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Strong Future Prospects for On-Demand Printing

May 15, 2000

On-demand printing, whereby orders for out-of-print and otherwise hard-to-find books can be met by pulling up the digital data from stock and printing a single or multiple copies, is rapidly becoming available to general customers. In the past, on-demand printing was predominantly used by publishing companies for additional runs, but it has taken on a new role as many major printing agents begin to look seriously at readers' orders. Where such books were once more expensive than standard copies, the prices have been reduced, and it will soon be a matter of readers simply ordering at bookstores or on the Internet those books that once seemed hopelessly out of reach. Researchers, students, book lovers--with so many readers looking for out-of-print books, demand in this area is certain to grow.

Major Agents Move into the Market
On-demand publishers have recently been storing and managing electronic versions of publishers' original copies of books, and printing and binding these in response to orders from clients. Because the text has been converted into digital form, these volumes are easier to print than ordinary books. While covers and binding differ from the original in order to keep binding costs low, the content is exactly the same.

Major agents are now flocking into the on-demand market. One of these, Nippon Shuppan Hanbai Inc., joined with 28 major publishers in October 1999 to establish the operating company Book-ing Inc. [click here for Japanese-only Website], which receives orders via the Internet and at bookstores that Nippon Shuppan deals with. As of May 11, 2000, 119 titles published by 25 companies were in stock, with around 600 copies printed and sold. In terms of price, too, in response to readers' complaints about the high price of on-demand printing, the average price of 4,000 yen (38 U.S. dollars at 105 yen to the dollar) for 250 pages was halved in March to 2,000 yen (19 dollars). The production of orders of more than 25 copies is commissioned out to major printing companies to provide the cheapest possible price.

Tohan Corp., another major agent, has invested jointly with a major printer to establish an on-demand printing company, Digital Publishing Service Inc. [click here for Japanese-only Website], and began accepting orders in March 2000 as the sole agent for around 600 reputable local bookstores around Japan. Readers select the books they want to buy from store catalogs and samples and place their orders with the store, which passes the orders on to DPS. DPS currently has a repertory of around 60 volumes, primarily scholarly and technical publications, and is also receiving orders through the Internet. The company apparently has a number of books under negotiation with publishers and expects its total stock to swell to around 200 titles.

Self-paid and Excerpt Publishing
On-demand printing technology can also be used for books published at the author's expense. Both Book-ing and DPS are prepared to handle readers' requests, and both aim to expand demand into this area. In terms of production charges, where the client prepares the final data on his or her computer, for example, and where binding costs are kept to a minimum, 10 copies can be produced for a mere 30,000 yen (286 dollars).

Other on-demand printing services include excerpting certain parts of existing volumes and printing and binding these, as well as altering covers to suit reader requests. While some regard the advent of the age of electronic books as spelling the eventual decline of paper books, many readers, particularly in the middle-aged and elderly brackets, still want bound versions. If on-demand printing can provide a fine-tuned response to these needs, the industry could expand rapidly.

From another angle, the monopoly that agents hold over book sale routes has long been a problem in the publishing world. With the resale price-fixing system, whereby publishing companies set the price on books to be sold in stores, moreover, it has been virtually impossible for bookstores to sell their wares at their own price. But these days, groundbreaking bookstores and other industries are using the Internet to get into such areas as foreign book sales, selling at far lower prices than those offered by agents and effectively imperiling the agent business. The agents' current shift into books that stand outside the market price-fixing system is hoped to give impetus to reform of the book distribution industry.

Trends in JapanCopyright (c) 2000 Japan Information Network. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.