On March 29, The New York Times said
. . . sending a PDF file of their creation over the Internet to the MagCloud repository. H.P. farms out the printing jobs to partners scattered around the globe and takes care of billing and shipping for people who order the magazine. . . .
It is not clear how big a market there is for small runs of narrow-interest magazines when so much information is available free on the Internet.
The New York Times still doesn't get it
Publishing in Print is not about competing with "information available for free". It's about understanding the unique properties of Print as a medium of communication. Print is either a tool, a toy or a token. It's most enduring quality is as a token of real relationships and community.
Real people want to publish in Print for the same reason they publish videos. It's one more way of saying "I was here, I matter."
During the dot.com era, I co founded a start up called Chapbooks.com. We enabled student publishing with what was state of the art technology in 1998. During our two years, we produced 5 x 7 paperback books -"real books" - for more than 2500 English teachers in "classroom packs" of 30 copies each.
Our dot.com burned through $1.5 million. Our educational partners were Great Source, a division of Houghton Mifflen and J.L Hammett Co. The crashed wiped us out.
Back then, there was no Cloud. There was no widely distributed print capability. Wikis were not mainstream. There was no production digital color. Going from a web page to a PDF at scale was still being invented. But the reasons for publishing in Print have not changed. Following is what I said then. I think it still works today.
We believe in books.
A well-made book, intelligently designed, printed on good paper and sturdily bound, is the best way to transmit and preserve thought and spirit. No medium is stabler than acid-free paper; no record lasts longer than a book.
We believe in technology.
The personal computer and the Internet have liberated information from the constraints of time and space.
We believe in education and in communities.
Our intellectual heritage and community memories are archived and examined, cultivated and circulated in schools and libraries. Our most important responsibility is to ensure that succeeding generations share and expand that heritage.
We believe that books will radically change in the 21st century.
Computers and the Internet do not herald the twilight of literacy and books. But they make it inevitable that the way books are published will change. On-demand printing and online bookstores are only the tips of the iceberg. Along with the change in how they are produced, will come a change in why books are written and read.
Many books of the 19th and 20th century are addressed to everyone, and often to no one. They were written, edited, designed, printed and sent forth into the marketplace to find their audience.
In the 21st century, new kinds of books will thrive: modest, social, direct books written for small audiences. These books will not have to succeed commercially to justify their existence. Success will be measured by their effect on readers. These books will be as various as the communities that create them: stories published by third graders for their classmates and parents, a neighborhood history recorded by the people who live in it, a collection of essays written by local citizens discussing common problems, family histories, or books commemorating important personal events.
Chapbooks.com books are the prototype of this new kind of communication. When you order books from us, we know that each copy has a reader, without marketing. We have seen the effect on children and adults of having their words being published in a real book. We look forward to seeing the same awakening everywhere that groups of people gather to share experiences.
We welcome this shift in the dynamics of communication. And we see Chapbooks.com as the first application of this new publishing paradigm.