Will Print on Demand SAVE the book industry?

>> Friday, September 18, 2009

Relevant Results columnist Tom Krazit reports that On Demand Books, makers of the Espresso Book Machine, have been granted access the close to 2 million public domain books Google has scanned and digitized. Okay. Public domain. No big deal. But it's the technology On Demand Books has that made me sit up an choke on my Cheerios. Says Krazit, "The Espresso Book Machine can print a 300-page book in four minutes, complete with a cover and a bound edge."

Wow. WOW. We're probably talking ARC-quality paperbacks here, but still. Wow. Three hundred pages and a cover, bound in four minutes? The Espresso Book Machine finally makes the promise of "Print on Demand" very real. An Espresso Book Machine will run you $75,000 to $97,000, depending on the size and configuration, but you know that price will just come down in time, and the quality will just keep getting better. Such is the way of all technology.

Much has been made of what digital books will do to publishing. Just this week Amazon announced that the digital Kindle edition of Dan Brown's newest blockbuster, The Lost Symbol, is outselling the hardcover edition on its web site. Helping the digital edition's cause are the prices: they're selling the dead tree edition for $16.17, and the pixelated version for just $9.99--and, it comes with free, direct delivery to your e-reader device. Instant gratification!

But books that could be ordered and printed instantly? One day, will all of us have one of these things in our home? Or is this what a "bookstore" will be--a small pack-and-ship-sized office with a big machine that spits out whichever title we'd like to own in a print edition? It's certainly possible--if the print edition even survives. Maybe Print on Demand will save the book publishing industry, not kill it.

Print on demand just can't produce the beautiful kind of books McSweeney's produces. Yet. But what kind of revolution will we really have when you can't tell a print on demand book from a professionally published book? Right now there's a noticeable difference in quality, but soon? Yes, there are still distribution networks to consider, and marketing departments and sales reps. But if there's a five-minute print on demand machine hooked to a book kiosk in the mall, is any of that going to matter anymore?


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