Look out. It’s coming.

Really there’s nothing to prevent a publisher from setting up every reprint for automatic ordering today. Well, that’s not quite true: preventing it is the fact that many printers don’t have EDI capability, and nor of course do many publishers. But once you get that taken care of — as we will quite quickly — then the way is clear to avoid spending any staff time debating whether or not to reprint the vast majority of your backlist, and then executing the decision. You just need to program your system with a minimum stock level, and a reorder quantity. When the stock level is reached an order is automatically sent to the printer via EDI. Of course both numbers need monitoring over time in order to keep them aligned with sales rates; of course you’d be right to object that in theory your computer could use some algorithm to factor in varying sales rates. All this is being done today.

Going beyond that, there is the prospect of turning the whole shebang over to the printer: give them access to your sales and inventory information, and tell them to keep you stocked. How they do it and exactly when would be up to them. You’d need agreements on avoiding overstocking of course.