Several bookshops do have Espressos, and apparently are doing a decent business. I believe that the majority of what they print are books by local self-published authors, rather than books from traditional publishers which happen not to be in stock in the bookshop at that moment. Customers do seem to be able to wait.
In his post from Publerati last September, entitled “Why I believe in the future of print-on-demand books” Caleb Mason sings the praises of the Espresso machine. He mentions The Goldfinch as an example of a book not worth being put into permanent (non e-book) form. This seems a bit extreme to me, but it is undoubtedly true that reading this book in the New York subway system was a lot easier using the Kindle app on my iPhone or iPad than it would have been if I had had to lug the large volume around. Most people would insist that by printing a book with this sales potential your unit cost of production will be so much less than an Espresso book, that the effect on your bottom line will be immense.
I’m not sure just how similar books are to photos, but the comparison is interesting. I wonder if we will begin to see Espresso machines in drugstores. Printing photos is probably easier: there’s just not as much data, the customers tend to arrive with their own digital files, and it’s not essentially different from what we had to do before digital photography was born. But in principle of course there’s nothing (other than money and demand) standing in the way of Mason’s vision of Espressos in drugstores. Yet another threat to bookstores perhaps; maybe they have to start selling toothpaste too.
Here is Caleb Martin again with an update on Publerati’s use of the Espresso machine. He’s obviously happy, but I think he’s restricting himself if he’s only focussing on the Espresso, which will mean that his books are only available in a store which has one of these machines. There’s no reason why you can’t have your books available on the Espresso and have them set up for print-on-demand elsewhere so that you can fill any order no matter where the customer is. We have tended up until now to think of print-on-demand as an extreme version of short-run printing rather than as a retail option, and in that I don’t think we have been altogether wrong. To restrict your thinking to the extreme alternatives of printing 10,000 copies or making the book available on the Espresso is, well, to restrict your thinking. What about the middle ground? Why not print 1,000 or 2,000 for your backorders, review copies, promotional copies etc. and simultaneously make the book available through regular print-on-demand. (and Espresso too if you like)? When reorders come in they’ll be filled by POD. Your warehouse operation becomes smaller, and your wastage will approach zero.
Ink, Bits, & Pixels is also a bit skeptical. I’m quite sure that the Espresso machine is not going to be anybody’s silver bullet. There’s a place for it, but surely not a huge one. The video in this post shows you the painfully deliberate operation of the machine: miraculous if you compare it to getting a copy of the book via special order through snail mail, but ludicrous when you see a commercial POD operation at full pitch. Still, there are applications, and it’s nice to see that Digital Books has managed to get a couple of French installations.
Almost all publishers are using print-on-demand already. It will I am sure remain a significant part of the book supply chain for years to come. It’s just too easy: you send a file to the POD supplier who sets the book up for one-off manufacture. You then get your computer system changed over to indicate that when an order is received from a customer, rather than sending someone out into the warehouse to pick the book, an order goes automatically to the printer who manufactures the book and sends it to the customer with a copy of your invoice inside. Only when hard copy books are no longer required will it disappear.