Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Instant Books - or Nearly

The future just got a little closer. Rowan Walker in Sunday's Observer announced the arrival of a machine that electronically stores 2.5 million books that can then be printed and bound in less than seven minutes which:
... is to be launched early next year. It prints in any language and has an upper limit of 550 pages. The 'Espresso' will be launched first in several US libraries. The company behind the project - On Demand Books - predicts that, within five years, it will be able to reproduce every book ever published. ... It is estimated that the books will cost less than 1p per page - but a machine of your own costs about £25,000.
I don't think a machine like this will ever replace the traditional bookshop - browsing is a life-enhancing, feel-good experience. But I can see all kinds of advantages of this kind of technology - not least that a book written by a Malaysian author could be easily available world-wide and instantly - without having to go through Amazon, and without having to ship and warehouse copies.

You can watch a video of the machine in action here.


Yvonne Foong said...

Well, on-demand machines like these can only be a supplementary means for book buyers but never a replacement. Mass-produced paperbacks stocked in bookstores make real-life marketing presence.

To let on demand machines dominate the market would mean added costs in marketing as there will be no chance of someone who hasn't heard of the book to stumble over it by chance.

My take is that the same applies to ebooks. Besides , ebooks are also bad for the eyes in the long run.

There is a certain mechanism that drives people to desire things harder to obtain. Books at bookstores require some minor financial investment, commitment in visiting bookstores, and even tracking down out of stock books. On demand machines are too convenient and seemingly simple for the sophisticated book readers, if there is such a description.

As for Malaysia, without bookstores, it will be even harder to encourage the reading habit as there will be far lesser encouragement.

I guess there are somethings that should not go too far with technology. That's my take.

Madcap Machinist said...

From the manufacturer's website:

"This technology and process will produce one each of ten different books at the same speed and cost as it can produce ten copies of the same book."

... maybe they need a new copywriter before they take on the world.

Anyway, I think that this is great news for literacy.

It will ultimately bring more variety to the customer -- 2.5m books! and how many are already in the public domain?

It's a stretch to think that machine will replace traditional bookstores but bookstores can stock less books, place more titles as a browsing copy and print on-demand for the customer. If the customer prefers an 'original print'[?], she can also order the book to be sent to her. The logistical benefits will allow bookshops to branch out to smaller markets, and maybe even reach remote areas.

Libraries will also benefit, for the obvious reasons, but this will also mean that libraries can start to become booksellers themselves relatively easily -- browse, borrow or print!

And the eccentric bibliophile who can buy as many e-books as she wants and then print out only the ones she wants on the shelves.

Then there are the small-time, part-time, or self-publishers... or a book-printer around the corner -- download a book and print it at the Amazon down the road!

Paperbooks may come with a digital file that a buyer can keep as backup so he can reprint one if he loses it -- with the appropriate fee paid of course.

I'm all for it.

Madcap Machinist said...

Sorry, should also note that the machine works using an On-Demand Books network, which I take it to mean that it's more of an iTunes & iPod and less of an Amazon. But still...

Yvonne Foong said...

Madcap machinist:

Hmmm but won't that put the business of publishers and distributors in jeapardy? Then bookstores will become publishers and the whole system gets screwed up?

We normally signed over printing and distribution rights to one exclusive publisher at a time. I wonder how is On Demand Books going to handle that.

Madcap Machinist said...

This is why I think the ODB network is important to make it work--It will protect the rights of publishers and authors by becoming a distribution channel. Publishers who want to make their books available on-demand will have to sign-up with the ODB network. Books not put into the network cannot be printed out. And of course, royalties will be dealt out with every book printed.

With smaller print-runs and less distribution worries, resources can be better spent on editing and marketing. I suspect smaller publishers will warm to this idea very quickly.

As for the writers... well, join the network and publish on-demand!

Could this mean cheaper books too?

lainieyeoh said...

...would be good for stocking up libraries. for some reason this makes me think of places like orphanages, hospitals - on one level. and on the next, the frustration a malaysian would have punching buttons and finding out everything is censored based on some word-scan process that keeps anything with the word 'fuck' out. thinking too much :P. Ultimately.....Ooooh, shiny pretty machine iwouldsoliketoown.

Alex Tang said...

Personally I think a on demand printshop and ebooks are great ideas. Contrary to some beliefs, it actually brings down the price of books. The main cost of books are in transportation, storage and marketing. It makes more books available to more people. It allows more authors to publish their works on line (no comments on quality but we find the same problem for printed books at the moment too). To find a book you want, just google or use a search engine of your choice.

On demand printing was never meant to replace a traditional bookstore. But in time, printing and distibution of books will be changing.

Eliza said...

I had written a long response yesterday but lost it!
I agree with Alex that the machine is a great idea. At 25,000 pounds, it is a hefty capital investment but still affordable for institutions and libraries. I see the benefit mainly for non-fiction books - if the prices of textbooks / technical manuals / how to / latest research books can be significantly reduced, there's be more egalitarian sharing of knowledge. And the fact that the machine is not language-restrictive means that translations of these works will be encouraged, as there would be a wider distribution net than the normal brick and mortar.
Of course digital delivery will not replace traditional channels of distribution - there is joy in just visiting a bookstore - but it would be a superb complement.
And if it brings down the price of books and make the world's content more widely available, I'd say, bring it on.

bibliobibuli said...

i lost my reply too eliza! something funny is happening. glad there is the enthusiasm for the idea, and hope it catches on here.

a writer like yvonne would have a lot to gain since her rather specialist book would be available easily and world wide, and hopefully would get quickly paid for copies sold.