A latte and a Ludlum to go, please!
There is a new gizmo out there on the horizon that could be the big saviour of publishing that so many folks have been waiting for. The thing that could wipe out the disgraceful 40 percent return rate on books. The thing that could do away with the need for huge warehouses and antiquated shipping and distribution systems. The thing that could eliminate the god-awful waste in publishing and finally silence the Terminator pulp machines that turn our unsold copies to dust.
Let me introduce you to the Espresso Book Machine.
It slices! It dices! It makes perfect potato hash browns --
Sorry. Been watching too much late-night TV. Back to the point...
The Espresso Book Machine is a real thing. This is a machine that allows the printing and binding a single copy of a book at the point of demand without human interactions. Here is how it would work:
Say someone wants a copy of my new book, "Darker and Stormier Nights." It hasn't exactly been burning up the lists, so it's hard to find. But my intrepid fan could just go to her local bookstore, punch in the title, insert a credit card to pay and less than three minutes later, walk away with a nice copy of "Nights." Kinda of like an ATM at your local B&N.
But wait! There's more!
This machine can produce a 300-page bound paperback with full color cover at a cost of about 3 cents per page. Three cents!
I know. Sounds like sci-fi, right? But I am not making this up. And it's not a pie-in-the-sky someday thing, the print on demand chimera publishing has been chasing for the last decade. The Espresso is churning out books even as you read this and by next year, you could see one in your town.
The Espresso is being spearheaded by Jason Epstein of Random House. Last year he teamed up with some corporate heavyweights to create On Demand Books. The first Espresso Book Machine was installed in April at the InfoShop at the World Bank in Washington, D.C., which has loaded 200 of its titles online for the three-month test period. Two more Espressos will be installed at the New York Public Library and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, in Egypt, in September. Epstein, who hopes to have the Espresso available more widely next year, is also now talking with a bookstore chain outside the U.S. about installing the machine.
Why is this a good thing for authors?
For starters, it could save endangered midlist titles, give new life to backlists and just maybe, start weaning the publishing industry off its mega-bestseller dependency. When and if every book is finally digitized, the market will be radically decentralized. The old ways of competing for ever-shrinking shelf space in stores will be obsolete.
Sez Epstein: The chief benefit of the machine is that a requested book would never be out of stock or out of print. Books would be less expensive, he believes, because it would eliminate the need to warehouse and ship books. And instead of the current system of guessing how many books to print -- a game that leaves bookstores stuck with piles of unsold flops and readers unable to find out-of-stock surprise hits --the supply will always be just right.
And get this. The Espresso will retail for less than $100,000. Not only can bookstores increase what Epstein calls "their footprint" but average Joe authors might finally have a presence in everything from airports to libraries to your corner Kinkos.
I won't bore you will all the details here. For a good scoop, go to this article in US News and World Report.
This kind of POD people I can take.
Save the Indy 500
Robin Agnew has been welcoming authors and readers in her delightfully cluttered cubbyhole store in Ann Arbor since 1992. Set down on Fourth Street, hardby the ivy-walled campus of University of Michigan, this is a must-stop place for readers looking for a great mystery -- or road-weary authors looking for some TLC.
213 South 4th Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI 48104
How'd you get in the business?
My husband Jamie was working for Borders and I was doing art fairs, and he was frustrated, I had a baby and was tired of travel and the physical labor of art fairs (plus producing all that art work was difficult with a baby). I had always loved mysteries and so I suggested a mystery bookstore. Classic case of leaping into the unknown before looking too closely at what it might entail!
Favorite thing about being a bookseller?
A toss up! Either favorite customers to talk books with or meeting all the authors we've gotten to meet over the years. Both are great.
What's unique about your store?
I think our huge backlist of used books. We are able to often supply out of print, hard to find stuff and also find all the books in a series when people want them all, and not just the most recent title.
What's your best advice to writers?
Write a good book, show up on time for events and don't be too pushy or disappointed if there aren't a million people at your signing. We are doing our level best to get the word out, and want writers to succeed almost as much as they do themselves.
What do you wish publishers knew?
That ALL the titles in a series should be in print! Mystery readers like to read series in order. Also that they should give good writers a bit of a chance to get some "legs" and word of mouth. A recent example which drives me crazy is M.G. Kincaid; she wrote two fantastic books and her series was picking up some momentum when she was dropped. That's a real waste of talent!
Three books in your store you wish more folks knew about?
THE LAST WITNESS, K.J. Erickson
SATAN'S LAMBS, Lynn Hightower
THE WOODEN OVERCOAT, Pamela Branch (these are subject to frequent change!)
What's on your night stand right now?
DEAD GIRLS DON'T WEAR DIAMONDS, Nancy Martin
If you were an adult film star, what would your name be?
I have no idea!