It's easy to forget that we live in the space age, what with all the Neanderthals I encounter. But I remember getting a day off from school during the first moon landing and we must live in the space age because I mainly run into the Neanderthals in cyberspace. It was during the 19060's that television produced it's one contribution to a better future, then promptly tried to cancel it. The show was Star Trek, and the original series dished out worldly moral lessons in a way nobody's dared to repeat since. Plus, lots of stuff got blown up or vaporized.
There's something miraculous that goes unremarked about the Internet, word processors and laser printers because they are omnipresent objects in our every day lives. Yet all of these appeared well after the heyday of the space race and the airing of Star Trek on prime time. The basic tools of the publisher today are so far beyond those of the 60's an 70's that it makes you wonder why the books haven't improved. Clearly, I don't consider graphical "elements" and highlighted tips and reminders in books a giant leap for mankind.
There's an apocryphal story that NASA spent millions of dollars developing a pen that could write in zero gravity while the Russians used a pencil. The basic analogy serves well for publishing approaches today. You can spend a lot of money on the royal path or a little money on the toll road and both will get you to words on paper. What's interesting about publishing is that the road you take has a substantial impact on how must you walk it.
The high budget road in publishing which consists of large offset runs and a strong push to get fresh books onto store shelves forces most publishers into a run, or at least a brisk trot. The low budget path in publishing, which consists of print-on-demand and Internet marketing, allows publishers to proceed at a comfortable walk. The offset model forces new publishers to run before they can crawl, while the POD model encourages frequent naps at the expense of overnight success stories. Offset is a great way to occasionally get rich and frequently go into debt. Print-on-demand is a great way to pay the bills, or at least not generate too many new ones.
I know that a newspaper scale offset press costs as much as a starship while you could trade a used shuttle for a print-on-demand production line, but the POD process is a better example of Star Trek publishing. Publishers can beam up digital files to Lightning Source, which can replicate (mixed series metaphors) books one at a time to meet customer demand. The offset model involves lots of warehousing, up-front costs and enough shipping and handling to keep two transporter rooms busy. Of course, you have to give the offset engineers credit for their own pen trick, transfering words to paper upside down and backwards!