So this afternoon, I walked over to a lauded local printer here in SF—the one that everybody says is the absolute best—and I was all set to do a little Mr. Rogers-style tour of the facility. But I hit a roadblock right away.
I was sitting with Marco, the Guy Who Helps You Figure Things Out, and sketching the basics of the project. Such-and-such size, this many copies, etc. And the first thing Marco Helped Me Figure Out was that it was going to be way too expensive to do it with this printer.
I'm only just starting to wrap my head around the economies of scale involved in printing. I still don't fully understand when they kick in and when they don't.
For instance, in this case, it's a printer that's known for extreme flexibility. That's the appeal: You can get your stuff printed on the craziest paper, with the wackiest ink, all in some weird oblong format nobody's ever seen before. And I have to admit, I went in imagining a book bound in rubber recycled from moped tires. Something just utterly unique and awesome.
But flexibility means every job is different. Flexibility means they have to set up and tear down the workflow for every book (or brochure, or stack of business cards) instead of just adding it to a more-or-less homogenous hopper the way they do at, say, Lulu.
Flexibility means you sacrifice those economies of scale.
Also, there was something about sheet-fed vs. web-fed presses, which I had to Google later.
I realize this is pretty basic stuff, but you have to be patient with us bloggers—we live sheltered lives, well-insulated from the exigencies of the physical world. I'm learning fast.
Anyway, a few more things worth mentioning:
Marco says hi. I explained the process behind the project—I pitched this idea, I've got this posse of backers, etc.—and, let me tell you: This is not the backstory they hear at the local printer most days. He was actually really excited about it, and correspondingly disappointed that his shop was so far out of my price range. As I was leaving, Marco said: "Listen, let me know if I can do anything to help! Or, if you need any advice. Or, just let me know how it goes. Good luck, man." Cool, right?
I've been to the paper library. Imagine blonde wood shelves lining three walls of a small-ish room, all bursting with binders, booklets and folders, all full of... blank paper. Vaguely Borgesian, right? Thick paper, thin paper, rough paper, smooth paper. White paper, eggshell paper. Paper made out of recycled beer labels. Paper you could sew into a shirt and wear pretty happily around the house. Frankly, way too much paper to meaningfully evaluate.
Don't forget elbow grease. Walking back to the office, I mused on materials and cost allocation. I thought about—for instance—using Lulu for basic production, but then compensating for the relative boring-ness of Lulu's format with some creative post-production steps. You could add extra materials and graphic elements in a little home-made assembly line—binding, stamping, painting. Gotta remember that I have total control over this entire process and product—it doesn't begin and end at the printer.
Still kinda want a book bound in rubber recycled from moped tires, though. More news TK as I chat with more local printers.
Next update: Oh just you wait.