Monday, June 1, 2009

Last Friday I saw the future of the book business

Last Wednesday I wrote that Lightning Source, the dominant Print-On-Demand printer, is launching an Espresso Book Machine (EBM) pilot program. Books will be printed at the point of sale -- primarily bookstores and libraries -- not at Lightning's own facilities.

The EBM was developed by On Demand Books and was named to Time Magazine's "Best Inventions of 2007" list. It provides revolutionary direct-to-consumer distribution and printing. The EBM is like a vending machine for books, but contains only raw materials (paper and ink), not completed products. It automatically prints, binds, and trims, on demand at point of sale, perfect-bound, standard-quality paperback books at about 14 EBM locations in the USA now. More locations will be added gradually.

Participating publishers in the experiment include John Wiley, Hachette, McGraw-Hill, Simon & Schuster, Clements, Cosimo, E-Reads, Bibliolife, Information Age, Macmillan, University of California Press and W.W. Norton.

A few hours after I uploaded that blog post, Lightning Source announced that they would open the Espresso printing program to all of the publishers that use Lightning.

On Friday I was BookExpo in Manhattan, primarily to see the Espresso Book Machine in action. It was pumping out books every few minutes. The photo above shows one of my books in the output slot of the machine. (CONFESSION: I took the book to the show -- it wasn't printed there.)

One title printed there was, ironically, Morris Rosenthal's "Print-On-Demand Book Publishing." I took home a copy and compared it to a copy that was printed normally by LSI. It appears identical to the regular LSI version, except that the cover was not laminated and appears a bit lighter in color (perhaps because it wasn't laminated). I'm not sure if the Espresso can laminate.

The book store business has been in the dumper, but Espresso can make huge changes to help B&N and mom & pops compete against Amazon. It also helps people who want near-instant gratification but prefer to read on paper instead of e-book readers like Kindle.

Instead of waiting one to three days to receive a book from an online bookseller, people wait just three or four minutes, and can buy snacks while they wait. No shipping. No warehousing. No remainders. No markdowns. No returns. No shredding and pulping. No copies becoming obsolete on the shelf. No waiting for special orders. No shipping errors. No shipping delays.

The Espresso could be a Godsend to self-publishers who have been kept out of, or avoided, brick-and-mortar bookstores. Presumably B&N will accept the same 20% discount on books that are printed in a store, as with books ordered online or as a in-store special order.

While there is no reason to assume that a store-printed book will be much less expensive than a conventional book on the store shelf or shipped by Amazon, the efficiencies should have some effect. Perhaps college texts could come down to $70 or $50 or $30 from $100.

It should become as easy to order an instant book, as to use a B&N kiosk to special order a non-stocked book. I think the only limitation will be the ability to produce the machines fast enough.

The next few years will be an exciting time to be a self-publisher, and now there is another good reason to use Lightning to "print" your books -- even if they actually get printed in a Barnes & Noble store or a college library. Or maybe even in a shopping mall between the kiosks for sunglasses and ear piercing.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating! It really is exciting to see the future of book publishing being revealed right before our eyes!