On Demand Books: A Vast Virtual Inventory

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Since 2006, when the first beta machine was installed at the World Bank InfoShop in Washington, D.C., On Demand Books, the company behind the Espresso Book Machine, has grown to encompass several hundred publisher partners whose inventory is now available via 84 EBMs installed (or pending) in bookstores, libraries, and universities worldwide.

The potential of the EBM is great, said Peter Turner, a consultant for On Demand Books, “in part because everyone wins: the publisher receives the same margin they usually get (when taking into account that they no longer have to print the book, ship it, and potentially take returns); the bookseller makes the sale of a book that they didn’t have in stock — a sale they would have likely lost to online retailers; and the customer gets what they want at their local store, printed in five minutes.” It’s also a win for the environment, he said, because the need for shipping is eliminated.

Publishers making inventory available via the Espresso Book Machine today include Baker Publishing Group, Hachette, HarperCollins, Random House, O’Reilly Media, Oxford University Press, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan/St.Martin’s Press, Taylor & Francis, and W.W. Norton & Company.

On Demand Books recently began working more directly with Espresso Book Machine retailers to market this content.

“Ultimately, we’re looking to change the way readers think of bookstores and libraries — that they have two sorts of inventory, one group of titles on the shelves, and a vast ‘virtual inventory’ available via the EBM and printable in five minutes,” said Turner.

With the rise of the e-book format and more and more sales happening online, the potential of the EBM sometimes hasn’t been an easy sell, he noted. But, as several well-known bookstores such as Harvard Book Store, Northshire Bookstore, McNally Jackson, Tattered Cover, and Village Books are pioneering the technology, the EBM is gaining more traction.

“The EBM retailers are seeing a lot of success with providing self-publishing services to authors,” said Turner. “Increasingly, the local bookstore is becoming a publisher and printer, as well as a retailer of digital-to-print publisher content.”

Under an agreement between the American Booksellers Association and ODB, which was announced last May, ODB is offering a 10 percent discount off the up-front software license fee to ABA members that purchase or lease an EBM before April 5, 2012. For lease agreements, the discount is folded into the overall lease price.

Participants in next month’s Winter Institute will have an opportunity to talk with an ODB representative during the Thursday, January 19, Consultation Station. Booksellers who are interested in setting up an appointment should contact ODB Vice President of Sales Jason Beatty via e-mail or at (212) 966-2222.