Print-On-Demand Tradeoffs

November 1999
by Weldon Vlasak, D.Sc., Adaptive Enterprises

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The “Director’s Desk” column article, “The Book Community Brainstorms,” in the September 1999
issue was intriguing. In particular, the section titled “Bookstores in 2003” presented an interesting
prognosis for the future of the book industry. The projection was made that print-on-demand (POD) was
going to be the “largest influence on book publishing and bookselling among all of the technologies
currently available.” If this projection turns out to be accurate, the impact on various areas of the
book industry will be far-reaching.

When bookstores begin doing their own printing of books, printing firms may become concerned about
the effect on their business. However I did not note any members of the printing community listed as
being present at the ABA board meeting and brainstorming session. Publishers deal with printers and
lithographers, and one would expect them to be aware of the various contemporary technical printing
issues that would allow POD to become practical. However it is not expected that the logistics of POD
be fully defined in a brainstorming session. An examination of the various tradeoffs may indicate the
advantages and disadvantages of adopting this approach.

The advantages of bookstore POD, as defined by the PMA article, are rather obvious. If the
printing and selling operation can be combined, then the potential for reducing marketing costs by
eliminating or minimizing the middleman (the printer and possibly the distributor) exists, and
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