Monday, January 15, 2007

Hot books on demand

I have a background in book publishing, in fact in reference books. I have had editorial jobs and organisational jobs, which dealt with content management and production. I learned a lot about book printing from Mr Henk Jochems, the production manager at the Oosthoek publishing company. He initiated me into the secrets of printing and took me along to typesetting operations and printing plants. I came in when typesetting was moving to photo typesetting and I left when one started to talk about the idea of print-to-plate. That was at the end of the seventies.

By the mid nineties on demand printing came up in The Netherlands. Long before Lulu there was Gopher, a print–on-demand and publishing company founded by Joost Zijtveld and Hans Offringa. The company got involved in the internethype, started an international network, which did not work, and eventually returned to The Netherlands, where they have a base again.
So when I heard the news that News Corp. unit HarperCollins Publishers has invested in NewsStand Inc., a company that digitizes and distributes books online, I was wondering what they had been doing in the past years. The technology offers book publishers a suite to typeset, produce, warehouse, distribute and market their books online.

I was more impressed with the news in the Observer about a machine that electronically stores 2.5 million books and can print and bind books up to 550 pages in less than seven minutes. The machine costs 25.000 British pounds. The 'Espresso' machine will be launched first in several US libraries. The company behind the project - On Demand Books LLC - predicts that, within five years, it will be able to reproduce every book ever published.

ODB. is planning to become the first company to globally deploy a low cost, totally automatic The Espresso Book Machine, which can produce 15 - 20 library quality paperback books per hour, in any language, in quantities of one, without any human intervention. This technology and process will produce one each of ten different books at the same speed and cost as it can produce ten copies of the same book. ODB has two machines currently deployed (one at the World Bank InfoShop in Washington DC, and one at the Library of Alexandria in Egypt). ODB is also finalizing technology to access a vast network of content that can be accessed and produced via The Espresso Book Machine Network. The content of this library will reside in numerous locations from a multitude of sources. The system will accept multiple formats, and fully respect licenses and rights.

(I think that the movies about the Espresso Book Machine and the launch of the World Bank project in Quicktime are somewhat primitive and naïve, but they give you an impression)

It was at the end of the seventies that Xerox developed the idea of producing books by a copying machine and binding them. Ever since on demand publishing has been growing steadily, but not enough to convince traditional publishers up to 2000. Warehousing and keeping backlists have become expensive and on demand publishing can now compete with traditional publishing in many sectors of book publishing. It will be interesting to see how publishers are going to deal with libraries and bookshops. Can you imagine walking out of a bookshop with only a window with covers of bestsellers and a printing machine with a book, hot with glue like a bread on a Sunday morning?

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