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.
We know that books printed digitally have tended to be, like the old stitch about newspapers, black and white and read all over. For most of digital printing's existence, producing professional four-color books just wasn't possible; you had to use offset. But the times they are a-changing, and technological advances are making the production of full-color books in longer short runs more feasible and economical than ever before. The advent of sheetfed digital printing brought us the ability to print full-color books in very short runs—it was responsible for opening up the high-growth photo book market. Now "4-up" and roll-fed "printer/presses" are further changing the full-color publishing paradigm.
Before we go further, let's define some terms, as printers are, in essence, quite different from presses. Printers regenerate the impression for each copy from a digital file, which allows them to use electronic collation and print the pages of a book block in order. Presses, on the other hand, use a physical image carrier (a plate) to reproduce large printed sheets which are folded into signatures, gathered and bound. But printers become, in essence, presses when either the sheet size or output speed starts to approach the specs of an analog reproduction device (aka a press). A "printer/press" is my term for printers that have many characteristics of a press.
If you've been following the printing world—and if you're reading this column we've got a hunch that you have—you know that advances in digital printing have transformed the technology from the world of the small-run to a viable print-on-demand option for publishers of all sizes and stripes. But don't be fooled: Digital and offset lithography remain quite different beasts.
Digital printing has saved the book industry. The old business model that printed an excess of books has been replaced for many titles by a more efficient on-demand model. Consider my personal example: Back in 1972, I wanted to self-publish a book. I only wanted 500 copies, but the printer said the minimum run was 5,000. I still have 4,000 copies in the warehouse, because someone may want a book on 1970s phototypesetting some day.
Finishing elements add cost, but they also add value. As print fights for its place in a digital world, we must find ways to make print more interesting and attractive. Print has a tactile advantage over books on screens: Print moves you without moving. Here are nine techniques for help enhance the "curb appeal" (to borrow a real-estate term) of your printed product.
Creating a book is one thing; selling is something completely different. Gutenberg was both printer and publisher, as was Aldus, Plantin, Caxton and almost all the early printers.
The book printing market is now a hodgepodge of terminology for digital and offset printing, short-, medium- and long-runs, print-on-demand and long-tail applications.
Once upon a time, there was the hardcover book, which was generally the only book format for about 500 years. Then, the mass-market paperback format was pioneered by German publisher Albatross Books in 1931. British publisher Allen Lane launched Penguin Books in 1935 with 10 reprint titles. Robert de Graaf, in 1939, issued a similar line in the United States, partnering with Simon & Schuster to create Pocket Books. The term "pocket book" became synonymous with paperback. Later, many publishers would offer paperback books, often published after the hardcover edition. They were 10 cents a copy when introduced and always less expensive than hardcovers. The low-priced, easily available book built the modern book industry.
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.