Two Innovations That Changed Book Publishing
by Joel Friedlander
Book publishing has traditionally been a pretty staid occupation. The technology of producing books didn't change very much over the history of printing until the twentieth century.
Technology then brought about faster, easier and cheaper printing that was much more flexible, a real boon to publishers.
But since the wide adaptation of the Internet, two significant changes have created huge disruption in the way books are bought, produced, marketed and sold. The whole industry has been turned upside down by these changes, and we have technology to thank.
Print on Demand
The first of these was the creation of a way to produce books without a printing press. This is pretty radical, since books are basically printed products.
But high-speed and high-quality copying machines that are capable of producing good-looking books with nice color covers gave rise to print on demand publishing.
What is print on demand? It's a combination of xerographic technology, like that used in copying machines, to book distribution.
When you use print on demand (POD), you upload files for the interior and cover of your book to a POD supplier. There they stay until an order is received for your book.
Then the vendor prints your book, ships it and deposits your profit into your account. The great and disruptive innovation here is that this whole process can be done in such a way that you can still make a very good profit even though only one book at a time may be printed.
In the past, you had to print thousands of copies of your book before you knew whether or not it would even sell. You have to come up with the money to pay your book printer, warehouse the books, arrange for distribution, and fulfill orders.
Compare that to the upload-and-sit-back-while-your-POD-supplier-does-all-the-work model.
Since POD has eliminated almost all the financial risk involved in printing books, it has become very easy for almost anyone to publish a book. That's radical change, and the publishing industry is still adjusting to the changes wrought by this technology.
The second huge innovation that's changing the book business is the growing popularity of ebooks. Since people started buying Amazon's Kindle ebook reader by the millions, the market for ebooks has exploded.
Once regular consumers made the mental adjustment to reading a screen instead of a book, they jumped on the ebook bandwagon in droves.
And why not? eBooks are frequently cheaper, they are easier and faster to buy, and you can read them in complete anonymity. As the ads famously say, you can buy, download and start reading almost any book in 60 seconds. That's a huge advantage over print books.
Not only that, but the "cost of reproduction" for ebooks is almost $0. There's no investment in inventory, no fulfillment cost, no warehousing.
This has caused a revolution in publishing and in the business of publishing, too, since all the financial models on which the book publishing business is based are being brought into question by ebooks.
Since we're still in the middle of this revolution, and no one really knows what the fate of print books will be, we can't say for sure yet how this will play out.
But between print on demand, with its ability to eliminate the risk in print book publishing, and ebooks, which will change the whole face of the publishing business, we can be sure that book publishing will never be the same again.
Joel Friedlander (@JFBookman) is an award-winning book designer, a blogger, and the author of A Self-Publisher’s Companion: Expert Advice for Authors Who Want to Publish. He’s been launching the careers of self-publishers since 1994 and writes TheBookDesigner.com, a popular blog on book design, book marketing and the future of the book. Joel's also just about to launch a new online training course, The Self-Publishing Roadmap.