Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Revisiting The Espresso Book Machine

Last June I wrote two posts on the Espresso Book Machine here and here.

In the second of my two posts, I disagreed with Sara Nelson's lukewarm response to the Espresso Book Machine in Publishers Weekly as follows:
Nelson quoted the executives from On Demand Books saying "the Espresso machine is, ultimately, a delivery system, and they expect to license, not sell, the medium-size-closet devices to retailers, libraries and even hotels. Consumers could go to one of these machines and download a book . . ."

Then she says, "But how realistic is this plan? When can we expect it to catch on? Certainly not until copyright issues are addressed . . ."

I think Nelson is short-sighted and that Epstein's comment to the effect that "the market will be radically decentralized" is on target. I just think that this decentralization will start from the ground up, not from the top down.

Friday's Publishers Weekly had another mention of the Espresso in an article that talked about "how experimentation in the digital age has indeed paid off."
Todd Anderson, director of the University of Alberta Bookstore, gave his unqualified support to the Espresso Book Machine, which the bookstore installed last November 1. The $144,000 machine allows the bookstore to print individual books from a variety of different files . . . Through the early part of February, UAB had printed 2,364 books, totaling 537,754 pages, Anderson said. Since that time, the bookstore has printed another 1,500 books with the Espresso. While Anderson had expected to focus on printing customized coursepacks and anthologies as well as public domain titles, he said UAB has done a wider range of books, including printing six titles for publishers of books that had gone out-of-stock.

Going back to my article from last June, I also said:
I've repeatedly said that digitization and print-on-demand technology will break the stranglehold the large publishers have on the system. They no longer are the only ones in possession of the technology to produce a printed book.

Once the genie is out of the bottle, it can't be put back. If the big seven media companies fail to embrace this new reality, the change will come despite them.

Sara Nelson's comment about copyright issues neglects the fact that copyright belongs to the writer. The writer is the one who leases that copyright to the publisher.

Publishing houses need to recognize and understand the implications of digitization, POD technology and Internet social networking. These innovations are already shifting the power base of publishing. Unless big media moves quickly to share more of their profits or provide more services (like advertising) to their authors, the change will begin from the ground up. Authors will find other publishing partners--maybe new, smaller boutique houses, maybe bookstores like Borders or B&N, maybe online publishers.

I stand by that statement, too.

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