The more I think about this machine, the more I feel it will ultimately be good news for the publishing industry and especially for authors.
With print-on-demand arriving in retail outlets, we could soon see a seismic shift in the publishing industry. The whole notion of print runs could become obsolete, and the publisher's role become one of gatekeeper, designer, and promoter, with production and distribution concerns falling away altogether. I actually think that this could mean that the publishing house name could become more important, not less. It would become a guarantee of excellence, or of catering to a specific niche, much like Tor Books now.
A bookstore could be a simple home for the machines, or a larger retail outlet, with local favourites already pre-printed for the convenience of customers, looking much like present bookstores. The choices would certainly be fewer, but that wouldn't matter, because they would be backed up by the almost infinite choice of the book machine. I am assuming here that there would be a unique digital distribution channel, with all retailers having equal access. That is a huge assumption. Publishing houses could try to restrict distribution to their own retailers, which would create a very different dynamic.
In either event, I think it is good news for authors. There would be less need to sell immediately, with the current paleolithic returns system no longer distorting sales pressures. An author's reputation could be built slowly, gradually picking up speed, without a publisher feeling obliged to abandon debut authors who don't burst out of the gate quickly enough.
With this greater freedom to take a long-term view, publishers' promotion efforts could be both more focused and more spread out. More focused, because it would be easier to track where and when a book is selling (with up-to-the-minute statistics) and adjust promotion accordingly. More spread out, because we would no longer be dealing with a narrow window of opportunity and a publisher could continue marketing efforts for years, tailoring promotions to specific groups. We get a glimpse of what this could look like in the newsletters put out by AbeBooks, the online "clearing house" for thousands of used book sellers. AbeBooks will respond to current news and interests, featuring books - many decades old - that speak to the same issues. Because they are not restricted to recent releases, they can do thematic promotions much better than retail outlets.
For more information on the Espresso Book Machine, check out OnDemandBooks. I notice that the 2.0 version is already much prettier than the machine seen in the video, although I think they should have chosen coffee colours, myself. The word Espresso and the colour blue just don't go together.
How do you think book machine would change your reading and buying habits if it becames the industry norm, or at least a common utility? And if you are involved in the publishing industry, what changes do you think it will bring to what you are doing? Do the possibilites excite you or frighten you?
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