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Thread: On Demand Printing

  1. #1

    On Demand Printing

    Long post, but interesting article in the NY Times about on-demand book publishing:


    July 20, 2006
    Technology Rewrites the Book

    By PETER WAYNER
    When Steve Mandel, a management trainer from Santa Cruz, Calif., wants to show his friends why he stays up late to peer through a telescope, he pulls out a copy of his latest book, “Light in the Sky,” filled with pictures he has taken of distant nebulae, star clusters and galaxies.

    “I consistently get a very big ‘Wow!’ The printing of my photos was spectacular — I did not really expect them to come out so well.” he said. “This is as good as any book in a bookstore.”

    Mr. Mandel, 56, put his book together himself with free software from Blurb.com. The 119-page edition is printed on coated paper, bound with a linen fabric hard cover, and then wrapped with a dust jacket. Anyone who wants one can buy it for $37.95, and Blurb will make a copy just for that buyer.

    The print-on-demand business is gradually moving toward the center of the marketplace. What began as a way for publishers to reduce their inventory and stop wasting paper is becoming a tool for anyone who needs a bound document. Short-run presses can turn out books economically in small quantities or singly, and new software simplifies the process of designing a book.

    As the technology becomes simpler, the market is expanding beyond the earliest adopters, the aspiring authors. The first companies like AuthorHouse, Xlibris, iUniverse and others pushed themselves as new models of publishing, with an eye on shaking up the dusty book business. They aimed at authors looking for someone to edit a manuscript, lay out the book and bring it to market.

    The newer ventures also produce bound books, but they do not offer the same hand-holding or the same drive for the best-seller list. Blurb’s product will appeal to people searching for a publisher, but its business is aimed at anyone who needs a professional-looking book, from architects with plans to present to clients, to travelers looking to immortalize a trip.

    Blurb.com’s design software, which is still in beta testing, comes with a number of templates for different genres like cookbooks, photo collections and poetry books. Once one is chosen, it automatically lays out the page and lets the designer fill in the photographs and text by cutting and pasting. If the designer wants to tweak some details of the template — say, the position of a page number or a background color — the changes affect all the pages.

    The software is markedly easier to use — although less capable — than InDesign from Adobe or Quark XPress, professional publishing packages that cost around $700. It is also free because Blurb expects to make money from printing the book. Prices start at $29.95 for books of 1 to 40 pages and rise to $79.95 for books of 301 to 440 pages.

    Blurb, based in San Francisco, has many plans for expanding its software. Eileen Gittins, the chief executive, said the company would push new tools for “bookifying” data, beginning with a tool that “slurps” the entries from a blog and places them into the appropriate templates.

    The potential market for these books is attracting a number of start-ups and established companies, most of them focusing on producing bound photo albums. Online photo processing sites like Kodak Gallery (formerly Ofoto), Snapfish and Shutterfly and popular packages like the iPhoto software from Apple let their customers order bound volumes of their prints.

    These companies offer a wide variety of binding fabrics, papers, templates and background images, although the styles are dominated by pink and blue pastels. Snapfish offers wire-bound “flipbooks” that begin at $4.99. Kodak Gallery offers a “Legacy Photo Book” made with heavier paper and bound in either linen or leather. It starts at $69.99. Apple makes a tiny 2.6-by-3.5-inch softbound book that costs $3.99 for 20 pages and 29 cents for each additional page.

    The nature and style of these options are changing as customers develop new applications. “Most of the people who use our products are moms with kids,” says Kevin McCurdy, a co-founder of Picaboo.com in Palo Alto, Calif. But he said there had been hundreds of applications the company never anticipated: teachers who make a yearbook for their class, people who want to commemorate a party and businesses that just want a high-end brochure or catalog.

    Picaboo, like Blurb, distributes a free copy of its book design software, which runs on the user’s computer. Mr. McCurdy said that running the software on the user’s machine saves users the time and trouble of uploading pictures. The companies that offer Web-based design packages, however, point out that their systems do not require installing any software and also offer a backup for the user’s photos.

    As more companies enter the market, they are searching for niches. One small shop in Duvall, Wash., called SharedInk.com, emphasizes its traditional production techniques and the quality of its product. Chris Hickman, the founder, said that each of his books was printed and stitched together by “two bookbinders who’ve been in the industry for 30 or 40 years.” The result, he said, is a higher level of quality that appeals to professional photographers and others willing to pay a bit more. Books of 20 pages start at $39.95.

    Some companies continue to produce black-and-white books. Lulu.com is a combination printer and order-fulfillment house that prints both color and black-and-white books, takes orders for them and places them with bookstores like Amazon.com.

    Lulu works from a PDF file, an approach that forces users to rely on basic word processors or professional design packages. If this is too complex, Lulu offers a marketplace where book designers offer their services. Lulu does offer a special cover design package that will create a book’s cover from an image and handle the specialized calculations that compute the size of the spine from the number of pages and the weight of the paper.

    A 6-by-9-inch softcover book with 150 black-and-white pages from Lulu would cost $7.53 per single copy.

    These packages are adding features that stretch the concept of a book, in some cases undermining the permanent, fixed nature that has been part of a book’s appeal. The software from SharedInk.com, for instance, lets a user leave out pages from some versions of the book. If Chris does not like Pat, for instance, then the copy going to Chris could be missing the pages with Pat’s pictures.

    Blurb is expanding its software to let a community build a book. Soon, it plans to introduce a tool that would allow group projects, like a Junior League recipe book, to be created through Blurb’s Web site. The project leader would send out an e-mail message inviting people to visit the site and add their contributions to customized templates, which would then be converted into book pages.

    “Books are breaking wide open,” Ms. Gittins said. “Books are becoming vehicles that aren’t static things.”

  2. #2

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    Re: On Demand Printing

    Thanks John for a very interesting post.

    If the printing and binging quality of some these services is up to par then they are a tremendous value, especially since there is no minimum order.

    Has anyone here had a photo book printed by one of these services?

  3. #3
    Michael E. Gordon
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    Re: On Demand Printing

    Good post - thanks.

    I printed a book with Shared Ink and the quality is indeed top notch. Their color output is killer, b/w slightly less so (metameric CMYK). But quality throughout is top notch.

    Do a search here and you'll find one or more previous threads regarding on demand printing.

  4. #4
    Resident Heretic Bruce Watson's Avatar
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    Re: On Demand Printing

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Gordon
    I printed a book with Shared Ink and the quality is indeed top notch. Their color output is killer, b/w slightly less so (metameric CMYK). But quality throughout is top notch.
    Does anyone know of anyone doing on-demand printing with duo, tri, or quad tones for B&W? Now that, would be very interesting indeed. Also interesting would be a mix of, say, tri-tones and CMYK so you could do first class B&W and first class color in the same book. I'd buy that for sure.

    Bruce Watson

  5. #5
    Michael E. Gordon
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    Re: On Demand Printing

    Bruce: I don't have the answer to your question (although I doubt that there's an on-demand publisher who does duo/tri/quadtones), but will comment that most who look at my Shared Ink book don't see anything objectionable about the monochrome CMYK (I have to point it out!).

  6. #6
    tim atherton's Avatar
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    Re: On Demand Printing

    This whole area is changing very rapidly (for the better)

    There are some new machines coming out or out recently which really improve on the print quality that was available for the iphoto books and such only a couple of years ago.

    As well, a number of smaller but very well established and experienced book printers and binderies are just moving in to it - usually quite competitively and with a good product to offer.

    But it takes quite a lot of research to keep up with it and find what's best!

    (A colleague recently attended the big printing/printers trade show [forget what it's called] out East for just that purpose and found it invaluable.)
    You'd be amazed how small the demand is for pictures of trees... - Fred Astaire to Audrey Hepburn

    www.photo-muse.blogspot.com blog

  7. #7

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    Re: On Demand Printing

    I'd like to see how this plays out in the coming months. If there is a very good company that can offer b&w photo printing on the pages, and has a very long shelf life, then it could be an amazing opportunity for youths like myself. A custom book as a portfolio, bound and sturdy.

    I can see that being appreciated just as much as an A2 portfolio with prints ranging from 10x8 or larger.

    Of course, the size of the book is an issue, but it could compliment a portfolio nicely, rather than simply being in lieu.
    Last edited by Ash; 20-Jul-2006 at 10:41.

  8. #8

    Re: On Demand Printing

    Quote Originally Posted by Bruce Watson
    Does anyone know of anyone doing on-demand printing with duo, tri, or quad tones for B&W? Now that, would be very interesting indeed. Also interesting would be a mix of, say, tri-tones and CMYK so you could do first class B&W and first class color in the same book. I'd buy that for sure.
    Hello Bruce Watson,

    Depending upon the press, running as a single ink could be better than a traditional offset duotone or tritone. I think it would be better to avoid a digital press run of B/W images done as CMYK, since the Yellow ink is the weak point of many of these systems.

    Xerox and HP have some good information on these systems. Xerox and the New School (Parson's School of Design) put out a digitally printed book called The Art & Science of Digital Printing. While that does not cover all the machines on the market, it does show several examples of black ink alone, or in combination with several other inks. Want a warm black, then add a small amount of magenta; want a cool black, then add a percentage of cyan; however, you should get some samples to figure out the percentages, and they will differ on each digital press.

    These systems are mostly toner and heatset oil based, which fuses the ink onto the paper. Due to the heat used in some systems, certain papers cannot be used, though paper choices are actually quite good. You should be able to get that book I mentioned from a Xerox representative. Also, if you know what digital press is being used, you can get an information package from the manufacturer. In other cases, it is better to do a test run to determine set-up. Since there are no printing negatives, any proof they run will be similar to a press proof, or the final item. These systems do require frequent calibration, so they can go off a little from the beginning to end of a longer run. This is also an issue of on-demand printing, in that some books can appear different; the better companies offer a return or replacement book for people who have problems with their copy.

    A more traditional duotone offset run, especially using Pantone inks and avoiding Process colours, will be better than any digital press. If you have the money to afford a traditional run, and have the distribution arrangements in place to get a return on your investment, then stick to offset printing and Pantone inks. However, if your budget is limited, or you are not sure about sales and distribution, then a digital press can be a great way to get a book out that might not otherwise ever get printed.

    One method I heard of with Lulu.com was to keep a book private at first, then order one copy as a test piece. Once you have that first print, see about adjusting the images, if needed, then upload changes. Then order another test piece, repeating until you are happy with the results. When you are happy that the images are turning out properly, then place the completed book as available to the public.

    So the simple answer is that digital presses are Process Ink based, though actually toner and oil. If you have seen the Albert Watson book Cyclops, that is simply not possible on any digital press; I mention it because that book is generally regarded as the best printed book of B/W images.

    Ciao!

    Gordon Moat
    A G Studio
    <http://www.allgstudio.com>

  9. #9

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    Re: On Demand Printing

    Roger Palmenberg, who teaches portraiture at our local community college, spoke about blurb.com at this month's Imageworks meeting here in Phoenix. He, and Imageworks President, Jim Kayser, both showed examples they had produced through blurb.com during the previous weeks just to test the system. They were not bad at all - especially since they were hard copy, dust jacket, included copy with the images, cost under $40.00 including shipping and took only a few hours to produce. Try it out. Inexpensive to experiment and fun to use.

  10. #10

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    Re: On Demand Printing

    Considering the cost to ship to the UK, has anyone got links or recommendations for printing houses on this side of the pond?

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