There is a new paradigm emerging in publishing - demand publishing.
There have always been vanity press offerings (I seem to recall that some French poets had their works privately printed originally), but new technology has changed the landscape.
There are now sites which charge nothing (or nearly nothing) to create a book. The only charges are incurred when a copy is printed. In addition there are no minimum orders. The quality can also be quite high. High speed integrated laser printers can create a hard cover bound book in a few minutes.
What hasn't kept up is the distribution system. An interested reader can order a copy on-line, but first one needs to know that the book exists. This works well enough for things like wedding albums, but books of more general interest have a problem.
Even more serious is the lack of a way for libraries (public and university) to add such books to their collections. Not only aren't they aware of these books, but their usual sources of information about new releases don't cover this area. Even if they identify a book, their usual distributors don't have access. This means that the preparation that most libraries use now (spine labels, circulation cards and cataloging data) aren't provided. Many libraries are no longer equipped to do this themselves.
I started thinking about this because psychologist Robert Altemeyer has just undertaken such an approach. He first put his book online, but was persuaded that there are those who need a paper copy. His motivation for creating his book was to get his research results out to as wide an audience as policy, and thus he made the online version available for free. I can see other instances where people might also take a similar approach.
There are now several efforts to make out-of-print books available in print using this technology. Some booksellers like Amazon are doing this, but they act as a gateway, limiting choice. As more books become digitized the problem will only increase.
The web is good for lots of things, but not for everything, sometimes a real physical item is needed.
If anyone has ideas on how to overcome the distribution and dissemination issues, I'd like to hear your suggestions.