images.jpgThe Arizona State University Bookstore is finishing up its first semester with print-on-demand publishing available for a limited selection of textbooks, a service offered through a pilot program in conjunction with Hewlett-Packard.

Print-on-demand has been available in some capacity for the greater part of the last decade, but the technology is still in its infant stages, yet to go mainstream. The technology offers students the ability to tell the bookstore staff what books they need and have them printed there in under twelve minutes. The biggest advantage to this is never running out of the books students need.

Print-on-demand is “an evolutionary strategy somewhere between print and digital, because there will probably never be a time when someone doesn’t want a print book,” said Dennis Mekelburg, ASU Bookstore Associate Director.

Mekelburg recounted a story about a student who came in, urgently requesting the Accounting 271 book. Mekelburg told the student to come back in 12 minutes. Confused, the student came back ten minutes later, just in time to see the book finish being trimmed and bound. He was then handed the book “hot off the press.”

Mekelburg told this anecdote to illustrate the advantages of having print-on-demand on campus, pointing out that with enough publisher support, the bookstore needn’t ever tell another student that he or she must place an order and wait for it to be shipped. Publisher support is the key, however, and they have traditionally not been eager to accept new digital technologies that shift some control of their texts to third parties.

“It’s one thing to have the computing technology, it’s one thing to have a willing bookstore, but people who actually own the book have to be at the table,” said Mark Searle, Vice President of Academic Personnel.

This can be seen with this year’s shift to what is commonly referred as the “agency model,” a new pricing system enforced by contract between the largest U.S. publishers and digital distributors such as Apple and Amazon. These publishers had been unhappy with Amazon’s aggressive $9.99 pricing on many commercial e-books that they argued may be worth more to readers.

Unlike the $9.99 bestsellers on Amazon, digital textbooks can still cost well over $100. Like other publishers, textbook publishers may be apprehensive about seeing their books devalued, but not without reason. The overhead costs of publishers’ printing divisions do not disappear over night. They still have to print enough books to ensure that demand is met. Not all students have a print-on-demand option readily available. This means that in the short run, publishers’ costs change very little, while bookstores push to decrease price.

Mekelburg acknowledged that publishers who join the program in the future, or who broaden their selection of available texts, could charge the same price as the copies they ship themselves.

“Publishers do control the price,” Searle said, but print-on-demand “has great promise” in decreasing costs for students. Mekelburg estimates that printing costs will start to shrink over time as more people move towards digital technology to supply their books.

“They may lose a little bit of margin on the printing side, but they also strip out those expenses,” Mekelburg said.
Reducing textbook costs is a primary consideration during the selection process according to Searle. The process always hinges on decisions made by faculty members, he said, because they choose the books for their classes. However, costs must be provided up front.

“Under both state and federal action now, booksellers must provide to our faculty the costs of all the materials that they’re considering,” Searle said.

Starting next year, Searle said faculty members will be able to order books online via ASU’s website. The website will work in collaboration with CourseSmart, a distributor of e-textbooks. This will provide faculty members the ability to browse books’ full content online, making a decision as to whether or not it is right for their classes without requiring a hard copy. Mekelburg suggested that the large number of samples sent out to faculties across the country may also be a large part of costs passed onto students.

Printing isn’t the only thing publishers save money on. Mekelburg said 20 percent of the bookstore’s textbooks are sent back to publishers every semester, which is a costly endeavor. Mekelburg emphasized that reducing shipping also reduces ASU’s carbon footprint, an important cause to the university and one that landed it on this year’s Green College Honor Roll from The Princeton Review.

The HP print-on-demand pilot is currently being tried at two other universities, University of Kansas and Portland State University, but it is not the only print-on-demand machine on college campuses. The Espresso Book Machine is the first to popularize the technology with its all-in-one publishing. The University of Arizona got the EBM in 2009.

While not trying to elicit the competitive spirit that exists between ASU and U of A, Mekelburg lauded the advantages of the HP machine, which has not yet been branded with any specific name.

“Rather than sheet-feed like a copy machine, it comes off a big roll of paper, so it’s faster,” Mekelburg said, comparing the two print-on-demand services, adding that the HP machine can print about 200-250 pages per minute. He also said the HP prints both sides of each page simultaneously, while the EBM must do each side one at a time.

Another big advantage, according to Mekelburg, is that the HP machine is actually made up of multiple machines, unlike the all-in-one EBM. ASU has a black-and-white copier that acts as redundancy in case the printing machine goes down for whatever reason. “We also have a redundant color printer,” he said, which is used to print to the covers. The other parts such as the laminator and the trimmer are more reliable, Mekelburg said, and “generally don’t go on the fritz.” Another one can be shipped in if the problem is bad enough, allowing the bookstore to replace only one part of the entire process. If one part of the EBM breaks, the entire machine becomes inoperable.

The HP machine can create books between 32 and 750 pages. The binding is not tough enough to hold together fewer than 32 pages, Mekelburg said, and more than 750 pages requires binding larger than the 11″x17″ cover stock used by the machine.

To help ease publishers minds, HP uses its own brand of Digital Rights Management for files that can be printed. DRM is file encryption used to keep third parties from getting and distributing digital files illegally. It is commonly used for music, movies, and e-books sold online. Amazon, Apple, Adobe, and Barnes and Noble all use their own form of DRM, each incompatible with their competitors’ devices and software. HP has now created its own proprietary DRM, Mekelburg said, but its design isn’t for public consumption. Their files are only to be used on HP’s specific machine and distributed among its operators.

DRM helps nudge publishers towards accepting the technology by assuaging fears of piracy. These fears have become intensified over the last decade among content owners due to the music industry’s massive drop in profits since online file sharing has become prevalent.

One of the advantages of DRM is that publishers can set a file to expire. For example, a publisher can give a campus rights to print a book for one semester, after which the file becomes unreadable. This is already common practice with digital textbooks, which students often pay to use for 180 or 360 days.

Files needn’t be supplied by publishers, though. People who wish to print books they have written or public domain books need only bring in the PDF file on a thumb drive. Public domain books are those that are no longer protected by copyright. These generally include literature published prior to the 20th century. The ASU bookstore has a few such books printed up for students to take as samples. Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Fin and Marry Shelley’s Frankenstein are both on display.
People wishing to print public domain books only need to cover the cost of the materials, which Mekelburg said amounts to about two cents per page plus the cost of printing the cover.

ASU has been engaged in other efforts involving digital technology for textbooks. Last year, ASU was part of a five-campus trial program involving Amazon’s Kindle DX e-book reader. It was used in HON 171-272, The Human Event, taught by Professor Ted Humphrey.

“I volunteered for it and explicitly sought it out,” Humphrey said, adding that he had been a fan of the device since he first used it for his own research.

While students used the device for one class, multiple books were required for the course. Samantha De Palo, a student involved in the trial, estimated that she had to use 10 to 15 books on the Kindle that semester. The primary advantage students later discussed involved not having to carry around multiple books, but rather have all their required reading material on one, slim device.

De Palo “didn’t really know what (the Kindle) was at the time I enrolled in the course,” she said, adding that “it worked out really well.”

Though she did not know much about the device, she did know the Kindle would be used in the class prior to registering. Galen Lamphere-Englund did not even know that much at the time of registration.

“I’ve been pretty pleased with the Kindle experience,” Lamphere-Englund said. “I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did.”

Both students continue to use their Kindles, which they got to keep, for class and leisurely reading. They lauded the device for saving them money on books and convenient features such as the built-in dictionary. Still, Lamphere-Englund sited the same disadvantages as those that were initially reported after the trials across the five campuses: the Kindle’s display does not work well with graphic-intensive books or those that include a lot of charts and graphs. Students prefer paper books for studying because they can use more versatile note-taking techniques.

Print-on-demand can help solve this problem. It allows for books to have a cheaper production cost (although it is not entirely digital, and some print costs are incurred) while giving students the option for a paper copy.

“We’re motivated by trying to find ways to both enhance the quality of the learning experience for the student and reduce the costs of materials in that learning,” Searle said. Digital technology may have the capacity to do both. “It’s a real win-win environment for everybody.”

Sources: [omitted]

Editor’s Note: Matt is a journalism major at ASU and approached TeleRead about publishing a story. Naturally, we were happy to have him. Any other students out there want to contribute? PB


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