The Future of POD, Redux

Earlier this week I had posted an opinion column on the future of the Espresso Book Machine and how I thought it would be swept aside by print shops as they turned to the book trade while in search of more income. It turns out that my predictions were closer to the truth than I realized, just not for the reasons I expected.

It turns out there isn't a bookseller POD market so much as there's a self-pub POD market.

Late last night I got an email from Alan Beatts, the owner of Borderland Books. He's the one who had posted the profitability analysis which I used to justify the point that bookstores couldn't afford the EBM.  The data he used was a little old (but the most current available).  That changed this week following his talks with OnDemand Books, the company behind the EBM. Alan has posted a new analysis of the EBM and how bookstores are currently using it to make money.

First, Alan now has current info on the costs of the EBM and how it's generating money. It turns out his older info was heavily pessimistic; the device is more profitable than he calculated. According to OnDemand Books, most bookstores with an EBM use it to create between 7 thousand and 14 thousand books a year. Based on current cost estimates, that's enough income to pay off the investment in one to two years. This makes it a far better investment than before.

But there's a catch. It turns out that the booksellers aren't using the EBMs to print books from the OnDemand Books catalog (HarperCollins, Lightning Source, Google Books); no, most are operating the device as a mini print shop. It looks like 90% or so the books printed the first year come from walk-ins - local folks who bring their own file and want a few copies of their own book.

Interesting, no? This was an aspect that I hadn't anticipated.  I had looked at this from the same viewpoint as Alan, where a bookstore would continue to sell books from the same sources they always had. Instead the EBM is opening up a whole new possible income source.

But again, that new income source is closer to being a print shop than it is a bookstore.  It brings with it all the headaches of dealing with the author as a customer. This is not criticism, but authors naturally tend to have a lot of emotional investment in their work. This can lead to a heated situation if things don't go well.

And there's also the issue of having to lay out the manuscript for the print run; a good portion of authors might not have a print ready file. But I don't think this will matter as much as Alan did; there are many conversion specialists online who can do it for a fee.

So where does this leave the bookstore?

Well, I think there's still an opportunity here, is it really one that they're going to want? Booksellers have been forced to diversify their activities beyond selling books, so they could always add one more. But do they really want to become a print shop?

What's more, now that the "EBM as a print shop" model is well defined, there's an excellent opportunity for one of the major chains to enter the market. Like I said before, Fedex Office could enter this niche and basically run away with it.They already have a lot of the tech to do it; they just need to build the new platform.

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image by avinashkunnath

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: He's here to chew bubble gum and fix broken websites, and he is all out of bubble gum. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills at the drop of a hat. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.

3 Comments

  1. Jim2 August, 2013

    I am seeing more and more “print on demand” reprints of older, out-of-print books on ebay and abebooks.com. In fact, abebooks.com includes in their search filter the ability to exclude “print-on-demand” titles presumably because there are so many of them. Some of these companies even offer a hardbound version of the book but most seem to be softcover. Ancestry.com provides a service where you can print your own family history from their file formats, including .pdf files. They charge a fee, of course, but they take care of all the production process. One of the concerns I have about POD in general is quality control. I’ve ordered some books, ones I couldn’t find elsewhere, from POD companies where the quality of the printing leaves a lot to be desired, e.g. photographs don’t copy well or text is too light or dark. Then you have the issue of copyright laws for newer titles. I no longer purchase books from these types of companies. Two of the advantages of self-publishing, however, are that it takes the worry out of printing the work yourself and you can decide on the number of copies to print. I don’t have a commercial quality printer at home so for some people who can’t print a work at home, the option of taking it elsewhere becomes more of a solution. In the old days, when books had to be typeset, genealogists, including myself, would be looking at printing their family histories at a considerable cost..

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  2. Future of POD | Making Book5 September, 2014

    […] A post from The Digital Reader talks about the Espresso Book Machine whose role in the future of POD seems to be in the self-publishing world rather than, as initially assumed, an avenue for printing regular publishers’ books which just happen not to be in stock at a particular bookshop. I know that such activity does take place — it is just rather rare, while self-published authors are taking the opportunity to print out half a dozen or so hard copies. It certainly beats the now old-fashioned way of having to print a couple of hundred copies of your book and store them in your garage — in this city garage space comes at a cost which is probably higher than most suburban domestic rentals, and McNally Jackson for example, is printing a lot of author’s books. […]

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  3. […] and again, consumers aren't going to their local POD machine to buy commercial books; they're using the POD process to turn their own content into a physical […]

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