Just-In-Time Book Publishing . . .

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A couple Israelis have come up with a technology that could lead to thousand page-per-minute printers.

How?

Conceptually, the idea is very simple. Rather than having a printer with one or a few nozzles moving all around the page, have 50,000+ nozzles acting all at once to print a page in one action.

Even assuming this will see the light of day, having tens or even hundreds of thousands of nozzles rather than a few is quite likely to add to the cost.

Just keeping it supplied with ink is likely to make it a bit on the bulky side; thousand page ink cartridges just aren’t going to cut it here.

Finally, while the printheads wouldn’t have to move, the paper still does, and the paper jam possibilities of a machine pumping out almost twenty pages a second are mind-boggling.

So this isn’t going to replace your $99 inkjet next year or next decade.

But this product could revolutionize book publishing.

Today, book publishing and selling really hasn’t changed in centuries: You print a weighty book in a central location, then you have to ship it to a location usually hundreds or even thousands of miles away.

Even worse, for most books, you rarely have a good idea how many people actually want to buy it, or where they want to buy it. So you err on the side of caution, and (usually) print more than the demand, which leaves you with a high percentage of books that have to be sold at a steep discount (even best sellers), or simply get trashed.

Meanwhile, the distribution points are playing a guessing game and have to spend a lot of money with huge inventories (much of which will never be sold at that store, or at the retail price, or will take a long time to sell) and an army of people to maintain it.

This is all hugely inefficient, which means books cost too much, and ways to “fix” that cause a lot of collateral damage to the overall book industry.

You can have “superstores” that try to be more efficient by selling more copies of fewer books for less (yes, they may have more titles available overall, but they emphasize moving a lot of bestsellers that sell quickly), but that messes up the small book stores and the small book authors.

You can have places like Amazon that essentially try to create a national store and take care of a national audience. That helps the small book author who otherwise wouldn’t get shelf space in the stores, but now you’re shipping products around even more, first in bulk to Amazon, then individually to the purchasers. That’s even more transport, more time, more fuel.

Even worse for authors and publishers, national stores like Amazon are very, very good at selling used books. The used book market has exploded the last few years; something like 20% of all book sales are now used book sales, up from about 1% just a few years ago. Used books mean fewer new sales for the publisher and author.

You may say, “How is this any different than selling video cards?” Books are different than video cards in that they’re almost purely intellectual property. They’re really more like CDs and DVDs; it’s the content that matters, not the form, and unlike a video card, you don’t need a big centralized factory costing millions or even billions of dollars to make them.

Yes, printing locally will probably always cost more than centralized printing, but when you consider all the transportation and inventory costs, along with the waste, it’s not going to take much to tip the balance to decentralized printing.

Yes, eventually, electronic books will become mainstream, but that is at least a decade, more likely decades down the road, after those who grew up with books but not computers die off.

Yes, the kinds of people who own bookstores, especially small ones, tend to be traditional, maybe even sticks-in-the-mud, but they’re half-dead anyway due to the superstores and the online megastores. It’s really a “change or die” situation for them. Rest assured that the beancounters for the biggies will love to have this.

Decentralized publishing can largely level the playing field for small bookstores; they can offer hundreds of thousands of titles while still offering better personal service than the big guys.

New books will end up being cheaper, simply because many large costs will be stripped out, and the remainder/used market will diminish simply because books will be published “just-in-time” and “on-demand” while means there will be far fewer excess copies floating around.

Technology like this isn’t necessarily a slam-dunk. It has to work well, and one should never underestimate the capacity of those who hate change to duck it, but this could change our world more than 99.9% of the products you read about.

Ed


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