Where Are Your Printing Presses?

When people visit InterVarsity Press, they often ask where the printing presses are. I show them our copiers—the closest thing we’ve got. Our books are printed all over the country and sometimes around the world—all on printing presses owned by others. Even the biggest publishers do not own printing presses. Why?

In the early days of moveable type, printers and publishers were pretty much the same people. But over the years, even when a company did both, they have tended to go separate ways. There are several reasons.

First, printing presses are multi-million dollar pieces of machinery that usually need to operate 24/7 to be profitable. No publishing house, no matter how big, has enough sales to keep one busy. So you’d have to find jobs from other publishers to keep your equipment running.

Second, printing presses are also specialized. Some do one color, some four. Some do mass market books, some large format. Most publishers produce a wide variety of formats and use a wide variety of papers. So again, they don’t have enough of one format or use enough of one kind of paper to keep a press going full time.

Third, if a publisher owns printing presses, the publisher can’t shop around to see if a better price is available from a competitor, or several competitors. You are committed to using your own equipment.

In addition, once you invest in a multi-million dollar piece of machinery, you want to keep it going for many years. You can’t just replace it with next year’s updated model with all the new gadgetry. But if you outsource printing, you can take advantage of the latest technology because some printer somewhere will make the investment.

One exception that proves the rule is print-on-demand publishing. Even here, though, the vast majority of publishers outsource to print-on-demand printers (when they have the need) rather than take on this investment. And print-on-demand books usually have a retail price a few dollars higher than those printed traditionally. But for specialized books that would otherwise be hard to get, customers are often willing to pay.

In short printing and publishing are very different (though related) businesses—as different (and related) as publishing and the retail book business. They have different business models, different networks of customers and suppliers, and require different sensibilities. While “Press” is part of our name, it’s just not a part of our game.

Author: Andy Le Peau

I've been an editor and writer for over forty years. I am passionate about ideas and how we can express them clearly, beautifully, and persuasively. I love reading good books, talking about them, and recommending them. I thoroughly enjoy my family who help me continue on the path of a lifelong learner.

2 thoughts on “Where Are Your Printing Presses?”

  1. Too bad you closed comments on some of your blogs as in the case of grammar being made for people instead of vice versa. I would have recommended that you find and read, if you could, the writings of Jack Woodford, a noted trash writer of the 40s,50s, and into the 60s. His writings of fiction (trashy romances) were not worth reading, but his writings on how to write and sell fiction are some of the greatest I ever read (and I read in the fifties alone hundreds of volumes in the St. Louis Public Library). Woodford knew his authors. I once used his work to refute every precept that my English Composition teacher at Beaumont High in St. Louis taught. The teacher loved the paper refuting his precepts, because I followed every precept while citing the examples in literature that were to the contrary – Thanks to Jack Woodford. Mr. LaCroix’s mantra was variety (like the KJV translators), which is interesting, if at times misleading, but consider how that flies with Faulkner and an opening sentence 8 pages in length. Even the Apostle Paul did not do that well. Mr. LaCroix just went daffy over the way I answered him. E.g., Mr. LaCroix says, “….!” He waxed utterly eloquent over my shortest of all sentences, one word of exclamation and disgust: Bah!

    Language and linguistics are fun, if you spend most of your life in reading and writing. But I understand that the creative juices dry up under relentless demand. H.G. Wells once threw over a plum employment as an editorial writer for some journal or paper, saying in disgust that writing a creative piece every week was surely like Hell. Consider how ministers are to produce creative (and creative in this case has reference to the presentation mental set and not the nature of the matter)sermons every week…sometimes three times a week.

  2. Dr. Willingham,

    Yes, I’m sorry I have to close comments because spamers would overrun them after awhile if I didn’t. But your comments on grammar are very welcome. I’m not familiar with Woodford, but I’ll make a note to try to track him down. Sounds great. Thanks for the tip.


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