We've had a number of discussions concerning changes in the publishing industry, how those changes might impact sales, and what the future of publishing may hold. I came across the following information today and thought it could have a profound impact on publishing. I'm interested in your thoughts.

Lightning Source Demonstrates the Espresso Book Machine® Channel at BEA:

See the Espresso Book Machine (EBM) in action at the Lightning Source Booth (#4069) at BookExpo America, May 29-31 in New York City. The EBM is a print on demand device that's small enough to fit in a bookstore or a library. In a matter of minutes it prints, collates, covers, and binds a single book that is indistinguishable from the thousands of other titles on a shop's shelves. The EBM channel has been fully integrated into the Lightning Source print on demand model, enabling consumers to immediately access and purchase - at point of sale - the extensive range of titles available in our library.

The EBM channel will eliminate the frustration a consumer experiences when they walk into a bookstore or library and do not find a physical book in stock. Additionally, EBM enables publishers to enter or expand into international markets cheaply by printing and shipping closer to the consumer.

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Worrisome. Can you image what the author is going to have to do to separate his book title from the millions that will eventually be available? Talk about self-promotion!
I wonder B.R., if the larger publishers would ever consider this model or will they stick with a more traditional printing approach. I see it as potentially a tremendous cost saver for all publishers if it actually works the way it's intended to work and the quality of the book is good. It would also save huge amounts of money on returns.
B.R., we already have a situation where most authors, including those published by the big houses, remain entirely anonymous because the attention goes to a few best-selling authors. What's the number of books released by publishers this year? Somewhere in the 28,000 neighborhood?

In my experience, the major publishing houses guard their rights jealously. These include electronic rights on all standard contracts. All of my books except HELL SCREEN are on Amazon Kindle. I had nothing to do with that. Their publishers struck those deals. The reason Hell Screen is not is that the rights for hc and electronic versions are in limbo -- on their way to being returned to me. I'm told that could take years.
Publisher's Weekly just published an article indicating that the number of print-on-demand and short-run titles now exceeds the number of traditionally published titles (http://tinyurl.com/pb35yr). Lightning Source's machine gets this that dreaded "final 100 yards" from the big pipe to the faucet. The Internet went through this a few years ago with cable companies providing the "final 100 yards" solution to broadband for a vast number of consumers. Now, Lightning Source is doing this for books. I've had people go to small bookstores looking for my book. It's not there. They then have to try again, and sometimes they don't redouble their efforts. I think it would be better overall if book buyers could be satisfied at the point of sale. It might level the playing field, and change the sales floor a bit. Bookstores need to evolve.
Thanks for the PW link, Andrew. I agree that having a book available at point of sale could help level the playing field for authors published by small and independent presses.
I have seen videos of the contraption at work. It is a good concept on the surface but the maintainability of the equipments looks questionable. It has more moving parts than a Rube Goldberg egg fryer. I can see problems keeping it running. It is considerably more complicated than a duplicating machine and one trip into Kinko's or Office Depot should give you an idea how dependable public operated equipment works. I am afraid vendors will look at it as a headache rather than a money making opportunity.
T
It will be interesting to see how many sell and how reliable they are, Tom. As with any technology, one hopes that the quality, reliability, efficiency and price improves with time. At least it's a beginning.
I'm sure it's still cheaper and easier to maintain than a warehouse-size offset printer they use now.
Good point, John. It would no doubt be cheaper than storing thousands of unsold books in warehouses as well.
That is right Christopher, then almost anything would be cheaper than storing thousands of unsold books in a warehouse. It kind of makes you wonder how they got it to work as long as it did, and still does to some degree.
That is correct John, but the one I saw was a point of purchase item set in a book store like a vending machine. I foresee the problems coming when it gets a paper jam and no one is available to fix it or even worse, it just breaks. You know how people can get when something that is not traditional goes awry. The employees will think it is just extra work and gripe and the store manager will get sick of listening or maybe even agree with them and the new toy will get put on the back shelf of the warehouse.
They always trot out portable POD machines at BEA. I saw one when I went in Los Angeles, 5-6 years ago. As a bookseller, I don't see this taking off too soon. How much does it cost? 50K? More? Less? It costs sooo much to open and operate a bookstore, and given the minute margins, there's no way most stores would be in a position to make this kind of investment. Especially since they'd still have to pay for all the books they're printing, and probably at the current discounts, some of which guarantee the store will lose money on particular books. And it can still only print the books eligible for printing on that machine. If this device is financially viable, why doesn't Lightning Source print in multiple locations, instead of concentrating all their printing in Tennessee? For western stores, the one downside of ordering LS books is that they can take 10 days to arrive. Our customers are used to our getting books in 2-3 days for most titles, and many hate waiting that long.

It might happen someday, but business models change slowly. Look at the auto industry. As I said, most independent stores won't be able to afford it. And what about the chains? Their current plan is for customers to view their stores as their home away from home. They fill their big boxes with so many esoteric titles, which aren't expected to sell, to give their customers more to browse through. It might make more sense to cut down on some of that space, in favor of a device that can print out those low-demand titles. But how likely is it to happen anytime soon? I'd put this into the category of the flying cars we were supposed to have by now?

Kris

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