B&N Tests Espresso Book Machines in Stores as the Kodak-OnDemandBooks Partnership Falls Through

espresso[1]Once hailed as the future of the book industry, print on demand has a solid niche in said industry but lately it seems to be treading water. Whenever we read of potential steps forward like Books-a-Million or B&N installing  Espresso Book Machines in their stores, the great news is cancelled out by similar pilots falling through.

I am happy to report today that Barnes & Noble is starting a pilot program in three of its stores, but the good news is tempered by by the news that Kodak's partnership with OnDemandBooks has collapsed.

PW reported today that B&N has installed Espresso Book Machines in three of its stores in the northeast, including the flagship store at Union Square plus stores in Paramus, NJ and Willow Grove, PA.

According to a company spokesperson, customers will be able to make a physical print book of a hard-to-find book, a public domain title or self publish a book. “The purpose of the test,” the spokesperson said, “is to gauge consumer interest.”

"[The pilot] is part of our continued program to grow our base of machines. We're delighted to be testing our machines in Barnes & Noble. We've gone from indies to multi-retailers," said Dane Neller, CEO of EBM maker On Demand Books.

Barnes & Noble is following in the footsteps of Books-a-Million, which installed EBMs in two of its stores in November 2013 (in Birmingham, AL and Portland, ME), as well as other booksellers including Powell's Books, which has had EBMs in its main Portland store for several years now.  BAM reported in March 2014 that it was pleased with the response, but they have yet to announce plans to install more POD machines.

Alas, while BAM said they were pleased with the success of the two POD machines they installed, Kodak is not.

In late 2012 Kodak and OnDemandBooks, the makers of the Espresso Book Machine, announced a partnership which was going to integrate the EBM into Kodak picture kiosks. That pilot was delayed for over a year but eventually got started in November 2013. Two EBMs were installed in a couple Bartell Drug Stores near Seattle, enabling customers to either order a book printed from OnDemandBooks's catalog, or bring in their own work and have it printed.

Here's one of the EBMs, courtesy of Seattle author Joe Follansbee:

ebm_bartells[1]

I had high hopes that this pilot would kickstart book POD in retail locations; Kodak's extensive experience with printing photos on demand and their platform's online integration hinted at several ways that OnDemandBook's service could be improved.

Alas, that is probably not going to happen. According to Kodak Alaris spokesperson Audrey Jonckheer, the project has been shelved:

As you know, the launch of the program last November was a trial run. Though the service offering of OnDemandBooks publishing through Kodak Picture Kiosks was an innovative new approach to providing consumers customizable solutions, it's not being further pursued at this time.

That's a shame; Kodak has photo booths in tens of thousands of retail locations in the US, and if this partnership had worked out there was a chance that thousands of EBMs could have been deployed.

At this time OnDemandBooks lists 61 locations around the world with Espresso Book Machines. That does not include the two Bartell Drugs  stores, both of which have removed the EBMs they had installed last November.

I see from my past coverage that in March 2014 OnDemandBooks listed 74 locations, and that in July 2013 they listed 70 locations. Clearly their business is not expanding, raising questions as to whether it is the tech, business model, or high capital costs which is keeping the Espresso Book Machine a niche service.

About Nate Hoffelder (11080 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: "I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

10 Comments on B&N Tests Espresso Book Machines in Stores as the Kodak-OnDemandBooks Partnership Falls Through

  1. Of course, when I want to book to be printed on demand, I immediately think of going to a drug store…

    The Kodak failure is actually a failure of management, not of the process.

  2. Supermarkets will make more sense but not until the costs of the machines come down. In photo, that took about ten years from the first clunky attempts. Fuji I believe has more photo kiosks in supermarkets than Kodak. Fuji does have the Walmart account as well as other mass merchants. Fuji and Konica both have large established dealer networks capable of servicing the machines as well, which is critical to success. The BAM machine in Maine is Xerox and Konica. Happy to see B&N trying a few. I can see them down the road with store-within-store B&N branded mini stores (think Hallmark) including the newer cheaper smaller book machines to come.

  3. Nate, the early on-site photo labs you now see everywhere in mass retail were also this expensive but then Fuji innovated and managed to get costs down to leasing price levels and Kodak followed. The money is made on the consumables (long-life photo paper) plus in this case the books. The photo machines bring people into the stores to buy other items. The same could be true for books, but in mass merchant settings offering more than just books once the people are in the store to help justify the numbers. Someone will make a better cheaper more reliable machine with time I think and then the rollout will speed up.

    • “but then Fuji innovated and managed to get costs down to leasing price levels and Kodak followed”

      That is one of the outcomes I was expecting from the Kodak deal, yes, but it didn’t happen.

      I think the point which we (including Kodak) missed was that the market for customer-friendly automated photo processing equipment grew out of the existing market for photo processing equipment which required a technician. And that equipment was developed was developed to reduce the operating costs for technicians already processing photos.

      My point is this: books don’t have that kind of a market need – not like there is for photos. People don’t go to drugstores to buy books, and for the most part the EBMs aren’t used for buying books but for printing the book which a customer brings in off the street.

      This partnership was probably not a good idea; a deal with Staples or Office Max would probably have proven more fruitful.

      But I do agree that someone will find a way to get the costs down; I’m expecting it to be Amazon:
      http://the-digital-reader.com/2014/01/19/crazy-idea-amazon-pod-machine-works/#.VAb_0fldWIV

      • Thanks, Nate, and Amazon could be a good one but with the right partner like Konica, who has a huge network of copier machine service techs in the field around the world. I was working at Konica in their photo division when they closed 4,300 Fotomats they owned back in 1992 and brought photo inside supermarkets, drug stores, and mass merchants. The challenge of dealing with wet-lab chemistry in a food store was an added barrier books do not have.

        I agree Kodak was a terrible choice, probably made by older people (sorry, I am one myself so feel okay saying this) influenced by their brand, which is in fact mostly dead. Kodak in their prime lured all kinds of start-ups into their lair giddy by the name and eager to display the Kodak partner logo on their products.

        If Espresso (whoever) want the book machine in with the photo machines then Fuji makes the most sense. Other places, go with Konica. But I don’t think the book machines belong in drug stores either, as mentioned above. Staples, Starbucks, and better bookstores would be where I would start, but not until the costs and technology are where they need to be. As the owner of a publisher start-up (Publerati), I made the decision to go e-only for our titles and then offer POD for some as long as it is through a book network. The network is the main event of our lives. But the POD is very early still, and I do think watching your book being made is very cool and a bit like watching an old taffy machine. Consumers will enjoy it if they can see it happen. I hope a more translucent machine (think Apple designs) out in the open will come to attract attention while running. Don’t stick it in a back room.

        By the way, there is yet another production cost involved in getting books into Espresso so I see why publishers want to wait and do business their current pre-printed way. I imagine they will start to move in force once more book retail disappears and POD makes more sense.

        • I for one didn’t know about Fuji and Konica having photo booths like Kodak’s. I’ve only seen the latter.

          If Fuji really is the more capable company (not withstanding that much of Kodak is no more) then perhaps when OnDemandBooks went looking for a partner they approached Fuji, which looked at the tech, considered the market, and then passed on the deal. Kodak may have been the partner of last resort.

  4. This article is muddled. It confuses print-on-demand, which is in wide use (Amazon’s CreateSpace is POD), with a small subset of POD devices, those simple enough to be placed in retail locations.

    My hunch is that, perhaps apart from mega-bookstores, POD in retail outlets makes little sense. There simply isn’t enough business. What might make sense is a local POD service that distributes orders to local bookstores in large cities and their suburbs perhaps twice a day. Order in the morning and you could pick that book up on your way home from work with no shipping costs.

    • I don’t think it’s correct to say that there is confusion.

      Book POD is currently stalled by the high capital expenses required for what is more or less industrial equipment. There are a number of established players in the industrial scale market, including HP, Createspace, LSI, etc, but OnDemandBooks is one of a handful of companies trying to get costs down to the point that a POD machine is viable in a commercial operation. So far they’ve failed, but that doesn’t mean they should be regarded compeltely apart from the larger industry.

      The reason i don’t see it as a confusion is that if OnDemandBooks gets the costs low enough that will percolate through the rest of the industry and affect everyone else’s costs.

      Similarly, the lower production costs for commercial film development eventually led to the development of consumer level photo printers. They’re damned cheap now compared to 20 years ago, when the tech simply didn’t exist.

  5. Hi Michael: my concern with your assumption is that mega-bookstores may not be around ten years from now, so why invest further in them long-term? How many other types of stand-alone single-product-item retail stores can you name that are still in business? Yes, a few excellent photo stores, music, drug, floral…but nothing like the space B&N and indies now occupy in total or what those categories once occupied. I love indie bookstores and managed a great one years ago but objectively believe books are too narrow a consumer item to warrant the current standalone mega-store retail space they occupy, which let’s face it, has been increasingly taken over by magazines (hurting item), coffee (great!), t-shirts and “literary quote” bags (kinda yuck), and greeting cards (semi-forced purchase, god-help-me yuck). And trying to sell Nooks in the case of B&N. What is the percentage of the total population that actually buys (pays for) at least one print book a year? Isn’t it tiny? Like under 2%? Photo was around 87% (households with at least one camera) and it is long gone at retail. Circuit City, Borders, CD sales and software crashing at Best Buy, Blockbuster…the list is long. Appreciate your point of view…thanks.

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