The Expresso Book Machine

Currently, Amazon.com has a big competitive advantage compared to brick-and-mortar bookstores. In a word, that advantage is selection. Retail bookstores carry 5,000 to 150,000 book titles, depending on the size of the store, retail strategy, and available working capital. As “the Earth’s largest bookstore,” Amazon.com carries millions.

This makes it difficult for even the biggest bookstores to compete on selection. People get tired of making a trip to the store only to discover the title is out-of-stock. But that may soon change.

Last year, I toured Ingram’s Lightning Source plant in Nashville. This is their print-on-demand (POD) service that spits out books in minutes. It’s amazing. A few years ago, you could tell the difference between a POD book and one that was printed by a conventional printer. Not any more. They look virtually the same.

As a result, out-of-print books are theoretically a thing of the past. If the publisher doesn’t have the book in stock, Lightning Source prints it and ships it back to the publisher. This is definitely a step in the right direction. It solves the publisher’s problem (backordered books), but it doesn’t solve the bookseller’s or the consumer’s problem (having to wait for the book to arrive).

Now the Expresso Book Machine takes print-on-demand one step further.

Consider this scenario. Today, you go to your local bookstore to browse the aisles. Maybe you have a specific title in mind, maybe not. Regardless, if the book you want is not in stock—or the clerk can’t find it—you leave the store frustrated. And, of course, the store loses the sale.

This is precisely the reason why so many of my friends have stopped going to bookstores. It’s just easier—and more predictable—to go directly to Amazon.com. You may have to wait two days for the book, but at least you don’t have to waste a trip to the store.

But imagine a bookstore in the not-too-distant future. You make a trip to the store. After a few minutes of browsing, you discover that the store doesn’t have the book you want. But rather than allow you to walk out empty-handed, the clerk offers to print you a copy. “I’m sorry, we don’t have a copy of that title in-stock, but if you’d like to have a seat, I can print it for you in less than five minutes. If you’d like, you can have a cup of coffee while you wait.”

This could be similar to having a prescription filled at your local pharmacy. If you know what book you want, you could even order it online (or call ahead) and pick it up next time you are out.

If you are a retailer, you might be tempted to think, Yes, but the cost of the book will be more expensive that what I could get from the publisher. True, but it’s far less expensive than sending the customer away empty-handed. Besides, while he is in the store, he might just buy something else.

The Expresso Book Machine could once again shift the balance of power. If the consumer has the choice of getting the book now or waiting two days for Amazon.com, most will opt to get the book now—at their local bookstore. This could give bookstores the competitive advantage they have been seeking.

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  • http://historyandhope.com ML Eqatin

    Hi Mike,
    I have been tracking this device too. I think that bookstores will now carry ‘sales sample’ copies of most books for browsing — they may get a little tattered, but who cares, if a new one ia about to be printed for you?
    This will save the bookstores. No more destroying unsold books. No more out of stock titles. But what happens to the big publishers’ near-monopoly on bookstores when anybody who can digitally archive a book can have it available ‘on the shelves’ digitally, just like the mega-players?
    I remember when only three networks controlled all the content on TV. Then there was cable, then satellite. Now there is YouTube. So what do you forecast will happen to the publishing industry’s ‘gatekeeper’ role when, so to speak, the corral fences go down?
    I’ve been wondering this for some time, and would really like to hear what somebody on the inside thinks.
    MLE

  • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

    ML,

    I don’t think this changes the role big publishers will play. I see stores still carrying about the same inventory. Their margins will be better on the stuff that comes from the publishers, and it allows the consumer to “discover” new books, just like they do now. The difference will be what they add rather than subtract.

    Thanks,

    Mike

  • Anonymous

    Wow. For such an innovative and exciting prospect that was one painful video to watch…

  • http://joeelylean.blogspot.com Joe Ely

    Wow…I’ve wondered for years when we could come up with something like this…and here it is.

    For low volume, special demand books, this could be a real boon. Who will latch on to it?

  • http://www.skycowbooks.com Austin Storm

    I’ve been tracking this particular machine for five years now, so I wouldn’t hold your breath. But I’m excited about the possibility, including the option to print books in custom bindings so that people can build a library of their favorite books to their specifications. Hurrah, public domain!

  • http://www.technotipster.com Roseanne Baker

    Here’s why I buy online:
    1. It’s usually 20 – 30% cheaper than in the store. THIS IS THE DECIDING FACTOR!!!
    2. I can read the online book reviews, which helps me decide what to buy.

    But: Here’s why I still hang out at book stores:
    1. It is easier to browse sections of books; I can see about 50 books at once, and scan titles quickly; this hasn’t been duplicated online – the most I can “see” is five or six related books at a time. Then I can quickly flick through the book to get an impression of its content; I know you can browse some books online, but it’s slower.
    2. Nothing beats the smell and feel of a real book.
    3. It’s more fun to poke around in a real store. (And a decent used bookstore is an extra treat! Ah, the excitement of the unexpected or long-sought find!)

    But unless I am having a low-impulse control day, I just jot down the titles and then go home and order them cheaply! I just ordered 360 Degree Leader this way; I’d seen it for $20 at the local Christian bookstore, but it was $17 (and membership points) through http://www.chapters.ca.

    What I Dream Of:
    1. I can buy a book and get, included at no additional cost, (or perhaps for a small nominal fee), a download for my iPod as well. I can’t give up the joy of having a book in my hand, but it sure would be nice to have reading options without having to buy the book twice. Oh, and why not also include an electronic version, like the books on http://www.books24x7.com, which is an amazing site, full of IT and business books, with new ones being added all the time. (Sometimes, I’ll find a book there that I like so much, that I buy it. Or I plan to buy a book, then realize I can get it for “free” on books24x7. (Not exactly free, but my company picks up the tab.) A highlight of my work week is the email I get from books24x7, telling me about the new books they have digitized.
    2. Being able to buy the book in the store, for the same price as online. Then I wouldn’t have to wait two days! On the other hand, it is so exciting waiting for the books – I call it “Book Watch” (NOT to be confused with that old TV show, Baywatch!)

    I am in Canada, so actually, I research my books on Amazon.com (more reviews), then price check Amazon.ca and Chapters.ca, and buy the cheapest one.

    In short, it’s not the in-store availability of a book that is compelling – it’s price! If you want to entice me as a reader, give me a reading experience that takes advantage of physical book + virtual book + audio download. I’d pay a little extra to get that! Printing the book in front of my eyes might be a quick thrill, but then, so is getting that little cardboard box delivered to the house!

  • http://spudlets.wordpress.com Marc V

    I’m curious to see how the book covers are processed in the future for the Expresso Book Machine. Publishers expend a great deal of effort on covers, and it’s what a consumer initially “connects” with. What part of the market will still want hard-cover books with the plastic sheet protector?

    I can also envision used book stores fading away and becoming more of a corner niche in antique stores.

  • Bart de Wit

    I’m wondering how the publishers of the books can control the digital file of the books. If you look at the music industry, the music labels are frightened to dead of losing control over the content. Not so good solution: DRM..

  • John

    I understand the efficency Mike but must also note the emotional connection of the customer and the book. I talk to many store managers who are as bored as they are boring as they unpack boxes and shelf them then repack unsold Rick & Bubba books to give back to you. It’s mechanical and about as much fun as working at Ingram. But the customer who is connecting with more than clerks on the floor and fork lifts in the warehouse want to look at it.
    Core customer habits may slow this down.
    Example. The car business could be out of problems so deep NOW if WE the american customer bought cars like the Japanese. Car dealers don’t carry the kind of ridiculous inventory ole Lee Beaman has to so somebody can wander in and look and pick and sit and drive and decide. Japanese come in, keep what they want, place the order and get it in 4 weeks. Little if any inventory sits with a dealer oweing a big payment.
    We’re spoiled to looking and visiting. And I doubt seriously in spite of John Ingram’s hype, we can break many new authors if you can’t brouse and read a few chapters.
    But as always, I could be underestimating this. I see lots of people at B&N & Borders looking at magazines and drinking coffee. I want more to take away more value from a book experience which means we need better writing, better editing, and relevant content which = fewer returns.

  • JY

    Be careful of talking too much about efficiency. Sealy Yates might see this and decide with all the money you’re saving in production you might be able to do a little better on the John Maxwell contract.

    OR, maybe we can see some savings in production and pull retail prices back to get more customers in. The paper used in most hardback books is about the same quality of trade paper. And that cardboard cover on the “hardback” is costing what, maybe 30-40 cents more per book, yet the retail on trade may be 12.95 vs 24.95 for a hard back. Any studies ever done on customer perception because there’s not that much extra punch for the retail purchase price difference. I recently bought several hardback titles (several Nelson as a matter of fact) on a closeout table at B&N for 4.99 and 5.99, cheaper than even the current trade paper price. The customer has got to see that and ask “what’s this all about?”

  • http://www.finalfifty.com jeff rhodes

    What an interesting concept.

  • http://www.juneaustin.co.uk June Austin

    On reading this and hearing that there are concerns about less profit to be made from this type of book, I cannot help thinking that the book stores are somehow missing the point – it is after all the writers who create these works, and without them they would have no product to sell in the first place. It is then the writer that should get the bulk of the proceeds from the sale of his or her work, and no one else. This is in fact one of the reasons why so many writers are turning to POD in the first place.

    The technology though has in fact been there for some time – although longer in the States perhaps than in England where I come from. Here POD still carries in some circles at least, a stigma, whereby it is seen as vanity press rather than the mark of the enterpreneur who wants to test the market for themselves. You have to have a lot of confidence in yoru work after all to take this risk, and also I might add work 10 times harder than the traditionally published in order for your work to gain any form of publicity. It is though par for the course as they say and all part of the experience. Actually as I have discovered it can be great fun.

    Lightning Source though also have a printing plant in Milton Keynes, in the UK, and many of the slow selling titles from even the larger houses are in fact kept in print by these means. This is though a very exciting development that I shall be watching with great interest, as it will I am sure eventually come over here as well. I can only imagine what it will do for print on demand authors such as myself – we will no longer have to go through long lists of book stores ringing them to get on the shelves, as customers will be able to walk in off the street and get our books printed to order while they wait. POD is the future of publishing – have no doubts about that, and this technology will come over here. Personally I look forward to the date when it does. It will revolutionise the book industry like nothing else.

  • http://www.xagronaut.com/ xagronaut

    Sorry to be pedantic, but I couldn’t resist!

    Please refer to the following article for the correct spelling of espresso (there’s no “X” in espresso).

    How do you spell Espresso? | Coffee and Caffeine FAQ
    http://coffeefaq.com/site/node/47

  • http://www.facebook.com/authorsuedent Author Sue Dent

    “If the consumer has the choice of getting the book now or waiting two
    days for Amazon.com, most will opt to get the book now—at their local
    bookstore.” What I find really interesting is that it will finally break the tendency of “brick and mortar” bookstores to “discriminate” or at least make it much more difficult.

    Let’s say today’s “Christian” (FKA Baptist Bookstores) decide to place one of these machines in their venues. How will they handle a customer wanting to purchase a non-”Christian” book that doesn’t meet the strict requirements “Christian” publishers demand from their “niche” market authors. Books they’ve NEVER allowed in their brick & mortar “Christian” stores before even though they appeal to many of their core market readers will now be available if the store owns one of these machines.

    Boy howdy! That’s something I’m dying to see. Been a long time coming too!!! Can not wait to see how these”niche” market bookstores handle  that scenario. My books aren’t allowed in “Christian” bookstores, (obviously because I don’t write for that “niche” market of evangelicals but now my fans from that market will actually be able to purchase my books at the venues where they shop? Interesting . . .