The Death of Traditional Publishers? Part 9: The Rebirth of Print Books!

Every major publisher and bookstore should be preparing right now for the future. It will make sense to begin to launch books with a no-inventory strategy, and to encourage sales and move stocks of current press runs with returns allowable. The idea of printing and distributing on speculation and consignment will make less sense as the print market diminishes in its overall share.

There’s an inevitable downward spiral of brick-and-mortar retail inherent in this forecast because sales are moving online. The nearly-limitless online selection – for both eBooks and print –  plus the ability to shop in your jammies, have been increasingly powerful magnets since the day Amazon opened its virtual doors.

In fact, by the end of 2012, half of all book sale potential could be reached without requiring local inventory, shipping, or revenue collection, beyond digital distribution and its print-on-demand partner.

So what’s a bookstore to do?

The GOOD news is: the paper book will never disappear. But the HOW is going to be radically different. Enter The Espresso Book Machine by On Demand Books.

I read about this transition a couple years ago. In the near future, forward-thinking bookstores will have shelves of book covers – much like a video store has shelves of empty DVD cases. Buyers will pick up the covers, read the quotes, the back-cover blurb, the reviews. Probably a chunk of the first chapter. If they like what they see, they’ll take the cover to the cashier, pay for the book, and in a few minutes, the book is handed to them LITERALLY right off the press.

Now, I have very little faith that bookstores will overcome their greed and roll the stocking-shipping-and-returning savings into the cost – BUT THEY SHOULD! And they might. It would certainly beat shuttering their doors!

What I do know is that any author whose book is on Amazon, for example, should be available in any bookstore through this method. Log on, select the file, hit print, go.

Could the print future look any brighter? Can you see the genius in this path? Why aren’t bookstores starting the transition? Ordering these machines NOW and making all CreateSpace (and all other indie-publisher) authors available today? The more unique books and authors that are available – without the hassles and expenses of the traditional system – the more books a bookstore will sell. And the customer’s choices are expanded exponentially.

Harvard University has taken the step. Harvard Book Store’s new Espresso Book Machine turns PDF files into a high-quality paperback book in minutes. Genius, I say! …Well, it IS Harvard.

And a year ago, Blackwell Bookshop on Charing Cross Road in central London took the step as well. And think about this: NO INTERNATIONAL SALES or FORMATTING ISSUES! E-files fly across The Pond at the speed of internet – in both directions! Shoot, how about Australia and back?

After the machine itself, the only costs are the actual paper and ink. Think about that in a world increasingly desiring to be “green”! Think about the costs of print books going DOWN not up! And think about more of that money going to the AUTHOR.

I’m positively giddy over the prospect. Aren’t you?

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9 Responses to “The Death of Traditional Publishers? Part 9: The Rebirth of Print Books!”


  1. 1 Amber Scott Project 06/14/2010 at 9:59 AM

    SO exciting! It makes me want to open bookstore cafe. The Nut House, for lovers of books and coffee. :}

  2. 3 Cherry 06/14/2010 at 10:05 AM

    Yes, as an independently published author,I am giddy over the prospect! And why not? Already I can buy sheet music from my local music store in this manner.

    • 4 kristualla 06/14/2010 at 3:27 PM

      It is so clearly the path that makes sense – I only hope that On Demand Books is wise about getting the machines out. Using escalating payments, for example, so stores can build up the business and pay less at first, more later on. That sort of thing.

  3. 5 Paisley Kirkpatrick 06/14/2010 at 12:27 PM

    It really sounds like interesting things might be happening in our world. Hoping I can have a book in the mix. Thanks for all of your informative blogs, Kris.

  4. 7 americaneditor 06/15/2010 at 5:12 AM

    Two reasons why indie bookstores haven’t adopted the Espresso is cost and available titles. The machine costs $100,000+ (at least last time I looked into it), which is a major investment for the indie bookstore, plus the charge for each time it is used. Then there is another factor: What happens when the machine is down for repairs? Harvard can probably afford a backup machine or may even have the market power to cut a deal for oncall repair service, but the small indie would be at the mercy of the technology. Think about how it is when your computer goes down, assuming you use your computer to earn your livelihood.

    The second problem is what books are available. Although the company making the Espresso has made great strides in signing on publishers, still most of the available books are public domain books. What publishers need is a clearinghouse, like the music industry has, so that all titles will be available. It is much too expensive to cut thousands of individual licensing agreements.

    A third problem (I thought I’d throw this one into the mix :)) is the eBook/Internet Age where anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can suddenly be an author. In 2009, for example, more than 1 million books were published in the United States — 750,000+ of which were self-published. It is still the problem of finding the needle in the haystack of needles.

    A good idea whose time is not yet ripe, I fear.

  5. 8 Colleen Poor 06/15/2010 at 10:07 PM

    I do have to agree with americaneditor’s comments about the Expresso and the costs. Knowing how everything comes to a standstill when our copier or printer goes on the fritz at work, I can imagine how awful it would be for a bookstore to have to tell a customer, “Sorry, we can’t print your book now, the machine is down and we won’t have service in till…” That would put a bookstore out of business in no time. I do like the idea of print when you buy but I also see the point about what books are going to be available to print. You go through a bookstore of any size and there are literally thousands of titles available. A clearinghouse would be a great idea, but then, again, what/who will do the licensing? I know of at least 3 licensing entities for music. If every publisher had a license, that could be very expensive for a bookstore.

    I think this is something that needs much more input by the public and sellers. It’s definitely a big step in publishing and will be an exciting and interesting journey to watch for book lovers of all types.

    • 9 Frankie Robertson 06/16/2010 at 8:31 PM

      New technology is notoriously buggy, too. I understand the Espresso Machine demoed at the BEA a few years ago spent more time being tinkered with than producing books. It’s still a neat idea, but I think we’ll have to wait a while before it become a viable publishing alternative. Heck, we still don’t have a low cost ereader.

      For those who are interested in self-publishing, I just reviewed TOP SELF PUBLISHING FIRMS by Stacie Vander Pol and THE FINE PRINT OF SELF-PUBLISHING by Mark Levine on my blog at: http://FrankieRobertson.wordpress.com.


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