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The University of Kansas is participating in a pilot program to test uses of an on-demand printing system. Turning part of the bookstore into a printing center has reduced textbook costs, allowed the university to serve as a publisher for faculty authors, and provided self-publishing capabilities.

By Sandra R. Sabo

“This book is warm!” observed a student, as she picked up a textbook at the bookstore at the University of Kansas, Lawrence. Little did the student know that, minutes earlier, the bookshelf had been empty while the textbook emerged from the Hewlett-Packard on-demand printing system recently installed at KU Bookstores. Kansas is one of three educational institutions participating in a pilot program to test uses for the technology.

Using electronic files provided by the publisher, a trimmed and bound textbook—complete with a laminated cover—can typically print in about 10 minutes. “Students have the convenience of not waiting several days for a book to arrive, and we retain sales because we never run out of a certain title,” says Estella McCollum, director of KU Bookstores. The final product, she adds, appears indistinguishable from a copy shipped directly from the publisher.

To house the on-demand system, McCollum borrowed space from KU's trade bookstore, located across the hall from the main bookstore. “Students have a hard enough time paying for course materials, let alone buying reading materials for personal interest, so our trade bookstore has been struggling to maintain sales volume,” says McCollum. “Turning part of the store into the print-on-demand center made the space more functional without changing its look and feel.”

The space, formerly known as Oread Books, also took on a new identity: Jayhawk Ink. McCollum explains, “We didn't want people to instantly think the store only sold books. We wanted to emphasize that we now offer a full realm of print services for the campus community.” For example, in addition to on-demand printing of textbooks, Jayhawk Ink meets the need for:

Academic publishing. Jayhawk Ink recently acquired the ability to assign International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs), enabling it to serve as a publisher for faculty authors who wish to sell their books elsewhere, such as through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

One KU professor, who owns his content, used the on-demand system to publish a psychology book more cost-effectively. In the past, students paid $67 for a shrink-wrapped, three-hole-punched copy of the book printed and distributed by a publishing company. “We took the same content, printed and bound the book, and dropped the students' cost to $22.50—and that reduced cost still maintains the full royalty the professor receives on each book, which he donates to an inner-city school in Kansas City,” says McCollum.

Self-publishing. On-demand printing offers students a professional and convenient means of presenting a thesis or special project. For one student headed to a job interview, for instance, Jayhawk Ink produced a bound portfolio showcasing his work. The entire project took about 20 minutes to complete.

Most authors first visit KU's branded lulu.com site to design and prepare their self-published content. They then visit Jayhawk Ink, which translates the electronic files into a printed product.

Custom content. “Typically, custom content is where you stand to lose the most money with traditional printing,” notes McCollum. “If you underestimate demand, the turnaround time to print more books can be as long as six weeks—and by then, customers have made other arrangements. And if you overestimate, you eat into your profits because custom titles usually aren't returnable.”

On-demand printing, however, makes it economical to produce small quantities, or even single copies, of unique or niche titles. That reality prompted KU Bookstores to form a partnership with the KU Libraries to publish historical theses, dissertations, and works of local or regional interest drawn from the library's vast collection. Typically, the library provides a scanned copy of the original publication to Jayhawk Ink. Staff uses software to clean up the text while preserving its original appearance.

“Some content dates to the 1800s and includes amazing literary works that haven't been available for people to pick up and touch for many years,” McCollum says. “Now, the text not only looks fresh and clean but you can purchase your own copy. The content has become more accessible to more people.” Currently, 30 titles from library archives are available through Jayhawk Ink, with 100 more titles in progress. Ten percent of the purchase price for each on-demand title reverts to the KU Libraries to help cover the costs of digitizing the content.

“Probably because we already had a lot of custom content on our campus, we've had a high volume of usage and acceptance of on-demand [publications],” says McCollum, adding that KU Bookstores has sold about 5,000 units since opening its on-demand printing center in late June. When the pilot program ends in the spring, she will decide whether to invest in the equipment for keeps.

To see the on-demand printing system in action at the University of Kansas, visit Jayhawk Ink.

SANDRA R. SABO, Mendota Heights, Minnesota, covers higher education business issues for Business Officer.

CAPTION for Jayhawk Ink photo:

The main component of HP's on-demand printing solution doubles as a customer service counter. “You have no idea that underneath the counter is a roll-fed printer that produces 100 pages a minute,” says Estella McCollum, director, KU Bookstores.