has no major make-ready set-up, so one or a few books are less expensive than offset. It is that crossover point where digital and offset collide that determines the optimal printing process.
That is why some book printers have a mix of sheet and roll digital and offset presses. Each has its niche in terms of cost-effective run lengths. New inkjet digital presses are encroaching into the low end of offset production. Some roll-fed digital presses print a web width over 40 inches at increasingly higher speeds. Color printing now sells for what black-and-white printing sold for two decades ago.
Amateur market research: I was on a ship recently that went around the world. There were 2,400 passengers. About 30 percent had Kindles, a few had Nooks and about 20 percent had iPads. The rest read printed books from the ship's extensive library. The average age was 70 something. No one brought a physical book on board.
There will still be bestsellers that require a million runs. They will not be my books, but they will be there. Even with the incursion of ebooks, the printed book will continue and on-demand printing has made it possible. BB
Frank Romano is RIT Professor Emeritus with over 50 years in book technology and publishing.