Distribute, then print

After posting a summary of Johanna Vondeling's "top ten trends shaping the future of publishing", I have been returning to each of the trends in separate posts appearing on Mondays throughout the summer.

Vondeling is Berrett-Koehler's vice president for international sales and business development. The last trend on her list, "The means of production goes hyperlocal", illustrates how new tools are changing the relationships that publishers can have with their customers:

Paradoxically, globalization is both making it easier to purchase a product on the other side of the planet and moving the production of goods closer to the site of purchase.

The emergence of “additive manufacturing” and 3D printing holds the promise that individual creators and users can “make” anything in their own homes. Book and magazine publishers are printing closer to their customers through globally dispersed printing operations and print-on-demand programs. Espresso Book Machines facilitate the printing of out-of-stock and self-published books in some physical bookstores.

All these developments offer the opportunity to bring production closer to the customer, facilitating just-in-time sales and providing more sustainable alternatives to current distribution practices.

For any digital content, the means of production is already global. Creating an eBook or offering content on a web site provides authors and publishers with immediate access to worldwide markets. It also challenges prevailing approaches to territorial rights.

The economic and environmental value of print-on-demand technology has gained greater acceptance in the last few years, but "print, then distribute" turns out to be one of the harder habits to break. Publishers who have cultivated relationships with printers, distributors and warehouse operations (some of them run by publishers as well) are challenged to shift to a new paradigm.

Embracing "distribute, then print" as a model helps any publisher start to think about meeting customer demand in places where scale doesn't exist. Thinking globally doesn't always mean thinking "big"; publishers can compete by offering seamless availability of digital and physical formats.

An additional note: I expressed my appreciation for Vondeling's thinking in my initial response to her post, but I want to underscore it here, as well. Her ideas capture many of the macro trends affecting the book publishing supply chain. Publishers and other supply-chain participants would be well-served to keep a copy of her work close at hand.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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