Publishing is the process of 1) transforming an author’s manuscript into a book, and 2) finding the book an audience. In the first part, publishers add value; in the second, they unlock it, with the self-interested help of reviewers, bloggers, journalists, distributors, sales reps, wholesalers, retailers and libraries.

Printing is part of that initial transformation from manuscript to book. In addition to being an efficient and economical way to mass reproduce the book, printing adds value. The printed book is durable, portable, compact, and provides a host of other benefits compared to reading a loose stack of manuscript pages, a Word file, or an eBook.

However, it is not inevitable that printing a book adds value. In fact, making the wrong printing choices can subtract value relative to other books in the marketplace, which will have a deleterious effect on sales, which in turn inhibits unlocking the value of the book. Making the right printing choices adds value by positioning the book positively in the marketplace, making the book an attractive–if not positively beautiful–object, and optimizing the reading experience.

Furthermore, the printed book–whether purchased in a store or delivered by drone–is an emissary of the publisher’s brand in a way that an eBook can never be. Printing choices are part of what defines the brand.

Print Positive is a new series of posts that detail the process of book printing and show how to add value at every step while minimizing cost. The topics covered will include:

  • Binding – already released!
  • Page Size – 9/11 release
  • Paper Selection – 9/15 release
  • Preparing Files
  • Proofs
  • Risk and Book Printing
  • Printers Errors and Your Errors
  • Inventory models: POD, SRDP, offset
  • Choosing a Printer
  • Print and Ebooks

I am open to topic suggestions!

What Is Book Printing Value?

Here is a partial list of the kinds of value that are affected by choices made when printing a book:

Permanence: Will the book last hundreds of years or self-destruct in two?
Legibility: Is the transmission of information from the page to the reader’s eyes clear and direct, or impeded by paper and binding characteristics?
Beauty: Is the book designed to be not only a functional medium, but also a beautiful object?
Economy: Is the money invested in printing the book spent on things that matter to the reader or fripperies that put the unlocking of value at risk?
Fidelity: Is type reproduced cleanly on the page? If there are images, are they reproduced at a quality congruent with their purpose?
Durability: Will the book fall apart with casual use or stand up to multiple readings?

The Flux of Technology

While the end result of the book printing process looks much the same as it did fifty years ago, they way in which it is accomplished has changed drastically. Letterpress printing dominated the industry for 500 years, until the transition to offset printing in the second half of the 20th century. (The Cameron Belt Press, a highly efficient letterpress press using polymer plates, was used for printing cheap books well into the 1990s.) But by the ’90s, digital technologies were moving downstream in the process, from designers, to typesetters, to platemaking departments, and finally to presses. It will not be too long before digital printing technologies eclipse offset for all but the longest pressruns.

Each time the core technology changes, the practices involved in getting the book from manuscript to pressroom change, and proofing changes. At Bookmobile, we not only print books ourselves on digital printing equipment, we act as an agent for book publishers, buying offset printing on their behalf. We have been working closely with our respected offset printing colleagues for over thirty years. Consequently, in writing these posts I am able to draw on not only our in-house daily digital printing experience, but also our long experience collaborating with offset printers. Nonetheless, as every printer and print buyer knows, error has a way of creeping in. Please let me know of any errors–or any topics you’d like to see covered!