Sunday, 27 July 2008

On demand book printing coming soon

From The Sunday Times

July 27, 2008


Machines that can produce almost any work on request are being installed in British bookshops

Richard Brooks and Shiv Malik

IMAGINE walking into a bookshop and being certain that even the most obscure title will always be in stock.

In October, the first British store will install a device called the Espresso Book Machine, nicknamed the ATM for books. Shoppers will be given a choice of more than 1m books - many rare or discontinued - to download and print in shops to take home as ready-bound paperbacks.

Some publishers are making plans to digitise their entire catalogue of titles, in or out of print. This will mean they can be printed either through the machines or on demand by the publisher.

The Espresso Book Machine’s backers claim it combines the virtually unlimited choice of the internet with the packaging of a conventional book. It also has the potential to make even the most obscure titles easy to buy.

Many shoppers complain that bookstores are overwhelmed by piles of heavily hyped books from big publishers, while more unusual titles become harder to find.

“Books are here to stay and this is a great invention which will give more choice to readers,” said Vince Gunn, chief executive of Blackwell, the book chain with more than 60 shops in the UK.

Initial signs from America, where a handful of on-demand machines have been installed, suggest they will also help democratise publishing by opening it to writers and poets who do not have the backing of a multinational publisher.

The machines are able to design and print books of reasonable quality in runs of 50 for as little as £200.

Blackwell will install its first Espresso machines, leased from their American maker, OnDemandBooks, at a handful of stores this autumn.

The machines are 9ft long, 5ft high, and allow customers to type in the title they want to buy. After about seven minutes, the book is printed out, trimmed and bound, selling for the same price as its shelf equivalent at the shop.

Blackwell says the binding, using glue heated to 150C inside the machine, is of comparable quality to that of conventional books.

The finished product is much like a conventional paperback, although critics say illustrations are of poor quality and the books have a “rubbery” feel.

Other chains are not yet committing themselves to the technology, and will wait to see whether it proves popular and if the machines become smaller.

As many as 1m titles may soon be available through on-demand printing, including 600,000 titles being digitised by the publisher Lightning Source, available to be printed in one-off versions on the Espresso machine, as well as hundreds of thousands of “open-source” titles, such as classics with expired copyright.

Other approaches to on-demand publishing are also being tested.

Faber & Faber, best known for its literary authors including Alan Bennett, TS Eliot and Ted Hughes, has just set up Faber Finds, designed to revive out-of–print books by making them available in small runs of as few as 50.

The first authors whose works will be available include Jacob Bronowski, FR Leavis, Angus Wilson, PH Newby and the poet Louis MacNeice.

PFD, a literary agency, is teaming up with Microsoft to offer small print runs of books by its authors, including VS Pritchett, Storm Jameson, Frances Donaldson and Angela Huth. They will be sold through its own website, as well as Amazon and other online retailers.

Early victims of on-demand books could include second-hand dealers, who control much of the market in out-of-print and obscure works.

Richard Booth a dealer and self-proclaimed “king of books” in Hay-on-Wye on the Welsh border, said: “I’m not worried as they will never get everything on the internet.”

The changes affecting book publishing could be similar to those that have happened in the music industry, which is releasing more and more new work over the internet and increasingly making entire back catalogues available for downloading.

While big publishers are trying to take advantage of printing on demand for their established authors, the book machines are already giving new chances to undiscovered amateur authors where they are in use in America.

Chris Morrow, who has installed a machine at his Northshire bookstore in Manchester Center, Vermont, said: “People are tending to buy the obscure books . . . I’ve had people coming in to ask for Tom Sawyer in French, which we could do, a book on the Huguenots and a lot of history.”

He added: “Mostly, though, the machine is used for self-publishing by all stripes of authors.

“It costs $75 \ for the set-up fee then seven cents a page. Usually they print off 20-50 books for a total cost of $400-500.

“We have a line outside and we are printing steadily, everything from memoirs to college reunions and geology. One woman even wrote a book about two dogs and a pigeon who talk to each other.”

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