Frankly Speaking: Expanding the Concept of On-Demand Books
Once upon a time, there was the hardcover book, which was generally the only book format for about 500 years. Then, the mass-market paperback format was pioneered by German publisher Albatross Books in 1931. British publisher Allen Lane launched Penguin Books in 1935 with 10 reprint titles. Robert de Graaf, in 1939, issued a similar line in the United States, partnering with Simon & Schuster to create Pocket Books. The term "pocket book" became synonymous with paperback. Later, many publishers would offer paperback books, often published after the hardcover edition. They were 10 cents a copy when introduced and always less expensive than hardcovers. The low-priced, easily available book built the modern book industry.
Lane's other invention was the Penguincubator, the first vending machine for books, installed at 66 Charing Cross Road in London, which took the book beyond the library, the traditional bookstore and the traditional book price. For a few pence, you could have reading matter immediately. These were on-demand books without on-demand printing.
Later, a revolving metal rack displayed a wide variety of paperbacks in a small space. The mass-market paperback pioneered book-selling in nontraditional book-selling locations such as airports, drug stores and supermarkets.
Flash forward to today. The Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Mass., is one of a growing number of retailers that has an Espresso Book Machine, which prints books on-demand. The catalog totals 3.6 million titles, mostly from Google digital files and public domain databases, along with previously out-of-print works. Few contemporary books are on the list. The system creates a library-quality, perfect-bound, acid-free, 300-page paperback book in about four minutes. It also can print your novel, cookbook, memoir, dissertation or anything else for about $100.
Over time, the independent bookstore was displaced by the chain superstore, which is being displaced by the online bookstore. I contend that each displaced the other because of price and availability. For books bought online, it may not be evident which were printed just for you.