I responded as follows:
Stop. Right. There.
You're dumping alligators, seaweed, hippopotamuses, and pond scum into one bucket just because they all live in water. So let's try to sort them out into categories. Then it will be much easier to compare services and prices.
REGARDLESS OF WHAT COMPANIES CALL THEMSELVES OR SAY THEY OFFER, what we're interested in is what the are and whether they provide the services we need. So let's use our own bafflegab-free definitions and ignore the marketing materials.
===============CLIP 'N SAVE=====================
- A publisher is someone who puts money at risk to produce and market a book.
- A publishing services company is someone who provides services such as editing, design, indexing, or proofreading to publishers.
- A book packager is a company that prepares books for publication on behalf of a publisher.
- A printer is someone who owns printing equipment and accepts customer files for printing.
- A book manufacturer is someone who prints and binds books under one roof.
- Offset printing is printing from metal plates hung on a press and is typically used for 300 or more copies of a book.
- Short-run digital printing is using digital printing equipment to produce one or more copies of a book for delivery to the publisher (or to a fulfillment warehouse).
- On-demand printing is using digital printing equipment to produce a single copy of a book for direct delivery to a retail customer on behalf of the publisher.
- A print broker is someone who accepts a job from a publisher and then forwards it to selected vendors for the required services.
- A vanity press is a company that combines the services of a publishing services provider and a print broker and overcharges for both, making it impossible for a publisher that contracts with them to make a reasonable profit. Otherwise known as pond scum.
Now, WITHIN A CATEGORY, it is possible to compare companies and evaluate whether one provides better quality or better services than another, and that can be a productive exercise.
There are book manufacturers who specialize in working with amateur publishers (high school yearbook staffs, for example) and have customer service reps (CSRs) who are adept at hand-holding.
Some of these companies also do a superb job of book manufacturing. Others tend to cut corners.
In contrast, there are book manufacturers whose CSRs are nothing more than traffic managers (friendly, competent, polite traffic managers). Any technical questions are forwarded to a technician, and the answer that eventually comes back may or may not be clear. These companies work directly with professional print buyers at publishing companies and with professional book designers, customers who are expected to provide trouble-free files for printing and clear specifications for the job. Within this subgroup of book manufacturers, some companies focus on quality and some focus on price.
Similarly, with short-run digital printers, there are companies that specialize in book manufacturing for publishers, and there are others that specialize in church cookbooks, machinery service manuals, and programs for the local high school football awards banquets. And, oh yeah, if you have a book of your weekly newspaper columns from the local shopper, they'll throw that together for you too. So, again, you can compare on quality and price.