Thursday, June 28, 2007

You Puts in Your Money and You Takes Your Chances

Imagine using a vending machine to buy a POD book.

That's the "bold new publishing paradigm" the makers of ESPRESSO ( ) envision. It's a glorified vending machine/ATM that they have high hopes for. It can theoretically print and bind a book in three minutes.

I don't see any real advantage for unproven writers, since most publishers or retailers still won't waste disk or shelf space on books that nobody wants, but what would be the advantages for readers?

A bookstore anywhere you could fit a Coke machine? ("Hey, I got the new Stephen King at the Jiffy Lube!" "Oh, yeah? Well, I got the complete works of Shakespeare in the men's room!").

No more waiting for an ordered book to be delivered, I guess, and always (theoretically) being able to get the book you want almost immediately, but at what price will that convenience and instant gratification come?

POD books are already considerably more expensive than traditionally published books. And could any machine hold all the contents of your average decent-sized bookstore, not to mention the millions of books they won't or don't carry?

Or will they be connected through high-speed to a central database?

Personally, I fear for the disappearance and ambience of bookstores. Or almost any other place that sells books, be it a big soul-sucking super discount warehouse, a grubby used bookstore or a drugstore spin rack.

Because it's not just reading -- I LOVE books, and the idea that grabbing a book, checking out the cover, scanning the blurbs and maybe even reading a page or so will be replaced by some vending machine makes my skin crawl.

And what about the noble art of handselling by retailers who know what they're doing? Will that be replaced by shriller and shriller mindless BSP ?

The technology and the issues surrounding it (royalties, rights, promotion, costs, can a POD book ever "go out of print?", etc.) are still being worked out -- which is why most of the books offered now are public domain. But what do you guys think?

And for God's sake, before someone starts using this thread to plug their own sorry-ass book, POD does NOT mean "self-published."

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Blogger Stephen Blackmoore said...

I think it's all going to depend on whether or not it turns a profit.

POD technology is improving. Better paper, bindings that don't disintegrate quite so much. But the Espresso isn't going to cut into anything. Yet. It's going to need to go beyond public domain works and the only way that's going to happen is if publishers see it working. They're not exactly known for their innovation.

The Espresso is an experiment. One they hope will turn a profit, but at most it's a proof of concept. Unless they can get publishers on board it's going to die. But if they can, and get some more funding, and speed it up to seconds rather than minutes, it's a viable alternative to the airport bookstore. Stick it in train stations with the latest bestsellers and it'll probably do pretty well. But they have to prove it first.

I don't think that's going to kill bookstores, though it might change some of the experience. Have a kiosk in a B&N for select titles, or have a bunch of them in warehouses in major cities. A publisher could just send their digital files over the wire, have them published locally and save a boatload on shipping. Newspapers do it, why not books?

It's too bad that POD's been painted with the self-published brush. Ten years, everything will be POD, even if you buy it in a bookstore. It's cheaper, faster and more easily maintained.

1:41 PM, June 28, 2007  
Blogger Glen Davis said...

I've never been able to pay for a book in under 3 minutes at the bookstore around here, so the time really is comparable. I'd actually have to see one of the books they produce to measure the quality. Most of the books read at airports and the like are only read once, so maybe the quality won't be such a big deal at those places.

I doubt any of the machines would carry the books I want though.

10:45 AM, June 29, 2007  
Blogger Kevin Burton Smith said...

POD isn't cheaper for large runs. Which is why a POD paperback is almost always more expensive than it's traditionally published counterpart.

But for a small print run, say 1000 (or one), yes, POD is cheaper.

11:21 AM, June 29, 2007  
Blogger Megan said...

I like this idea for many of the same reasons I like POD in general: it makes the marginal books accessible. (Whether marginal is defined as niche market, microscopic sales or midlist.)

Yeah, I like bookstores, but chains and big boxes have already drastically changed the nature of bookselling. There's also a real physical limitation. I now go into bookstores to browse; sometimes they have a specific title I'm looking for, and sometimes I make an impulse purchase, but I don't rely brick-and-mortar for my reading material.

1:09 PM, June 29, 2007  
Blogger Kevin Burton Smith said...

I'm not convinced this will be a boon for "under-published" writers, though. Just more places nobody will buy their books.

It might be good, though, for writers whose books people already WANT to read. And as someone on a list remarked, it could be great for pornography.

1:44 PM, June 29, 2007  
Blogger Megan said...

Boon? No, undoubtedly not. If a writer doesn't have the sales to quit the day job now, all the POD vending machines in the world won't change that.

5:22 PM, June 30, 2007  

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