Under the clickbait headline that Amazon should beware POD, Worldcrunch reported late last month on a couple new POD machines installed in France:
This was without a doubt one of the main attractions of this week's 35th annual Paris Book Fair. Two renowned publishers in France, La Martinière and Presses Universitaires de France (PUF), have publicly introduced two machines that readers can use to print their own copy of a book in real time.
The Espresso Book Machine, presented by PUF, is an American technology that's been around for 10 years. And at La Martinière's stand, Orséry co-founder and chairman Christian Vié offers his "solution for printing books in bookstores," which uses machines by Japanese firm Ricoh, the world leader for photocopying machines.
The technology is ripe. For example, it is now possible to print — in just seven minutes — the 220 pages of Edouard Louis' novel En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule, one of France’s most successful 2014 fiction books with more than 200,000 copies sold.
The article doesn't explain why Amazon should be afraid of POD, but that doesn't mean the article is entirely wrong.
Amazon is wary of print-on-demand, which is why the retailer has invested so much money in the technology. It was ten years ago, almost to the month, that Amazon bought a book POD service called Booksurge.
Booksurge was later merged with Createspace (then a DVD POD service), and as a result Amazon is now one of the major POD services (along with Lightning Source). And that means that far from being wary of POD, Amazon is actually in the forefront of what may or may not be the next important publishing tech.
But to be honest, I'm not convinced that POD will be the next wave - at least not the retail type of POD that WC is talking about.
Amazon's main focus in POD is in commercial facilities (book factories, more or less) while most of the hype surrounding POD is expressed in terms of bookstores and other retail locations.
And that's weird, because there aren't very many POD machines installed in bookstores; even if you count the ones installed in libraries and universities, the number is still quite small.
The Espresso Book Machine, a POD device from On Demand Books, has been around for nearly as long as Booksurge, and yet it is still an uncommon sight in bookstores. According to Lauren Lung of ODB, by the end of 2014 about 100 Espresso Book Machines had been installed in retail outlets around the world.
Here's one in operation:
In comparison, Kodak's photo printing equipment (a similar concept in POD) can be found in just about every drug store in the US. It's hard to say why Kodak's machines are more common, but I would bet that the cause stems from Kodak knowing their market.
As anyone can tell you, Kodak's photo POD machines are installed so people can get their own photos made. But if you ask the same question about book POD machines in bookstores, most people will talk about them being used to sell commercial books.
Here's the fun part: consumers aren't using book POD machines to buy books in bookstores.
Consumers are going to their local bookstore and using the book POD equipment for exactly the same reason they would use Kodak's equipment: they are printing their own creations.
And that brings me to perhaps the biggest reason why POD is no threat to Amazon: consumers aren't going for it. Instead, they're content to buy books the old-fashioned way.
You can blame that on fast shipping times for online purchases, the fact that immediacy has rarely been an issue for consumer book purchases, and the excess of used books available online.
Consumers aren't buying books from the POD machine in their local bookstore because most of the time they don't absolutely have to get the book right this second, so they instead choose the cheaper option of buying the book online. Or, they might choose to get a hardback instead (most POD machines only do paperback books).
All in all, POD is fascinating tech, but it is no threat to Amazon. (If it were a threat, Amazon would have bought On Demand Books by now - or launched a competing POD machine.) Anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell you something.