[FoRK] Q: Hardcopy copy protection: Any *cheap* POD service with Variable Data Printing?

Matt Jensen mattj at newsblip.com
Wed May 18 10:21:54 PDT 2005

I describe what I'm looking for below.  I don't want to pay $50,000 for someone
to integrate my databases with a Print-On-Demand solution; I just want an
existing POD vendor to let me do simple string substitutions, in a platform as
easy and cheap to use as Lulu.com.  Does anyone know a company that offers

-Matt Jensen

There's a subgenre of Print-On-Demand, called Variable Data Printing (VDP). 
This allows the document on the print server to be, in essence, "mail merged"
with customer data from a database.  So if John Doe orders a catalog from a
company, the system can check John's previous order history and modify the
catalog document just for him immediately before printing it. All customers can
have a custom catalog.  Setting this up costs big bucks.

So far, Variable Data Printing has not come to the well-known book publishers
like iUniverse and Lulu.  While it's not terribly practical for Lulu to host
your company's customer database, there is a simple and useful form of VDP that
they could provide; hardcopy copy protection.

Imagine that when you publish a book through Lulu, you also include in your book
a reference to a web site that contains more information.  For example, if you
sell a cookbook, you might want to offer a companion web site with additional
recipes, nutrition analysis, etc.  You want this web site to require a code for
entry, which you publish in your book, so that people must buy the book to use
the web site.

Now, a normal book can only print one code. Well, a person could manually place
a sticker with a code into the back of the book, but such a step breaks the
efficiency model of iUniverse and Lulu; you have to use an automated system
that requires no human intervention.

So Lulu offers you an option: along with your book document, you can upload a
text file containing thousands of random-looking, unique codes.  You edit your
book document to contain a string like this: "###VDP:Code###".  Whenever a
customer orders a copy of your book, Lulu's system looks for the next unused
code from your code file, and sticks it into your document wherever it sees the
###VDP:Code### string.  Voila, you are now printing customed access codes, one
per copy of the book.

(I concocted the ###VDP:blah### syntax because it's tremendously simpler than
some full-bore XML solution.  You only need to insert small snippets of text in
the first place, and Lulu would want something that's both easy to implement and
performs at high speed with large documents.)

Once Lulu can do this, they can offer other VDP possibilities, too.  For
example, ###VDP:Date### could be a placeholder for the date that copy of the
book was printed.

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