Why I love my job – reason #3: Craft of on-demand book publishing

As a lot of you know one of the key printed products Canvera does are high-end coffee-table-books/photobooks. I was very lucky to be part of the core R&D team at Shutterfly when photobooks were first introduced into the market. If you step back and think about pre-internet you will come to appreciate how difficult (prohibitively expensive) it would be to create a single printed copy of a a book. In traditional book publishing, plates are created, printers are setup, clients approve proofs etc. In other words there is a huge fixed cost before even the first copy is printed.

With the advent of the internet the cost of doing the setup was almost pushed to zero (reduced primarily to computation power on servers) as the creation was pushed to the end consumer. And combined with the automation in manufacturing this allowed one-off copies of books to be made. Think of it: we today produce books that typically will only ever have one copy printed! The ultimate in just-in-time mass-customized manufacturing.

Once a book is created in a soft copy format, it is pushed to a production facility which includes printers (in Canvera’s case at least two types get involved for each book – Digital Offset for printing the inside of the book and Wide Format for the cover) and different types of binding and finishing equipment. At Canvera (and most other on-demand publishers) the goal is to ship the book within 1 or 2 days. So everything has to work in sync. There are a number of things that make Photobooks very complex to produce. These include:

  1. How to handle single page re-prints (due to a host of issues that get caught by QA) and efficiently getting them back in to the production flow; keep in mind that each sheet is unique and there is only one place in one book where it fits
  2. How to manage different paper types, cover types (printed, leather etc), sizes, windows, packaging types etc etc. Companies like to offer many choices to the end customer, but with that comes significant operational complexity
  3. Matching different pieces of the final product correctly without manual checks, e.g. making sure that the right cover is put on top of the right book!
  4. And last but not the least as I explained in my post on Colour, making sure that there is a consistency of output. This is important not just for reprints done during a single production run but since many times we find customers using the same images on different types of products the output must be consistent over a long period of time

All in all, on-demand book publishing for photo related content is a technology and process enabled craft and it does make it exciting to have this core competency within the company.

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