I could do that

Draft of 2006.06.03 ☛ 2015.03.27

May include: designacademia&c.

Actually, I could have them do that for me. “Them” being Edwards Brothers, a specialized short and ultra-short run digital book printer located about two blocks from my house. “That” being… well, making books.

The art of book printing has been shrouded in mystery for well over 500 years. Funny words. Funny tools. Secrets. It’s hard.

But no it isn’t. Book design is hard. Book making is surprisingly easy. We had a very nice little tour of the facilities, and Lamar From Sales was very proud of Their New Baby: the all-in-one digital print line. Paper goes in off the blank roll over there, and it dangles in the air a little bit so you can see the signatures printed on it over there, and then it goes in this bit here and kerchunk out comes a stack of… well, books. Somebody has to stick the cover on, but that thing there is a whole book.

In runs of 300 copies or less, for a very nice academic-style case binding (black cloth, some foil stamping on it, no color inside but some halftones if you like, maybe 150-200 pages), each copy will cost you somewhere in the $5-$10 range. Interestingly, it’s the thickness—of the text block—that limits the ultimate page count; 1.5 inches thick will get you somewhere in the range of 300pp, with most papers I know. The case binding, of course, is a fancier option. You want perfect binding, shiny color covers like you’d see in a Borders trade paperback? You’re talking $3-$4 per book.

In a worst case scenario, your $148 textbook cost that much to make. If it were printed in ultra-short runs. If they made 1000, maybe 2000? Halve the price. Ten thousand? A buck-fifty.

I could do that. You could do that.

Kluwer doesn’t have to do that for us. Springer doesn’t. Wiley doesn’t. Elsevier sure as hell ain’t gonna be allowed to, but even if they were they wouldn’t have to.

We could all do it.