Friday, December 11, 2009

ASI Partnering with the Espresso Book Machine

I just finished reading a press release that made me grimace.

Here's some selected excerpts:

Author Solutions, Inc., the world leader in indie book publishing--the fastest-growing segment of book publishing, is partnering with On Demand Books, owner of the Espresso Book Machine®, to provide writers with an online toolset to publish, distribute, print, and market their books in retail locations via the Espresso Book Machine.®

ASI has helped more than 85,000 authors worldwide bring 120,000 titles to market through its industry-leading self-publishing imprints AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Xlibris, Trafford Publishing, and Wordclay.

"This is the first time user-generated content can be produced on the Espresso Book Machine® from Web-enabled software provided by ASI," said Dane Neller, CEO of On Demand Books. "Our retail customers can now offer writers a menu of services covering all aspects of the publishing supply chain, including in-store book production and distribution. It will transform self-publishing opportunities for both retailers and writers."

. . . ASI will create and operate Web-based self-publishing services that will be available to the Espresso Book Machine® retailers, who can then private-label these services under their own branded Web sites. Writers can avail themselves of these online services from remote locations or on in-store computer monitors, and have their books printed while they wait. The Espresso Book Machine,® in effect an ATM for books, is a small, patented high-speed automated book-making machine. In a few minutes, it can print, bind, and trim a single-copy library-quality paperback book complete with a full-color paperback cover.
The grimace part came when I saw ASI describing itself as "the world leader in indie book publishing."

Let's review. First we had vanity presses. Then, because of the negative connotations of "vanity press," the self-publishing operations renamed themselves "POD publishers." After that, they flirted with the term "subsidy publishers." Now we have them calling themselves "indie book publishers."

Gag me with a spoon.

Obviously this initiative is intended to offer more immediate and more local printing services to individuals seeking to self-publish. But why stop there? Surely the Espresso Book Machine's (EBM) services would also be attractive to small publishers, too.

Upon hearing the news about the new ASI/EBM partnership, my friend and fellow writer Michele Lee responded, "locks Amazon and Author Solutions in a cage for a pit match to the death."

I laughed at the image she provoked.

The thing is . . . she may not be far off. I think Amazon is overdue for an extreme death match. I'm just not sure ASI will be the one facing them in that cage.

Amazon has done a hell of a job in creating a unique and popular service. They really haven't had any major competitors in the niche they carved out for themselves.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • In February, 2008, Amazon began to notify small publishers that they could only continue to sell print-on-demand books through the direct Amazon sales channel if the publisher agreed to use BookSurge, Amazon's proprietary printing division. BookSurge's sales terms were not as favorable as those of Lightning Source, the printing service most small publishers used. Three months later, Booklocker.com filed an antitrust suit against Amazon, claiming violation of the Sherman Act. Booklocker claimed Lightning Source paid small publishers 70% of the proceeds from book sales versus BookSurge's 50% of proceeds. In August, 2009, the Court denied Amazon's motion to dismiss the lawsuit, so it is proceeding at a snail's pace through the U.S. legal system. I personally believe Amazon is acting to restrict trade, and I hope the Government throws the book at them.

  • The last time I checked, Amazon had 17 regional distribution centers around the U.S. It's unclear whether all of them have print-on-demand capacity.
  • Wal-Mart is increasingly unhappy with Amazon's branching out into other product lines besides books. The recent $9.99 bestseller price war began because Wal-Mart.com decided to attack Amazon's primary business: Books.
  • Earlier this week, Amazon denied rumors that it was planning to open a chain of shops in Great Britain to supplement its online business with a physical presence. Rumor or not, I suspect that possibility weighs heavily with Wal-Mart.
  • The dark horse in this race is Google. It is not a giant leap from having a book search engine to having a giant online bookstore. Google keeps insisting its core business is search, not sales. But they've built an infrastructure that would make it awfully easy to step across that line.

Stay tuned . . . I'm betting that cage and serious bloodletting is not far off.

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