Sunday, December 24, 2006

True Print-On-Demand

The current state of POD is a site like or You go to the site, find the book you like, have them print it and mail it to you. If you are willing to pay top dollar for the shipping, you can possibly have your book the next day. 24 hour turn around for a small extra fee.

How about 7 minutes? The "low cost" machine described here
can print, mill, glue and bind two books at a time in less than seven minutes. The Expresso is available next year from a company called On Demand Books. The New York Public Library is scheduled to get a machine in February. It is currently set up to print books no longer under copyright protection.

As these machines proliferate and the costs come down for both the machiens and the books it prints, could this spell the doom for POD sites? Seems to me in order to get that "browsing" feeling that they will need to add some sort of preview ability otherwise people will have to know what they want before they use the machine. Perhaps the web sites will end up more like photo printing web sites or an ATM where you upload your book and can have them print it and send it or go to the local bookstore to print it.

Don't forget to check out the videos at the second site.


Issendai said...

If these machines can produce books that rival traditionally published books in quality, then I can see all of publishing changing. Why print 10,000 copies of a book, store them, ship them, accept returns, and finally remainder the lot when you can print up samples for the marketing crew and distribute the rest on CDs? There would still need to be copies for the shelves, so the bookstore would be taking a bit of a gamble on stock,* and of course the question of which books should be on the shelves would be as urgent as always... but the structure of book distribution could change forever.

I don't see many stores allowing people to walk in with random files to be printed out. The possibility of copyright violation is too big. And how much do you charge to print the book? How does the publisher's cut get back to them? Some small presses could open accounts in the system, but then it would be safer for all concerned to print the book from a file held on the bookseller's computer, not from a (possibly doctored) CD that the customer brings in. Kinko's and other copy places would possibly allow it, but I can't imagine the legal hoops to be jumped through to make sure the file is the customer's rightful property.

Anyway, this is a fascinating idea that could shake the publishing world to the roots. I don't know how self-publishers will fare, but traditional houses are going to have to reconsider... well, everything.

* Not to mention the headache of stocking books that are printed out one at a time throughout the day. Chain bookstores currently use an algorithm that says, "For every X copies of this book sold, automatically order X more copies"--it could be one for one, two for one, or in one case I saw, a flop that was set to automatically order 1.5 copies for every one that sold. (That was a mess. They were comingo ut our ears.) The books come in boxes and are unpacked and restocked in waves. If the machines are set to spit out replacement books whenever they have free time, then the restocking would be a constant battle.

fantasypod said...

Interesting comment. You are right that I don't think that you would be able to bring a document and have them print it up (right away). My thought is that the Lulu's and Xlibris's would become the gateways to printing self-published works directly to the machines. Upload from home and drive to the bookstore to get the printed book. No muss, no hassle, not much wait.

Issendai said...

Mmm, good thought. I suspect the bookstores will want buyers to request the book at the store rather than ordering it remotely, since otherwise the store will be stuck with books that buyers didn't bother to show up and pay for, but that's just logistics.

I wonder how much the shipping lag affects the PoD market. If it's possible to buy PoD books on impulse, would more people be interested?