The 'Mr. Coffee' of Bookmaking
Enter book-at-a-time technology, which, while still in its early stages, offers the promise of filling a key piece of the economizing puzzle, eliminating the need for stores to give over shelf space to books that only sell a few copies a year, and allowing Amazon and other Internet retailers to minimize their warehouse and shipping costs by strategically locating printing machines around the country.
The two major players in this emerging market are On Demand Books, manufacturer of the Espresso Book Machine, first installed at the World Bank InfoShop in Washington, D.C., in 2006, and the InstaBook Corp., which debuted its InstaBook Maker in 1998 at the offices of Denlinger’s, a Florida publishing house.
“Our machines are not intended to produce millions and millions of books at one machine,” says Dane Neller, co-founder and CEO of On Demand Books, which is installing a smaller, cheaper 2.0 version of the Espresso Book Machine at the University of Waterloo in Canada in early 2009. “It is intended to produce fewer copies, but right at the distribution point. I still see a model where publishers could produce a best-seller centrally, but might not need to print all of those centrally.”
Limitations to the adoption of this technology include cost, which should decrease as more machines are produced (the Espresso 2.0 retails at $88,750), and the current inability to produce case-bound books—not to mention a reluctance on the part of publishers to abandon older distribution models, which Neller says is sometimes driven by a fear of cannibalizing existing inventory. He sees the most viable short-term application of his machine in libraries and campus bookstores, where book-at-a-time technology is already being used.
“Nontraditional sellers like campus bookstores, libraries, hotels and airports that don’t have those legacy issues are more willing to embrace the technology,” he says. Cash-strapped libraries especially have an opportunity to create a revenue source through these machines, he adds.