I haven’t blogged on this site for over a year.  However, something I read today has temporarily brought me out of retirement.  It looks like book publishers has finally come up with a good idea to improve service to their customer base.  The idea is to offer some of their books in print-on-demand kiosks.  That way a store can offer thousands more titles without taking up more shelf space.

Check out the WSJ article:

As bookstores disappear across America, some small operators are pursuing a novel survival strategy: The bookless bookshelf.

Their vision was aided Thursday by HarperCollins Publishers Inc. which said it would make about 5,000 current paperbacks available to bookstores through On Demand Books LLC’s Espresso Book Machine. The desk-sized device can custom print a book in just a few minutes. That means even if a physical copy is not in stock, it’s still available almost immediately.

This is brilliant!  Imagine, a bookstore can be smaller, and yet offer more books.  Shelf space can be limited to special editions or brand new books.  Meanwhile an entire back listing can be made available on demand.  When I heard this though, I thought it sounded familiar.  Like perhaps it had already been done.  After thinking about it for a few minutes, I remembered.  It hadn’t been done before, Eli James, of the blog Novelr, predicted this over 3 years ago!

Now apply this to your business model. What if readers can choose to have their books printed in store? See the opportunities this presents to you? You no longer have limited shelf space – you can have a virtually limitless number of books available to customers in your computer system – and besides that you don’t have to – ick! – plastic wrap the books on show! Your store can now be customized to encourage browsing, reading, and imagine how much smaller it’ll be! Death to the big bookstore – overhead costs will kill you on one of those! And think beyond the retail front: your backend will be much more streamlined. No more freight costs, no more surplus stock (wasting paper!), no more burning petrol as you cart books from factory to shopping mall – whenever a new book comes out you just download a shell of it from your publisher’s network! Cheaper! More effective! Do you see it yet?

So, how did Eli predict this so far in advanced?  Is he visionary, or are book publishers just stupid?  I think the answer is both.  As it turns out, the technology has been available since 2009, but big publishers hadn’t gotten behind the project initially.  As it turns out, the demise of Borders may have been the slap in the face that they need to change to realize they need to change their business model.

Kudos to Eli James for his vision. Kudos, also, to HarperCollins for being the first major publisher to get with the program – 3 years late, and sans a major book retailer is better than never, I suppose.

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07163820697011328633 JZ

    Personally, what I’m waiting for is the point where Amazon (or somebody) creates machines that print and bind ebooks.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16509301408503013898 Joe

    This can be both good and bad, depending on which way you want to look at it. I do like the idea, especially the environmental benefits. However, from a hopeful published author’s point of view, this is horrible. Self-publishing is becoming more and more popular, and with that comes more temptation to try it yourself. And everyone who has ever looked into getting their masterpiece published knows that self-publishing is an act of suicide if you ever do get published in the future (buy a professional company).

    With these print-on-demand kiosks popping up everywhere, anyone will eventually be able to be printed from a book store. Not only does this make buying a book ‘iffy’ when it comes to quality books (as in professionally edited and written out of real talent), but it can also drown out the authors that worked their behinds off to get published in the first place.

    But like I said, I’m not totally against it. There’s a bunch of out-of-print books that I’d love to get my hands on. And these things could potentially save me from spending $400 on a hard-to-find book.

  • http://novelr.com/ Eli James

    We’re still quite far from such a vision, though. The way things are turning out, bookstores may well turn to selling precious paper book editions, and/or selling coffee, turning bookstores into quaint little community places.

    It’s really unclear how they’d survive in the digital future. But that, I suppose is what makes it all so exciting.

    Thanks for the kind words, by the way, Dustin. It made me smile. :)