Last winter, Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vermont, launched its in-store Print-on-Demand publishing service with the Espresso Book Machine (EBM), an on-site fully integrated book-making machine that can produce a high-quality, trade-size paperback book in minutes. A year later, the next generation of EBM is available, and not only will Northshire upgrade, but several other bookstores, including Boxcar & Caboose Bookshop and Caf in St. Johnsbury, Vermont; Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Schuler Books & Music in Lansing, Michigan; Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, Washington; and Village Books in Bellingham, Washington, are also offering, or are planning to offer, their customers the advantages of POD service -- quick printing of self-published titles, and immediate access to over 2 million public-domain titles in the Google digital files, including out-of-print titles, along with the current 1.6 million titles available directly to the bookstores with the EBM.
"Lurch" at Northshire Bookstore.
BTW talked with Chris Morrow at Northshire about the past year with their first EBM (nicknamed "Lurch") and what he thinks of the EBM 2.0. Last February, when Northshire had recently acquired the first EBM, Morrow said that he had long wanted to offer POD but was waiting for the technology to catch up. Short-term goals for the service were to "provide more choice for our customers," Morrow said. "We are bringing back into print local histories, and we will be publishing local authors. We will also have access to all public domain titles."
A little less than a year later, Morrow said that Northshire has been using the EBM for self-publishing almost exclusively, and that the store has had many happy customers, as a result. "Many are still amazed that it even exists," he said. It's currently located at the front of the store, but the new version might be moved to the basement.
The new EBM, he said, "looks great, is smaller, faster and better designed."
Morrow noted that he didn't think the EBM should be considered an isolated component of the store. "It is complimentary to the bookstore experience we provide our customers -- more choice, good service, innovation, etc." He also noted that he would like publishers to begin the process of making their files available for POD as a title goes to paperback.
While the ultimate effect of POD on the bottom line can't yet be know, said Morrow, he added that he believed the EBM has potential to be a "significant part of the array of initiatives which help us to thrive in the future."
Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Massachusetts, unveiled its EBM on September 29 with an event featuring E.L. Doctorow, Harvard Bookstore owner Jeffrey Mayersohn, and On Demand Books founders Jason Epstein and Dane Neller.
Mayersohn considered the Espresso Book Machine an essential tool in fulfilling his vision for the store, said Marketing Manager Heather Gain. "He's interested in providing our customers with any book ever written, in any format, and having it either in their hands or at their doorstep -- the same day. We're not entirely there yet, but the machine -- alongside our green delivery program (delivering books via bicycle to the greater Cambridge and Boston area) -- are huge steps in the right direction."
"Paige M. Gutenborg" at Harvard Book Store.
Harvard held a contest to name the EBM, and at its debut the machine was officially dubbed "Paige M. Gutenborg," said Gain via e-mail. "We received over 500 entries in our naming contest and the suggestions ranged from absurd to acronym-happy to raunchy to plain hilarious. Some runners-up include: Moby Click, The Tome Machine, Humpfry Bookart, H.A.L. (Harvard Automated Library), The Gutenberger King, and (my favorite) Gutenplenty. Bartleby was almost a winner, but we preferred not to."
The decision to buy it was made after Harvard owners and staff ran several business models. "Even with conservative assumptions about demand, we will profit from this service," said Gain. "Also, we've already seen that Paige is quite an attraction, and we anticipate increased foot traffic in the store. The machine provides a great and convenient service, and we anticipate working with small presses, other booksellers, and authors who are looking to satisfy their customers' demands."
Along with being a workhorse, Paige is "mesmerizing," said Gain. "I've watched it print over a dozen books in the past day, and it's yet to lose its novelty. The part of the machine where the book is actually assembled is in full view -- so you can watch the book get bound and trimmed to the right size before it is pushed down a chute."
Meanwhile, a day after its debut, Gain reported brisk business. "In the last ten minutes, a copy of Walter Camp's Football was printed via a Google digital file. One Hundred Poems of Kabir by Tagore was also just printed, and a copy of Mann's Death in Venice was printed in German -- so you can see there's quite a bit of diversity."
The books themselves are "indistinguishable from other paperbacks printed by major houses," Gain said. "We're using quality acid-free paper, and the covers are in full color. Last night, we had a customer who was dubious that the books on display were actually printed on the machine until we handed one to him, and he could feel that it was still warm from printing."
At Schuler Books & Music, Pierre Camy, EBM manager of Schuler books, agreed with Morrow about the EBM's ability to offer customers more choice. "We think that the Espresso Book Machine will enable us to reach more customers by giving them access to millions of books that were either out of print or only available through print on demand publishers. Thanks to the machine, we will be able to print nice paperback copies of these books and have them available quite rapidly to our customers."
Camy considered the EBM a strategic response to the information abundance on the Internet. "This is a way for us to adapt to the growing importance of media available online. We are convinced that many of our customers will be interested in getting a rather inexpensive hard copy of a book that was no longer available or only available in digital format until now."
Their plans for it include more than out-of-print titles. "We are planning on reprinting local and regional titles. We'll offer a self-publishing service that will enable people in our community to get a printed copy of their work of fiction or nonfiction. We'll be able to print family cookbooks, family histories and genealogies, personal journals, corporate reports, etc...." The machine will be out on the sales floor to generate interest.
Others possibilities include working with community organizations. "We have seen in initial conversations with several community leaders about publishing works from organizations like the Humanities Council of Greater Grand Rapids and the Grand Rapids Historical Society," said Camy. "Both of whom were interested in the EBM 's capabilities."
Chuck Robinson, owner of Village Books in Bellingham, Washington, said he thought POD was becoming an important part of the book industry, and would only become more important with time. "We decided that we should take the plunge early," he told BTW. Their machine will be installed in early October.
Robinson had seen the EBM at BEA, as well as Northshire's first machine, and declared it "very cool." He added, "It's a bit like science fiction to push a button and watch a book appear within a few minutes."
Like other booksellers who will be using EBM, Robinson thought it would be used primarily for printing self-published titles, at least initially. "We believe that, in the beginning, most additional revenue will come from folks self-publishing. In some cases, this will be from books they wish to sell, but we think it will also include some personal, family publishing -- grandma's recipes, family memoirs and letters, genealogies." Village Books will also publish some local titles that have been out-of-print, in addition to some original projects they have in the works.
Like Gain, Robinson was also pleased with the finished product, "The books look amazing! They aren't distinguishable from your basic paperback you see on any bookshelf. We are really impressed with the quality. It makes it that much more exciting to be able to offer this service to customers and self-publishing authors."
Village Books also plans to take a proactive role with using the EBM for community projects. "We hope to work with the Whatcom Historical Society to bring back local histories that have gone out of print. They ran a bit about the machine in their monthly newsletter. We're planning on doing some informational sessions for local authors as well as writers' conferences."
The machine will be on the lowest level of the store at street level, adjacent to the Village Green. "The space has large windows on two sides, so it'll be highly visible to people outside," said Robinson. "It's also in a high-traffic area, as it'll be close to an entrance/exit to the store and near the store's events area."
So far, Village Books' EBM is beginning to earn its keep by generating its own publicity. "Our local paper quickly picked up the news and wrote a story on it," said Robinson. "After that, numerous local authors got in touch with us about printing their books."
About the risks of venturing into POD, Robinson said, "We know we're launching into unknown territory so we're also a little nervous, but, mostly, we're anxious to dig in and figure this out."