Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Changing Face of P.O.D.

This is what micropublishers have been dreaming about for decades, really. One machine that does it all and makes it possible to have books printed and delivered, a single copy at a time. Is this what Print On Demand technology will look like in the not-so-distant future? From The Telegraph:
Crime and Punishment may take the average reader several months to complete, but Britain’s first “book vending machine” can print you a copy in just nine minutes.

A freshly-bound edition of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s classic -- ordered by The Daily Telegraph -- was one of the first tomes to drop out of the Espresso Book Machine when it opened for business for the first time yesterday.

The novel is one of more than 400,000 titles including many rare and out-of-print books that can be printed on demand at Blackwell bookshop on Charing Cross Road in central London.
The bookstore of the future, then, might look very different, indeed. Not shelf upon shelf of books, but row upon row of machines churning out custom copies for waiting customers. Between that and the electronic streams of the e-books whizzing by, it’s possible that, a few years hence, bookstores will be very different places, indeed.

While that idea makes me a little sad, it has a hopeful edge. Back at Blackwell, The Telegraph’s copy of Crime and Punishment was better than all right:
The hefty work that skidded out of the chute, while slightly sticky to the touch, looked and felt like a standard edition, even down to the correct ISBN number on the back.

The paper and ink are the same quality used in larger presses, and the binding appeared flawless.

Phill Jamieson, head of marketing at Blackwell, said that the firm was uncertain how the £68,000 machine -- one of only three such printers in the world -- would be used during its three-month trial period.
And the moral of the story? It seems entirely possible that the death of the book so many have been forceasting will never come. We love our books. Witness the many thousands of readers that pass through January Magazine every day, not to mention other online magazines and blogs and discussion groups and book groups and all of this without even leaving the online world.

At their core and at heart, books themselves will not change. However, how the publishing industry delivers our books, how they sell and market and get them to the consumer, all of that might change quite a bit.

Consider a world without remainders. Now that doesn’t sound so bad.

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