Independent bookstores embrace digital publishing

Associated Press Modified: June 11, 2012 at 8:00 am •  Published: June 11, 2012
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How the Espresso Book Machine works: The machine uses two PDFs, one for the cover and another for the text. The cover and text, both generated from digital files, are printed simultaneously on opposite sides of the machine. They meet in the middle section of the machine, where they are bound, before dropping to a trimming station on the bottom. The book is dispensed through a chute.

Interest in producing paper books comes at a time of substantial growth in the electronic book industry. The Association of American Publishers reported 3.4 million ebooks were sold last year, up more than 300 percent from 2010. Still, revenue from electronic book sales was just a fraction of that for printed books, $21.5 million compared to $335.9 million, the association said.

As bookstores continue to close their doors, crippled by ebooks and digital reading devices, more are embracing the Espresso Book Machine.

Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vt., produces about 5,500 books per year on the Espresso Book Machine since using the beta version in 2008 and upgrade in 2010.

Debbi Wraga, the book machine coordinator, said about 85 percent of their customers use it for independent book publishing, about 350 self-published titles so far. The others use it to produce rare books including foreign titles, or personalize books, such as Christmas carols with inscriptions and family photos.

"Besides the novelty of it, to have customers come and strike up a conversation, it's a way for us to really engage our public and move forward and find a creative way to still sell the books," Wraga said. "It's a wonderful feeling when you take it off the press and hand it to the author. You can smell the glue and the book is still warm. It's almost like handing a newborn baby to a mom."

Wraga said the book machine accounted for nearly 4 percent of the bookstore's 2011 revenue, and garnered extensive publicity well beyond what the store could afford to pay in advertising.

Powell's Books in Portland, Ore., which started using the Espresso Book Machine in early May, already has a steady stream of customers using the new technology. One recent customer duplicated a genealogy book to give to family members.

Emily Powell, bookstore president and CEO, said the machine matches with their mission of connecting readers and writers since "it certainly speaks to the fact that our community is not just readers, but they're writers and we have the ability to offer them the service of helping them get started in publishing."

McNally Jackson Books in New York City, which installed the machine in January 2011, has on average nearly one new self-publishing customer a day.

Leggett, of Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C., said consumers now have control over the publishing process, from deciding the physical dimensions, cover and layout, to how much they want to pay for it.

"It's a way for people who ordinarily wouldn't be able to have a book on the shelf to have it on the shelf," he said. "It's a way for the community to increase the number of people who can express their ideas."

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Online:

Espresso Book Machine: http://ondemandbooks.com/

Politics and Prose: http://www.politics-prose.com/



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