Wednesday, November 3, 2010

E-mail question on new print facilities - writing tip

I got an e-mail this week from an author that read: "I've been reading a lot about the ATMs where you can print your book in 5 minutes. I'm sure you've already looked into that. I have no idea what it costs to have them load the book into their machines and/or if each location has its own particular inventory. Maybe if you get a chance you could address that in a blog or something."

They have been talking about this kind of thing seriously for about six years, mostly using the term kiosk for a set-up in a bookstore where you can select your title, go have a cup of cappucino while it's being printed, then pick up your book and take it home the same day. The first experimental versions went into business about three years ago. They are becoming more and more an expected service and less and less a curiosity.

I have heard it discussed as a possibility as early as 2000. And the "technology is just around the corner" has been a standard in the POD publishing business for years. People raved that it would "put traditional publishers out of business." But that is highly unlikely.

I haven't heard the term ATM before, but think it fits, especially if the kiosk becomes an automatic operation where the customer prints his or her own book. That seems likely as no store has to pay health insurance or salary to a machine that's operated by the general public.

I know that some B&N bookstores have them available in larger cities, using print on demand technology for the presses, which are glorified copy machines. The book files they print come from POD publishers, like us, who list with either Lightening Source or Create Space / Booksurge, or other POD printers. Barnes & Noble picks up files for such titles through a distributor of files and pays us through our printers accordingly for any of our books it prints out and sells in their stores -- just as we are paid for any that sell on amazon for instance. We have a contract with them to do so. From the beginning, until now, we've made $23.19 from such sales, and we have paid the distributor more than $1,000 in fees for printing and set up costs. Nevertheless, it is the "wave of the future." Or at least it is right now.

So my advice is not to worry about how to upload files to this market unless you are self-published. That's the printer/publisher's job and if there's any money to be made at it, and eventually there may be, your publisher will be on it -- profit being such a rarely-sighted animal in this business and we optimist publishers so keen on pursuing them wherever they may show themselves.

Some people think/fear this venue would also take advantage of electronic book files so that e-books could be (illegally) printed out and sold as print copies. The investment in the technology is extensive and no reputable company (especially B&N who are the only ones to take advantage of the available technology so far) would risk a suit over copyright infringement by printing e-books files they'd have to BUY first, when they can just use files they can download from our printers and pay a percentage without any initial investment from them at all.

Anyway, I have no idea why anyone would want to print a copy of an e-book. But any determined person who wanted a paper copy of an e-book badly enough could easily do it on his home computer with the right program available. Microsoft Word will convert a PDF to a document and then print it, for instance. Also anyone can take a PDF file to a Kinko's and get it printed. It's not exactly rocket science.

Besides, the whole advantage of an e-book is that you can carry a dozen books in the device, all for the same amount of weight as if it's empty. No wonder they are so popular with college students who form the foundations of our e-book buying customer-base at the moment.

That, too, is changing. With senior citizens the second largest growth group of new e-book readers. As the Nintendo generation ages and takes up more sedentary pursuits, such as reading, instead of hang-gliding, I believe e-books will become more and more popular, just as cell-phones have replaced the tied-to-the-wall variety.

Nothing will ever replace a paper book for those of us who grew up with them. But for folks who grew up with hand-held devices, and with the improved clarity of imagery and screens bigger than two inches, more and more of us will be moving into the e-book market all the time.

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