Kevin Meyer, in a recent posting on the Evolving Excellence blog, discussed how he and Bill Waddell are using a “print on demand” company for publication of their new book.
I find that to be an interesting topic, at least partly because of the obvious fact that Productivity Press is a publishing company.
In addition, print on demand – in which books are literally printed one at a time, as needed – is a good example of what any company hopes to achieve by implementing lean principles.
However, most of what we do does not involve print on demand, with good reason.
How many copies we print of any given book is based on how many books we expect to sell – and our print runs are conservative. (We outsource the actual printing.) While one goal of lean is to minimize or eliminate inventory, we need inventory on hand for the volume of orders we expect to receive. We sell a significant number of books to resellers, from Amazon.com to companies you haven’t heard of, and they may require large quantities.
(Projecting sales may be less of a concern when authors self-publish their book, meaning they pay a company to print it. That’s what Kevin and Bill are doing. We are a traditional publisher, meaning we contract with authors whose books we believe will sell enough copies to make a profit.)
We do use print-on-demand companies for short print runs – fewer than 100 books, for example. We might do that if we’re running low on inventory but don’t need a large quantity. I don’t believe we’ve ever ordered just one book.
But for the most part, print on demand isn’t as economical for us; the difference in per-unit cost between bulk quantities and print-on-demand can be significant.
Could the overall printing process be improved by applying lean principles? I’m sure it could. Since we outsource the printing, it’s not a process that we control. We’re also a small company, so we have limited influence over any printer.
As time goes on, I suspect that some smart printer or printers will adopt lean principles, finding ways to reduce the per-unit cost of small print runs so they become more competitive for traditional publishers. That will bring us closer to the true lean ideal of print on demand. We look forward to that day.