Look into almost any publisher’s history, and if it has a good number of decades behind it, chances are very good that you’ll see that the publisher was its own printer. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is but one example: it’s origin stems from the merger of publisher Ticknor & Fields and Riverside Press, an old Cambridge-based printer founded by Henry Oscar Houghton.

Today, of course, a lot of publishers typically use big printers such as Quebecor, RR Donnelley, or others. With the digital content streams getting under control among publishers of many stripes, together with the growing capability of production printing hardware and software, print on demand (POD) is already mainstream option. Witness Lightening Source.

A recently received press releaseannounced the planned acquisition of Océ, which provides high volume production printing platforms, by Canon, known for its consumer items like cameras and ink jet printers, but also for office equipment such as copiers and printers.

It turns out the Océ’s production printers are behind a good portion of the big POD services, and these machines are able to provide cost-effect alternatives to regular printing in many cases. As publishers seek to extract value out of backlists and custom books by digitizing the content and managing workflow, POD can enable them to produce runs too small for regular printing. But right-sized and right-cost POD can offer attractive margins when the digital content has been managed right.

It makes me wonder if publishers will take the POD in-house, given the relatively modest POD platform expenses, so that the publisher can capture a greater part of the margin on small press runs. Who knows? Maybe the separation of publishing and printing will turn out to have been a temporary anomaly.

With Kindle et al., it can be easy to get stuck on eBooks as the output, but with the right technologies addressed by the digital stream, what shouldn’t be overlooked is POD. PDQ, QED.

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