Ever thought about doing a book? Sure you have. Maybe you even looked into the economics of it, and realized that, in order to pay for all the setup charges, you needed to have a press run of at least 1000 copies. Two thousand turns out to be in the sweet spot. You figured out what you’d have to charge to come close to breaking even, and then you figured out how many copies you could sell. With no publishers knocking on your door, and self-promotion the only promotion on offer, you’re going to have a hard time flogging that many books. Maybe you figured you’d give some to galleries and museums as promos. You were generous in estimating how many you could unload on family and friends. When you were done with the mental arithmetic, you had visions of your bank account depleted and your garage piled high with shrink-wrapped copies of your magnum opus.
If thinking about the end game weren’t depressing enough, for some of you the beginning was a high hurdle. You could gather up an impressive set of images. You could write a little text. You could get your spouse to proofread. But InDesign was a mystery to you, and you thought that Quark was the sound made by a duck with a cold.
Most of the things that kept you from holding your very own book in your hand are history. Though conventional offset printing is still the quality leader as well as the least expensive choice when you want a couple of thousand copies, there are some great new choices for short runs. In fact the runs can be as short as one, or at least one at a time. The concept of getting copies of your book printed as you need them is called print on demand. What makes it possible is some new hardware. Hewlett-Packard is selling something that looks and acts like a cross between a printing press and a Xerox machine. In fact the technology inside is pretty much the same as the traditional xerographic process, but using liquid instead of dry toner. Check it out at http://h10010.www1.hp.com/wwpc/pscmisc/vac/us/product_pdfs/90566.pdf
Docutech, IBM, Ricoh, and, yes, Xerox all make print engines that are capable of slightly-less-than-offset quality with the option of every printed page being different from every other one.
As you might imagine from looking at the picture in the hp link, these machines are hugely expensive to purchase, and their existence would do us photographers no good if we had buy one to use it. We don’t. Several companies have purchased these machines and are willing to sell you books one at a time for a price that is more than the per-copy cost of a press run of 2000 offset-lithographic books, but a lot less than the per-copy cost of the 500 of that run of 2000 that you’d actually be able to use. The quality is acceptable, but not great. It’s about on a par with your average 150-line-screen CMYK offset press. It’s nowhere near what you can get from state-of-the-art six-color 10-micron diffusion dither offset. If you want a duotone or a tritone, you’ll have to simulate it with cyan, magenta, yellow, and black, and it won’t have the richness or the detail of a real duotone.
But the quality is good enough that criticizing it is akin to complaining about the footwork of a dancing bear. It’s a real book. It feels like one. It looks like one. And the first one cost you less than a hundred bucks — sometimes a lot less. That’s some kind of breakthrough.
So stop pushing aside those dreams of having your own book. Instead, think of what body of work you’d like to publish first. Come up with a title. Find somebody to write the forward.