A few days ago, Book Business ran an interview with Chief Operating Office Tom Allen of On Demand Books, the manufacturer of the Espresso Book Machine (EBM) “ATM for books”. We have covered the Espresso a number of times already; it has the potential to bring the full effect of “print on demand” publishing to local bookstores, libraries, and other institutions everywhere.
As of the interview, Allen said, there were 51 EBM devices either installed or pending installation—39 in the USA and Canada and 12 overseas. This was up from 9 installed at the beginning of 2009, and On Demand Books expects demand to accelerate in years to come.
Allen cites partnerships with major corporations such as Xerox, Google, and Ingram as one factor in this growth, and another is the network effect that comes from each additional device spurring more demand for other devices like it. He also cited the rapid growth of the self-publishing industry, which saw a 30-fold increase in titles available between 2006 and 2009, as a factor.
When asked what types of outlets have installed EBMs, Allen said that any place that could benefit from the ability to print books on demand was a good potential venue, and that to date key market segments have included “university bookstores and libraries, independent bookstores, some chain bookstores, and public libraries.” Allen said On Demand was open to the idea of a partnership with a major bookstore chain such as Borders or Barnes & Noble.
When asked whether Google Editions might affect demand for the EBM, Allen said
Yes, we see this increasing demand for our technology. Perhaps counterintuitively, the growth of e-books is a net positive for us, as more digital content available to e-readers means more available to our EspressNet catalog of content. In addition, as publishers release books in both e-format and print-format, the overall impact of e-books (if it reduces print books) will be to drive more titles into POD or digital-print platforms, and by extension, our network, because run lengths will get shorter.
He also pointed to a recent article in The Economist that said 6% of books in the US were being printed on toner-based or inkjet machines (which is to say, print-on-demand technology), and that figure was expected to rise to 15% over the next five years.
I found it interesting that the rise of e-books and potential “death of print books” would actually lead to an increase in demand for the Espresso, but it does make sense. Print runs of traditional books cost money, and the smaller the run, the fewer units there will be to split the run’s fixed costs among, and so the higher the prices will have to run.
But with an Espresso, printed books could be produced one unit at a time without the traditional print run setup costs. It could mean a better deal for the consumer, and also overall savings for the publisher. And it could also offset a lot of carbon from book shipments that no longer need to be trucked from printers to warehouses to stores and back.
Of course, the quality of the books is a concern. I’ve heard that the quality is not quite as high as a traditional mass-market paperback. But on the other hand, a paper book that does exist is still better than one that does not, whatever the quality, and many of the titles that EspressoNet contains will undoubtedly be impossible to find in traditional print versions.
I will continue to look forward to the time when an Espresso arrives in my own neighborhood.