Sometimes living in Maine has unexpected advantages beyond lobster, seaside air, and friendly people, as I discovered yesterday when learning one of the newest beta sites for the Espresso Print-on-Demand system was being unveiled at a South Portland Books-a-Million store. Publerati is located in nearby Portland.
Oddly enough, Maine was also a test-market back in 1995 when Time Warner was rolling out its national Road Runner program, which I got involved with when working for Konica in the photo industry, who had a photo processing plant in South Portland. TW Cable was eager to see if a high-speed photo system would have consumer appeal. And now we have Facebook.
I stopped in to snap some photos and visited with the nice people running the machine as well as a rep from NYC working with Espresso On-Demand and the local PR agency Burgess Advertising. There was a ribbon-cutting event, music, and food. Well done. Some kids were crawled up on the floor watching intently as the demo book passed through the machine, very cute.
Here is a photo of the store-within-store On-Demand space, which is very similar to what Fuji and Kodak did fifteen years ago in supermarkets, drug stores, and mass retail, set off in a corner:
Here is the machine combination, which in this case is a Xerox book assembly, gluing/binding machine that allows you to watch like an old-fashioned taffy machine, and then a Konica Minolta printer. I was told different configurations are being tested but given that I worked for Konica years ago, I know how strong their R&D and onsite service people are so would not be surprised to see them in the wider rollout over the coming years. Not many people know that the founder of Konica and the founders of HP were friends in the 1950s and several Konica patents are included in HP products. Here is the machine combo up close:
The Konica printer is the black machine on the right that looks like a woodstove, perfect for life in Maine! Wonder how many BTUs that thing throws off in wintah? That would close the deal for many around here for sure.
Here are some books, which take on average 7-10 minutes to produce from soup to nuts, including this color example of a Peter Rabbit public domain book, which looks great when done. All the paper is archival quality, similar to how the photo machines in mass retail now provide long-life paper you cannot get off your home printer. I was unable to find out about the longevity of the inks, however, which would be important to know for all these POD books.
Okay, so possibly you wonder why this matters? My own view is it will matter more in other types of retail formats than it will in current book superstore configurations, but for now it allows a retailer to print books for self-published authors as well as out-of-print books for large publishers, such as HarperCollins.
It allows any book that is provided through Espresso On-Demand in the suitable PDF format (one for the cover, one for the content), to be available to someone who might not otherwise be able to find it. And it allows any individual to have their own books produced, even simple photo scrapbooks, along the lines of how one goes to the Staples Copy Center.
This picture shows how the important cross-merchandising can happen in the store:
As the technology improves and the pricing comes down (this is not going to be a break-even venture for some time probably, but I am sure the investors behind everyone involved are willing to float some beta testing units while working out the kinks and building consumer demand), I envision these units in some Starbucks, airports, “A” store supermarkets, which have the highest repeat traffic of any retail format, and some drug stores already printing photos. The advantages these retailers have over bookstores is the average person is there several times a week.
I hope the better indie bookstores will be able to offer these as well as they do a great job of buying selected pre-printed books that appeal to the tastes of their clientele while also being able to serve the local market through the new POD capability and author events.
In photo, more of this business actually went direct online than into retail. We now have Shutterfly and others who have self-service Web ordering systems online (e.g., your computer, tablet, or phone), so expect Amazon to be a player in this space as well. And I would also expect the total number of books consumed in print to decline similar to what happened with photos, where far, far fewer are printed now than fifteen years ago. So the on-demand retail store product mixes will be important to watch and a nightmare to plan for as retail space declines in total for books.
Publerati will offer our ebook fiction through Espresso On-Demand to supplement the delivery we are already getting through the Overdrive system to libraries and some retail. I hope we can do author signings using these machines and retail locations. But I personally believe the majority of books will be read digitally in the future and if you simply must own it and put it on a shelf, that option will exist for those special cases. Just like I choose to own the DVD for “Gone with the Wind.”
Bringing this back to Maine, we have seen better than many how the decline in paper consumption has put many paper manufacturers out of business here and cost so many jobs. It is sad, but we need to face the truth, which is the world will spin on its merry way without us and not care a hoot.
I know there is much more about this that I do not know so welcome comments from those with more information. I wanted to share these photos and thoughts realizing this is another instance of technology being early to the game but with the potential to play a key role in a few years. And, go figure, it happened to be going on right in my neighborhood.