The 'Mr. Coffee' of Bookmaking
When espresso was first popularized in America, in the 1950s, it had all the qualities of a fad—commanding a lot of attention, then quickly fading out. The drink roared back into popularity in the ’90s on the back of a killer app called Starbucks, proving itself indispensable among a digital generation partial to need-it-now energy solutions. Who today can imagine life without it?
Naysayers may assume fad status for the drink’s namesake, the Espresso Book Machine, the most high-profile attempt at introducing an all-in-one manufacturing package to the volatile world of book retail. In fact, the stars might be aligned just right if you’re rooting for the success of this curious contraption, which may, after all, prove itself the drip brewer of book manufacturing—a vital part of a suite of technologies central to an emerging “instant” product fulfillment system. Perhaps it should have been called “Mr. Coffee.”
A Need to Economize
A major goal in book manufacturing and fulfillment since the introduction of on-demand printing solutions has been the ability to economically produce any book in any location, says John Conley, vice president, publishing at Xerox. “It’s a waste problem,” he says. “Having to work in this returns environment is not just a problem for the publisher, it’s a problem for the retailer, because he has to handle them. If anybody has to touch them, it’s adding cost. The [question] becomes, ‘How do I take cost out of that model?’”
Publishers and manufacturers have, of course, been working on this problem on many fronts—making offset more economical in ever-smaller quantities, introducing short-run digital printing to minimize inventory and returns, and print-on-demand for very small orders. The next frontier is to minimize, if not eliminate, shipping and storage costs.
“If you have, in metropolitan areas, a process that allows the book to be produced locally, you remove the distribution costs and eliminate the returns issues,” Conley notes.