3D Printing as a Business - History Repeating Itself
Joseph Chiu wrote this on the makerbot user group and I felt it was worth repeating.
As Shawn had mentioned a while back, making money on the print-for-pay is generally not a good return on your investment in time/resources...
It's like photocopiers in the early 1980's.
Back then, there were the big high-end copiers that resembled printing presses. Then the technology started to "open up to the masses", including the repraps of the time: personal cartrdige-based copiers. For a while, a small shop owner could make some side money running copies out of his shop for other area businesses -- but eventually, either everyone bought a copier of their own, or they went to a service bureau (Kinko's, anyone?) that ran the new generation of high-end machines that were price competitive at scale.
So making money just spitting out paper stopped being profitable for the individual... But there were plenty of enterprising people making money with the paper they were printing --- they designed forms and documents, and sold their printed designs. They designed them and used their copier to make short runs. And when the volume justified it, some of them went to a full press (in our world, that would be getting a mold made).
Eventually, even designing those documents became democratized (not everyone had WYSIWYG in the 80's and even the early 90's) -- and so forms and documents for mass production is generally not so lucrative. The money these days is primarily for custom jobs -- you're paid for the design work, not the actual printout...