Thursday, July 10, 2008

BPN 1154 Get your book fresh from the book shop

The UK book chain Blackwell (photograph of the first Backwell bookshop in Oxford) will offer print-on-demand in its book shops. The book will be printed while customers wait. The book seller will install Espresso Book Machines (EBM). Eventually al 60 book shops of the Blackwell chain will have such a machine. The EBM can currently print about 40 pages per minute, but newer models will double that speed. The US manufacturer has so far 11 sites, where the machines are in use. The machines are leased by the company On Demand. Blackwell has an exclusive franchise in the UK. Beside the machines a catalogue of 400.000 out of print titles, sourced from Lightning Source, are delivered.

Buying book can become like buying a fresh loaf of bread. But there will be problems to be solved. What books are going to be printed on demand, against what price and with permission from the publisher and author? The book chain Blackwell has indicated that it will not empty its shelves in favour of machine output. I will continue to sell current titles from publishers. So printing and distribution remain part of the publisher’s production cycle. However non-current titles or publishers backlists can now be bought by a book aggregator for printing on the EBM.

Blackwell did not want to say anything yet about the price of the print-on-demand books. The book aggregator Lightning Source was founded in 1997 and is a subsidiary of Ingram Industries Inc., and a sister company to leading U.S. book wholesaler Ingram Book Group. According to the Wikipedia, Lightning Source has printed over 41,000,000 books for over 5,000 publishers around the world. The Lightning Source digital library holds over 500,000 books. Lightning Source gives the publishing community options to print books in any quantity, 1-10,000, and provides its customers access to the most comprehensive bookselling channel in the industry in both the United States and the United Kingdom including distribution partners Ingram, Baker & Taylor,, Barnes & Noble, Gardners, Bertrams and others. So they know the prices in the book trade and in the electronic book sector. So I expect that Blackwell eventually will ask the e-book price with a 20 to 30 per cent surcharge for the printing.

But the backlists of publishers might be a problem for the publisher and the author. Presently books of authors, which are at the end of the life cycle, are dumped and often the rights are handed back to the author. But with a second lease on the life of a book, it might be interesting for publishers to ‘buy back’ the rights. But also the book aggregator might start negotiations with the author directly. Of course smart authors license the printing on demand to the aggregator. However some court cases like Rosetta vs Simon & Schuster might occur. But for the time being it will not change the consumer market, as publishers still will stick to their production cycle. But the pulping of unsold books might shorten the life cycle of a title and transfer it to the print-on-demand catalogue. And I do not believe that print-on-demand will allow lower prices for the books and greater royalties for the authors. In fact the book will be more expensive than an e-book

So it will eventually happen. I heard about the print-on-demand machines when I worked in publishing in the late seventies. The CEO of the printing division of Kluwer had visited a conference by Xerox, where a copying and binding production street had been shown. He predicted that this type of machines would eventually end up in book shops. Well it has lasted some thirty years before it is happening.

BTW I will not give permission for my (Dutch language) Online Handboek voor de praktijk of 1986 to be printed on demand, as it is hopelessly outdated and there are no collectors of this type of books.

Blog Posting Number:1154

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