lulu and others

January 28, 2008 at 1:02 am (1)

Well, I’m going to give Lulu.com a try, at least up to a point.  I’ve been thinking a lot about how the world of publishing is evolving in a variety of ways, both online and in print, and trying to get a picture of what the field might look like in ten or twenty years.  Evidence for me so far consists of:  the new Kindle reader from Amazon, representing the higher end of technology – you get your info piped direct to you in a relatively easy to read format.  Another hi-tech evolution i’m keeping an eye on is e-paper.  Combine the e-paper idea with the Kindle idea, and you have, potentially, a bound book that you can load with whatever text you want.  It looks and feels like a book, only it’s made out of e-paper.  You load you favorite books on it, or textbooks for class, or whatever.  You take notes in the margins, and the pages save them for you, or hide them.

Then there’s the lower-tech evidence – Lulu.com has made print on demand a fairly easy process, and for a small fee gives you the power to market yourself.  With some net savvy and a little bit of persistence, a person could publish a book and sell enough copies to cover the cost of publication.  Depending on how much royalty you cut for yourself, you can sell more copies for less, or fewer copies for more.

Another take on print-on-demand is the giant copier like machine that’s starting to be used by some of the giant libraries – you can print and bind a 300 page book in a matter of minutes, at a lower cost than buying or requesting the book from another system.  Works great with classics and public domain works, but if restrictions between publishers and the big machine can be smoothed, it could be a major method of distributing very basic, low-grade versions of popular books.

Then there’s even lower-tech – i just read about a resurgence of interest in printing presses.  Now, in the article the focus was on cards, invitations, and small jobs like that.  But i could see some printer out there with some William Morris hero-worship going on who decides to publish hand printed versions of great works of literature.  Or, more lucratively, letter pressed, hand bound versions of books by popular authors, for collectors of such things.  One such case would be JK Rowling’s “Tales of Beedle The Bard,” of which 7 copies were hand made for auction.

So, here’s my somewhat disjointed vision of the future of books:  Three levels of distribution.  The base level for the broadest/cheapest distribution – electronically, to wide variety of e-reader devices, like Kindle or the not-yet-invented e-paperback.  The middle level, with middle expense – printed books.  These will of course have their own levels – mass market, TPB and hard back.  I’m surprised hard back books haven’t disappeared yet.  I mean, a hardback is supposed to be the most durable, but really it’s just the most expensive, and from my perspective, hardbacks can often fall apart faster than paperbacks. And the final level is the fine art of books – the crafted book, the hand-made, the letter-pressed version of books, for the bibliophiles and collectors of the world, for the special gift, etc.

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