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Things Authors Can Do With 3D Printers

Recently I spoke to some forward-thinking people at a conference and kept hearing about the same things again and again, the things they were most excited about:

  • How at-home 3D printers will change how we create and consume stuff.
  • How embedded sensors will change how we interact with the world around us.

Here is an explanation of a 3D printer is:

And nowadays, they are becoming smaller and more affordable (around $1,500), making them available for home use.

As for sensors, the idea is that when everything around you has a sensor in it, and you wear a sensor, then how you relate to your environment changes. I won’t get too into that now though.

SO! Let’s say you are an author, and you know that a good portion of your audience has a 3D printer at home. What could you offer them that connects readers to your work via their 3D printer? I am just throwing ideas at the wall here, and I am sure there are SO MANY cool ideas I am missing, so please add your comments in the thread below. Okay, how about…

  1. Printable bonuses. So the idea is that some of these things you receive instantly when you preorder a book, when you buy it normally, or through a promotional time period.
  2. Printable character action figures.
  3. Printable dioramas of scenes from the book.
  4. Printable key objects from the book – a pocketwatch, a hammer, a lunchbox, a pen, a magic wand, or the One Ring?
  5. Printable art books, pop up books, or interactive books. Can you literally print out a book that is not only physical pages, but a complex moving work of art?
  6. Printable embossed covers.
  7. Printable Kindle covers, with your book cover on it.
  8. Printable bust of the author themselves! (or key characters)
  9. Printable puzzles to solve, à la something you may find in The Da Vinci Code
  10. Contests – who can paint these 3d prints of our characters. So your audience would have to come up with custom paint designs from what you give them to print, and then they share their designs online.
  11. Printable t-shirts, jewelry, flip flops and other wearable items that have your characters/book emblazoned on them.
  12. For nonfiction books: instructional elements. Can biology books come with printable models for you to explore? Can a book about how to fix an engine come with a fully printable 3D engine?

As I consider this, I am wondering, what would Neil Gaiman do? Or John Green? How would authors who are intently engaged with their audience connect with them in a new way via 3D printers. How would you give your readers something that will occupy a physical space in their lives, beyond the book itself?

How would the types of things to print differ by genre or topic of book? For instance, what sorts of things would science fiction books all want to print (space ships, ray guns, futuristic technology) vs romance novels vs spy novels vs books for early readers?

Regardless of the answer… there is a whole new world opening up to creative professionals such as authors to interact with readers in new ways. Some of these elements could be a core part of the storytelling and reading experience, others could simply be souvenirs.

There are also the business models to consider… which of these things would be free, and which of the 3D files would cost $1 or $10 or $80? Will self-published authors jump into this space first, with 99 cent ebooks and $9.99 packages that include limited edition 3D files? Or will large publishers go nuts with their popular or franchised brands, turning an individual book into an entire product line?

Maybe 3D printing is still on the horizon, but I imagine that the early authors who leverage it will get A LOT of marketing value from it. Who will be the first to experiment, the first to earn $10,000 from 3D files related to their books?

Will that be you?

Please share your ideas below!

  • Tanya Savko

    Wow, exciting stuff, Dan! Thanks for bringing it to our attention. I look forward to hearing more about it, including the sensors.

  • Maria Mckenzie

    Awesome post, Dan! Seth Godin has nothing on you today;). As I was reading, my husband was two steps ahead with ideas. He didn’t mention anything you hadn’t, he just mentioned them before I read them! We have been following 3D printing since its inception (XONE, SSYS, DDD, Makerbot). This is highly disruptive and exciting–who knows what the future holds!

    • Maria,
      It’s funny how much NEW stuff is on the horizon. Thanks!

  • Chi

    I am very impressed, I never imagined I would read about 3D printer on this site. I too have been fascinated by this technology for some time now and your summary is really interesting. With the recent Stratasys and Maketbot merger, this space just got that little bit more exciting.

    Nice one

  • Intriguing. Like Hector, I was initially alarmed by the “weapons” aspect. But as you point out, that’s just the media trying to induce anxiety and keep us coming back for more. In another year 3-D printers will be truly affordable. I can’t wait!

  • Embossing: If you want a raised look of the design on your t-shirt, giving a 3D look, then you can go in for embossing or even embroidery. This type of printing is the most expensive, but your design will last for years together.