In-store book printing: now comes the real test

By | April 21, 2009

The early tests of the Espresso Book Machine have had been promising. The installation at the bookstore of the University of Alberta has been particularly impressive. (See this link.)

But there are plenty of unanswered questions. There are less than a dozen machines in existence, all custom-assembled prototypes. The economic model hasn’t been clear. There haven’t been many books available for printing. There have been questions about how maintenance would be handled.

Over the next few months, it looks like all of these questions will be addressed. On Demand Books is starting to roll out version 2.0 of the Espresso machine, the first real production model. The installed base should grow rapidly. The cost structure is becoming clear (bookstores will pay On Demand Books a penny per page click charge and will pay a “royalty” to the publisher). There has not been an official statement on field service, but a deal is apparently in the works.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, On Demand Books now has a large catalog of books that can be printed on the machine. The company has struck a deal with LightningSource and 12 publishers (mostly big ones) to get access to the files of 85,000 titles that LightningSource currently has on its POD system. All of these titles will be available for in-store printing. More detailed information on this deal is here.

So the real test of in-store printing is about to begin. If it is successful, it could disrupt a lot of things in the book industry: the competition between large and small bookstores, the balance between offset and POD book printing, the viability of “micro-publishers” in local niches, and the dependence of the publishing industry on the “returns” system. It will be an interesting process to watch as it unfolds.

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5 thoughts on “In-store book printing: now comes the real test

  1. Andy McCourt

    Thanks for the update George. I just don’t see that the effort is worth the revenue possible. A hundred books a day per machine would be optimistic. As a service to customers for an out-of print or out-of-stock title it’s admirable but the one Espresso sold so far here in Australia just sits there not printing for most of the day. The quality is inferior to more professionally-produced books, which can be printed and delivered in 24 hours anyway. So the Espresso sits in a corner of a great-looking bookshop full of hardcovers, ‘coffee-table’ and other oversize books, merchandising displays, piled-high best sellers and books with DVDs stuck to them and the customer is going to prefer an inferior on-demand copy? Sorry, for me it’s an added service to existing bookselling and probably a non-profit one at that. Maybe a vanity press app. might turn a profit. What next? Commercial printers opening bookstores and libraries?

  2. MichaelJ


    I’ve always believed that Starbucks + Kinkos + Barnes and Noble is the killer app for college kids in the States. So maybe printers opening up bookstores and libraries is not as crazy as might appear at first blush. Barnes and Noble + Starbucks is already commonplace.

    More seriously, if it’s going to work, it will be because of the access to titles. Then it will be competing against something that doesn’t yet exist, the ability to get a hard copy of an obscure niche title, now. As the tech gets better it could turn out to be Netflicks for previously out of print books. I don’t think it works in the shopping mall. But it could work in college towns and certain neighborhoods.

  3. Mihai Paunescu

    I have to agree with Andy on the image it described. It will not work that way.
    On the other hand as MichaelJ said putting something like this in a student campus or university store will make much more sense.
    The only downturn in that case will be the fact that most publishers of STM and academic books will prefer to sell high priced hardcovers instead of letting such a “copier on steroids” do the same book for just a small share of the price.

  4. Andrew Rosenau

    I agree with all of the posts…throughput x price of a paperback-cost of equipment = window dressing (at best.)

  5. Victor Curran

    Frankly, I’ve always been skeptical about point-of-sale POD, for a rather mundane reason: Books are made of paper. Anyone operating a POD device in a retail space has to maintain an inventory of paper, which takes up expensive square footage, which would otherwise be occupied by finished books. Finished books can be returned for full credit if they’re not sold, and blank paper can’t, so if I were a retail bookseller I’d be reluctant to fill up my stockroom with blank paper.

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