First, the situation: Anderson had been looking at in-store print-on-demand (POD) for a long time (including the InstaBook Maker)—as far back as the mid-’90s, when Sprout tested an in-store installation of its POD machine. So, when he met Jason Epstein in fall 2006, he was eager to learn more about the Espresso Book Machine.
Anderson faced a growing number of requests for “course-packs, professor-created materials, and a growing list of public domain titles,” he said. He saw POD as a solution without a labor-intensive component—as there is considerably less labor-management flexibility in Canada than in the United States.
Especially appealing was the Espresso’s potential feasibility for a return on investment. His immediate goal was to test the model, learn how to make books with the machine, and try a variety of uses.
Anderson cataloged against the $144,000 cost of the machine more than $650,000 in course-pack related sales, out-of-copyright books, small-scale trade book sales and potential unrealized rare book sales.
He then had to persuade university funders, publisher content owners and even On Demand Books, manufacturers of the Espresso, that an installation would pay off. Less than five months after the machine was installed in November 2007, the BISG report explains, “his store was already husbanding its capacity … and the machine now runs from nine to five every day.”
Anderson’s primary internal lessons dealt with shaping his pricing and service to discourage business (such as general-purpose vanity publishing) from interfering with workflow that served the needs of students. He has also seen interest from students in acquiring both print and digital versions of the same title. The general industry lesson is that this new supply-chain development—one that creates a site-independent capacity to do book printing and publishing—will be a challenge as well as a benefit to both booksellers and publishers.
Eugene G. Schwartz is editor at large for ForeWord Reviews, an industry observer and an occasional columnist for Book Business magazine. In an earlier career, he was in the printing business and held production management positions at Random House, Prentice-Hall/Goodyear and CRM Books/Psychology Today. A former PMA (IBPA) board member, he has headed his own publishing consultancy, Consortium House. He is also Co-Founder of Worthy Shorts Inc., a development stage online private press and publication service for professionals as well as an online back office publication service for publishers and associations. He is on the Publishing Business Conference and Expo Advisory Board.