For the vast majority of quick and small commercial printers, any foray into the world of short-run book printing will start out locally and on a small scale. That’s not to say that there isn’t a lot of short-run book printing being done; only that most of it is being done by printers who specialize in such work. The Independent Book Publishers Association is one of the largest groups specializing in short-run publishing. It has a vendor list of dozens of printers specializing in short-run book printing. In more than 20 years, I have never run across any of them at any of our industry events. They’re the short-run big dogs.None of this is to say that you can’t make money with short-run books. The necessary equipment is readily available and generally affordable if you are willing to make the commitment to this profit center. (See the accompanying Product Roundup.) Some stumbling blocks can be the inability to fit this sort of production into your overall workflow, finding a profitable pricing strategy, or finding enough customers to make it worthwhile. The latter is often the real barrier.
Potential clients for digital short-run book printing can be companies, associations, or other organizations. However, local or regional authors are often the best candidates. Some authors may choose self-publishing as a way around the restrictions of traditional publishing. Others may merely want to preserve local history or personal memoirs. In other words, some will view self publishing as a hobby while others will look at it as a business. A hobbyist may only want 100 copies of his or her work. A more ambitious author may want a thousand or more copies.
What to Print
What you print will depend on what printing capabilities you have or intend to acquire. A digital color device and a digital monochrome device are basic necessities. The main issue is finishing because there are all sorts of short-run books that can lend themselves to all sorts of binding. A novel or self-help or spiritual book probably will require perfect binding. Cookbooks, manuals, children’s books, poetry books, etc. can often be saddle stitched or coil or tape bound. Another short-run book possibility is photo books, which present a different set of considerations.
Who to Target
Churches, schools, associations, and clubs often print such things as directories, cookbooks, or local histories, etc. Use your marketing to let them know about your capabilities to do such work. Also, you should target business and civic groups whose members might have an interest in short-run self-publishing. To find potential customers for fiction, poetry, personal histories, children’s books, etc. visit local books stores or the library to find area writing groups and workshops. Connecting through social media can be particularly effective in this niche, especially if you join discussion groups dedicated to writers and writing. You can build credibility and gain acceptance by offering answers to their questions about the ins and outs of printing and self-publishing.
A couple of years ago, QP profiled Sir Speedy Printing Scottsdale (AZ) as part of an article on short-run books. Co-owner Mike Bercaw said that their company has built a good business in short-run book publishing. They got into the short-run book business after seeing a presentation by self-publishing guru Dan Poynter and realizing that they were already printing the types of things that he was promoting. After he visited their shop and gave them the stamp of approval, Poynter listed them on his website (www.parapublishing.com) as an approved print provider. That listing has been a continuing source of referrals.
The bottom line is that you probably have most of the equipment to print short-run books and some of the equipment to bind many types of short-run books. Other bindery capabilities can usually be jobbed out. What is needed is a commitment to get into that business, a strategy to market that business, and sufficient base of potential customers to make it successful.