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Print On Demand: Major Announcement Could Change How You Buy Books

19 September 2012

From The Huffington Post:

Print-on-demand (POD) books could soon be everywhere, according to a major announcement made today.

On Demand, the makers of the POD Espresso Book Machine currently installed in fewer than a hundred bookstores nationwide, have announced new partnerships with Eastman Kodak and ReaderLink Distribution Services.

Under the arrangement, the company’s POD technology will be made available to retailers who have Kodak Picture Kiosks, currently installed in 105,000 locations according to Publishers Weekly, including drugstores and supermarkets.

. . . .

“You should be able to walk into a store, pick a title, [and then] pick it up after you’re done shopping,” he told The Huffington Post on the telephone from their New York headquarters. “We like to think of this as digital-to-print in retail locations.”

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post

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29 Comments to “Print On Demand: Major Announcement Could Change How You Buy Books”

  1. The longer Expresso machines have been talked about the fewer uses I can think of for them.

  2. I think we tend to underestimate the number of people who still like to read paper books. The POD option at a bookstore would change the dynamic of inventory problems. Honestly, if my local B&N could print any book, why would I wait the two days it will take my Amazon Prime shipment to arrive? Prices are pretty close in most cases, eliminating that issue.

    I think this especially helps independent authors. Start learning how to format your books for CreateSpace now, kiddies, if you haven’t already. It will be good practice for the new POD services to come.

    • Absolutely. This could be a solution to the problem of returns as well as the lack of shelf space.

      B.S.

    • Prices won’t be close in this case. Those Espresso machines are massively expensive. The deals I’ve seen so far for Espresso distribution include high up-front costs for every title distributed, charged for each machine. On the existing model it would cost more to get a book on an Espresso printer in every B&N than to do a traditional print run.

      The problem is that POD is economic for CreateSpace because their machines are running continuously. Machines in individual bookshops would be standing idle most of the time. That’s a massive cost difference that will never be made up by any amount of sales that a single store could reasonably expect.

      As for the deal with Eastman Kodak — did I miss something here? Kodak is bankrupt. B & N, I’m told, is losing money on everything but its online store. On Demand is a business desperately seeking customers. If you weld three sinking ships together, you don’t get one seaworthy ship; you get a monstrosity that can’t sail anywhere and is still sinking.

      • Good analysis.

      • If the prices were relatively close, there are plenty of times I’d prefer paper to reader. Places where ereaders are too nickable, giving books to friends to read (if you loan your ereader, you loan your whole library), reading with small kids, reading in hostile environments (mud, dust, the public pool, inside a refinery, etc), and workbooks. The book revolution has greatly expanded availability and dropped costs, but that doesn’t mean the medium itself is the best choice in all situations.

        If the companies can find enough early adopters, like teachers using it to drop the insane costs of textbooks and workbooks, and folks who like watching a book made just for them… then it will become an interesting and feasible alternative as the cost drops. For years, books were a solution in search of a problem, too. This company may be too early for its market, and may not survive, but I continue to watch with interest.

    • If used properly the Espresso machine could actually save the bookstores, at least as far as print books are concerned. If the machine could print any book that the store carried then there would be no need to stock multiple copies of every book. The store would only need a sample display copy, or even more convenient, a sample digital copy. This would translate into more shelf space and, to borrow a term from DWS, therefore the fruit would not rot so fast. Longer shelf-life would give books more of a chance to build an audience. Win. This would also mean no returns. Win-win. Oh, yeah; no shipping cost either. Win-win-win.

      It’s almost like…an e-book?!

      If my local book store had a machine that I could plug a thumbdrive into and print off a proof copy I would use it. It would beat waiting for that proof to come in the mail.

      The cost and size of these machines seems to both get smaller every year. I think we’re going to see more of them. I put one in my imaginary future mall bookstore if anyone cares to see inside my head.

      http://www.randallwoodauthor.com/2012/08/27/what-happened-to-my-bookstore/

      • Randall – nice to see someone who sees the future clearly. POD is the future of local bookstores. The ONLY future beyond about 5 years time.

        The only reason they have been slow to develop and are so expensive is that the tail of pBooks has not arrived, or started to arrive. All technology is incredibly expensive until it can be mass produced. Personally I don’t see POD’s time arriving until about 2017 or so. The time when investing in a print run for tens of thousands of titles will simply not be worth it. The time when print runs of even quite popular titles will be smaller and each copy will start to increase in price dramatically. The time when cheap eReaders are ubiquitous and DRM will be a thing of the past, enabling generic eReaders to flourish.

        When that time approaches, local bookstores will be on their knees, if they even still exist, and this technology will enable them to stay in business to serve the remaining paper lovers who will stick with paper for quite a long time to come in my view. Instead of a hundred POD machines in the USA, there will be thousands … maybe more.

        I left paper behind last year. But I have no doubt that it will have a long tail.

  3. I like the idea of this business model, but in practice I’m not sure if it will work.
    I contacted them about getting my books in the machine, the site doesn’t have much information, and when they found out I wanted to provide books, they didn’t respond. I can understand that they need to get machines available, but without a wide selection of books, there’s not going to by much business.

  4. Instant POD printing machines like Espresso Book Machines may be the future, for people who love paper books, and this would be a good solution. As the technology advances the POD books should be cheaper than traditional printed books, and sell more. And these machines could be installed in any high traffic store, like supermarkets. Unfortunately, the bookstores may be a thing of the past just like the record stores for music.
    But, if the eBook becomes prevalent, and the demand for paper books is not there, this solution may never come to fruition. Regardless of what will happen, the good news for Indie authors is that a book can be put in “print” fast and easily and inexpensively. The future looks bright!

    • Print books will be around for decades yet, so long as people can buy them. I know plenty of dedicated readers who’ve tried e-readers and said there’s no way they’ll be buying one; maybe in twenty years if their eyesight reaches the point where they need to easily control font sizes, but right now they just don’t see the benefits.

      Heck, I have an Kindle, an Android tablet with Kindle and Nook software and a laptop with Kindle software and I’ve read more paper books than e-books in the last few months.

  5. If I walk into a supermarket and gag on the smell of the printing machine, I will not be buying food there that day. Maybe it’s just me but hot binding glue and the smell of ink in mass have never encouraged me to buy or eat food.

    Will they be selling pet skunks in aisle 12? Glands and all?

    While the idea is wonderful on the whiteboard, I am not so sure it will pan out. Additionally, how do we know that royalties and payments will be accurately reported?

    Up next it will be print your own Fork on a Cupcake CNC.

    • You’d never get me out of a supermarket that smells like a printing press. My best job ever was programming for a financial press house. I could leave the office by stepping through a door into the room where they printed the books. I love the smell of printer’s ink.

      That said, until the machines get a lot cheaper and can be proven traffic-getters, you’ll be seeing these in bookstores before you see them anywhere else.

      • But do you love the smell of binding glue in the air? Those sample soft pretzels, with topping X…and added binding glue. Have you tried our new fruit jelly? -now with added binding glue scent. Some parents are extremely careful about what chemicals their children are exposed to. Do you think they’d be happy to have faint traces of binding glue on the fresh fruits and vegetables they bring home. Mmmm, it tastes great and sticks to the ribs on the way down!

        It’s kind of like the “fishy” smell by the sea food counter, it shouldn’t be there. If it is there, something is wrong.

        A similar move would be to stock all the herbicides and pesticides up by the checkout register. It would help ensure that I never entered your store again.

  6. Sounds good in theory but I agree that I wonder if there will really be a big enough market for this. It may be a good idea too late. (Kodak got into digital photography too late as well.)

  7. A POD version of your eBook could be a terrific marketing tool.

    If you decide not to do a print version of your eBook (perhaps your sales trends show your audience is dedicated to digital), you still might want to do a short run of hardcopies to hand out. Reviewers (of all kinds), promotions (giveaways of tangible product always seems to popular), even just handing it away to a random stranger could increase digital sales. Or even just visibility of your brand.

    You could also do short runs of bound sample chapters for giveaways/promotions at cons or on your website.

    If the Espresso machines are near a con you’re attending, you could send people to it right away, that day, right after your reading if they want to get a hardcopy. You could get a few copies to hand out at your reading (a piggyback on the digital presence) without you having to commit to a print run (which you’d have to lug to and from the con–POD right then and there and you have nothing to carry on the plane/ship/drive).

    I think the multiple uses for POD haven’t yet been explored.

    • One of the other benefits if this spread around the world is that I’d no longer have to drive to the post office with a chequebook when Createspace send me PoD books because they can’t be bothered to pre-pay Canadian taxes like Amazon do.

  8. “You should be able to walk into a store, pick a title, [and then] pick it up after you’re done shopping,”

    Or I could buy it on my Kindle and have it delivered in less than 60 seconds.

  9. When a gadget arrive, the need for it seem to develop within a decade.

    I must say, I like the potential of being able to buy books in my native, medium-sized tribal language anywhere and anytime.

    I also think being the Espresso-machine’s human service person is the near future’s worst-job-ever, where you’ll be blamed for everything that comes out wrong and expected to fix it.

  10. A lot of interesting topics in this one, and I wouldn’t scoff too much because God knows Bezos got a lot of that early on.

    This could solve a lot of inventory demands by booksellers as well as getting access to out of print titles. There’s a lot of potential to sell to the “print only” crowd, but I think that crowd’s getting smaller every day.

    It’s definitely a neat idea but I keep thinking of costs and what the final price of an expresso book will really be. There’s definitely a stark cost model difference between a major POD distributor with rows of these things running in a warehouse, supplies bought in bulk and support staff already on the clock versus a single unit at a small business.

    I also keep thinking about how many times our plain old regular copy machine at work breaks. And then how long it takes to get fixed. Seems like we’re always waiting for “the part to come in.” Honestly, when compared to the Expresso, the most sophisticated regular copier out there looks like a play-do press and mold.

    For every sale of one of these, will there be a certified repair guy only a phone call away? Is that network in place and what will that do to total expresso costs?

    • We have a few of them in the Seattle area, in bookstores, yes, and I’m not sure how well they’ve done, but they don’t seem terribly smelly or invasive.

      Getting books into the machine has been reported as clunky and expensive, for certain. IF you don’t do your POD with Lightning Source. Lightning Source books go in very easily if not automatically.

      I didn’t even know my books were in there till I searched, but one of my houses uses LS and there they are.

      They definitely need to streamline costs and such for other books to become incorporated, and maybe they won’t fly. But I still say the machine has potential. If print book outlets start to vanish, those paper book lovers might just come to appreciate a mall kiosk that spits out books.

      If anyone has been up close and personal with an EBM, I’m super curious now if they really reek. :) My spy network claimed that it just worked like a big ol Xerox machine.
      No nasty fumes reported.

    • D.L.

      Good points. I’ll see them all and raise you a couple. :)

      If you look at it from a strictly business point of view; production cost + shipping + stocking + overhead + return shipping + pulping VS cost of the machine + a few days of training + maintenance cost.

      I think the machine comes out ahead. It’s not so much what it cost, but rather what it saves. I’d also point this out; the machine and its added costs (less maintenance and parts) are a one-time expense while the other route is a continuing expense, one with no return.

      I think the last price I saw for an Espresso Book Machine was in the area of 90k. But that was over a year ago. I wonder how much a publisher spends on the above costs I mentioned with an average size B&N?

      As for the smell, they smell like books. Or money maybe? I guess it depends on your point-of-view. :) I dont actually remember a smell when I saw one in action. I do remember it being really cool to watch though!

      • The problem is that while the machine comes out ahead of traditional printing for short runs, having the machine in every store does not come out ahead of having a few machines in central locations, kept busy all the time, à la CreateSpace. With Amazon making moves towards same-day delivery, a lot of the appeal of on-site POD is likely to disappear.

        Want a book quickly? Then buy the ebook and get it instantly. Want it on paper, and you’re willing to wait till you’ve done shopping? Then order it from Amazon (at a lower price) and get it by the end of the day. I haven’t seen anybody offer up a third case for buying Espresso books, except the old refrain, ‘Support local businesses or we will go broke!’ Which is an empty threat: nearly all businesses go broke sooner or later — it’s their nature. A business owner has no right to be protected from his own failure.

        • Tom, I have to disagree. Unless Amazon had a warehouse right down the street and a deliveryman standing by at all times, the machine would still win. In the store I described in my blog post I only touched briefly on the EBM and I did it as just one small part of a larger store. In other words, one profit center among many others.

          But when discussing print books only, the machine has great potential. I’m picturing the entire wealth of published books being available in a cloud database someday and accessible by the bookstore. The machine only takes a few short minutes to create a book, so unless there is a queue of books ahead of yours, the wait is minimal. Same day delivery from Amazon is hopeful, but most likely the best anyone will ever be able to do, on average, is overnight. Regardless, there will always be shipping cost to deal with. Diesel is currently well over $4 a gallon where I live and will always loose in a race against electrons.

          True POD machines are huge. As big as a regular press. The EBW is designed to be small first and fast second. Perfect for bookstores. As for the price; why would it be lower from Amazon? With an EBM on-sight there’s no shipping, minimal overhead and no shocking expenses. I would think the price would be very competitive.

          I’ll admit that it may be ahead of its time, but I’m trying hard to see a downside.

  11. Not much point in getting too much into the minutia of the machine itself, any machine of this type will be obsolete in five years. The real question is whether the concept can be sold to the reading public. If it can, then I see POD as being the final nail in the book shop’s coffin. If the average supermarket can ‘stock’ thousands of different titles then what role is there for a pure bookshop?

    It’s an interesting one to watch, that much is certain.

    • I don’t get your point ‘I see POD as being the final nail in the book shop’s coffin’. Surely it’s the opposite.
      People in supermarkets are in and out and gone before the product will be ready. They will only be interested in the best sellers on the shelf – though the supermarkets may well use the POD to generate those bestsellers.
      Book shops are going to dwindle steadily from now anyway. Only a few ill survive. But a 90k machine now will be a 15k machine in 5 years time, and I see a scenario where book shops will run it through the night, printing best sellers and popular titles, while during the day the remaining tail of paper fetishists will be more than happy to wait or call back. Even today, with the price of the POD machine so high, and sales so low, pBook prices from them are quite acceptable – imagine in 5-10 years. I see them becoming even cheaper than today.
      I abandoned paper last year – but despite what I would like to happen I am under no illusion but that a great many people will refuse to change from paper and a significant market will remain well into 20+years time. As their numbers drop it is absolutely inevitable that paper books delivered through the normal process will become more and more and more expensive, and all but the biggest best sellers will be too expensive to hold in stock or to buy.
      POD bypasses all of these issues and will allows any paper fetishist to acquire any title past or present in paper form within a very short window.

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