I know, I know. I keep asking “Is print really dead?”. But the question comes back to me like an echo with no answer.
When I use the word “print” in this sense, I am not simply referring to printed material. Print in this sense = printed word distributed with a specific circulation by publishers. Imagine a printed circulation of 50,000 magazines or a print run of a book to be sold to bookstores all over the country.
“Print”, as I just defined it, is located on one end of a media spectrum. On the other end is absolute digitization.
Many companies and innovative individuals are finding a happy medium between print and digital. Print on demand (POD), which allows for a low circulation number and requires only a guaranteed audience to manifest as ink on paper, takes a lot of what’s great about digitization and makes it work with print.
(Pictured at left: Happy medium, by mistress_f)
On May 19th, Publisher’s Weekly reported that “The number of new and revised titles produced by traditional production methods fell 3% in 2008, to 275,232, but the number of on-demand and short run titles soared 132%, to 285,394.”
POD is a booming business venture for publishing companies and amateur writers trying to get published. In many cases, it is used to produce short-run titles for specialized audiences and needs; for example, a college professor wrote her own textbook for a class, and she copies for 500 students. POD makes this possible, and the students can purchase her text from the bookstore.
PW reports that this growth in POD “…reflects not only the difficult economy but the decision by publishers to become smarter and more strategic in the titles they published last year.”
Some companies are producing direct-to-consumer technologies that allow ANYONE to print on-demand, even if they only want to print one copy. Traditionally reserved for specialized print runs and requiring a minimum (setting the print and graphics was not cost-effective otherwise), POD can produce just ONE copy of a text.
One way that POD straddles the gap between print and digitization is by providing a printed copy of something that’s already published on the Internet. Twitter member @FerroGate, co-founder of Issuu, a company that creates custom print publications from digital documents, says “Digital editions+Optional & well-done POD=Best of both worlds until we have ubiquitous reading devices and print is marginalized.”
On Demand Books, which developed and distributes the Espresso Book Machine to bookstores and cafes, claims: “What Gutenberg’s press did for Europe in the 15th century digitization and the Espresso Book Machine will do for the world tomorrow”.
(Pictured at right: Printing press, by Gastev)
(Side note: WHAT?! That’s a pretty lofty claim, considering that this Book Machine is a printing press…that’s not revolutionizing anything except giving anyone the ability to use it.)
Anyway, the Book Machine allows customers to print one copy of a book or print a vanity copy of their own work. Copies of books cost about $15. I recommend this NPR segment if you want to learn more.
What if customers could print things like magazines and newspapers? Twitter member @TravelingAnna says, “I think I’d print it, read it once and toss it. HUGE waste of paper.
But are these developments really innovative? If print in one sense is dying, then is it practical to develop technologies to keep print alive? Are these companies and innovators fighting, as Ben Folds would say, “the battle of who could care less”? I don’t have the answer, but I am pretty sure these efforts are nothing more than a form of nostalgia.
Gutenberg’s printing press? Come on.