The future of reading gets closer

As regular/longstanding readers will know, I have long thought that POD (print on demand) technology is the future for authors, readers and publishers – and I am not alone, though possibly in a minority. I've written about lots of examples, one post from December 2006 is here, for example, and a nasty attack on it discussed here. Various developments in the interim have bought closer the concept of a reader being able to search for a book and to buy it POD "on the spot", some of which I've written about, but this post at is well worth noting. According to the Bookseller, the publisher Blackwell is installing the Espresso machine (EBM for short, and it does not make coffee) in its 60-store chain in the UK. From the Bookseller piece:

"The EBM is already installed in 11 sites worldwide. It can access around one million titles, of which more than 600,000 come through a partnership with Lightning Source; the rest are in the public domain. It is also in talks with publishers about adding their content, although On Demand c.e.o. Dane Neller stressed the model was not to own content but to act a facilitator. The machine, which On Demand describes as an "ATM for books", prints, binds and trims paperback books with four-colour covers, on demand and at point of sale. Version 1.5 prints around 40 pages a minute and is 9 ft long and 5 ft high and deep."

Although these are early days, and this pilot scheme is for academic books only, the technical systems are now pretty much there. How long will it be before you can go into a bookshop (or even a coffee shop) and get an "out of print" book printed up while you wait (or drink your coffee)?

7 thoughts on “The future of reading gets closer

  1. Hopefully a shorter time than it took for me to get PH Newby’s Something to Answer For. I suspect that this is a POD but it took almost three months for Amazon to find me a copy. I hope it’s worth it!
    Exciting stuff. It would be good if it had windows so you could watch operations in progress.

  2. Author’s agents tend to be uneasy about POD. There are uncertainties about copyright, and a good deal of certainty that POD is far from lucrative. But, as an author, I’m interested in POD because it’s better to have a book available than not and POD may be the only way to achieve this. I’m frustrated that, having published my eighth Liverpool book after a long gap, the first seven are not in the shops. Since the early books have already been published in paperback by two different major publishers, the chances of getting a third publisher to take them on are not high (much though the books deserve a fresh airing, in my biased opinion!)POD might be a solution to this kind of dilemma, as well as others.

  3. I agree, Martin, that a very obvious use of POD that seems to be in everyone’s interest (author, reader, publisher) is for publishers to continue to digitise their backlists, so the concept of “out of print” no longer applies. I agree, as a reader, that when one discovers an author, one often wants to read his or her previous books, which these days is impossible even with the most famous authors (eg my experience of trying to buy any previous Doris Lessings the day after she won the Nobel, for my daughter — the books were not in stock in any of Kingston’s bookshops because of a sudden rush on them — they just “were not in stock”).
    Another example is noted by Clare, in her attempts to read the Booker prize “backlist”. (Similarly for Stanley Middleton’s books.)

  4. Maxine – as an author, I have mixed feelings about POD (I currently have around 5 titles on POD with major publishers).
    Where it’s a title that is pretty well on its last legs commercially, but I still sell myself at seminars etc., it is absolutely great to get POD copies.
    However, when it’s a title that the publisher is really doing nothing with, but has potential to sell much better, it’s a nightmare for the author. One of my books was recently re-published by Macmillan Science, and it’s doing very well now. Up to then it was stagnating with another publisher. If they’d taken it to POD and I couldn’t get the rights back, it would have been very bad for me.
    I’m also not entirely sure that the in-shop model with ever really fly. POD is fine when you buy from Amazon, but when I go in a bookshop, the whole point is to be able to handle the books and check out what’s new. If I knew what I wanted, I wouldn’t have bothered to go in there in the first place.

  5. Right, Brian, it would probably fit best in an Internet cafe, surf, order and take home your book.
    But I do agree with you about browsing in bookships, I am addicted to that, for sure.
    I have to admit to almost total ignorance in the world of rights, agents etc. It all sounds very different from the world of scientific journal publshing, where the debate is along very different lines.

  6. It seems to me that this is a genuinely exciting development. I too love browsing bookshops and with this method will still be able to do so. The EBM won’t be replacing those books that would still be on the shelves, simply adding another option.
    Anything that increases the range of what’s available as well as reducing the environmental impact of book production, delivery and storage etc has my vote. It’s harnessing the potential of the new technology, yet encouraging us to get out into Real Shops and away from our keyboards.
    As for rights, as mentioned by Brian, I guess that authors and agents need to take on the new technology and its implications when negotiating contracts.

  7. POD means publishers can reduce printing, shipping and distribution costs to zero. Everything else aside, I’d think that would ensure its success.
    And… since a publisher will be only the guy who controls access to the database of his or her books, it means authors will need publishers only for publicity and advertising. I would not be surprised to see authors form a coooperative POD enterprise to handle those aspects of the business.

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