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The Espresso Book Machine Could be the Self-pubbed Author’s Best Friend

The Espresso Book Machine was originally conceived as a way for publishers to get their backlist into bookstores without having to support a large supply chain, but it is quickly morphing into a new venue for self-published books.

Late last week the edcetera blog reported that the University of Arizona’s EBM was seeing just as much use from self published authors as it was from students and faculty asking for textbooks.

However, since installing it in 2009, Chris Schafer, EBM supervisor at the UA Bookstore, reports that about half of the revenue they generate with the machine comes from self-publishing. …

To put it in perspective, the bookstore prints hundreds or thousands of textbooks on the machine, he continues, so the usage by self-published authors is significant. Many of these authors are from outside the college community, referred from Internet searches for self-publishing options, and Schafer appreciates that increase in foot traffic. With the volume of use by professors, students, and the general public over the three years the machine has been in place, Schafer estimates that the bookstore has recouped its initial cost.

Even though this agrees with what I reported last month, I am somewhat surprised.

Back in June I reported that indie bookstores with an EBM were seeing far more activity from authors interested in printing their own work than from readers wanting to by a previously published book. The difference was so stark that one bookseller who’d considered getting one said:

The bad news is that 90% of the income from one of these machines comes from a process that is closer to running a copy-shop or a service bureau, not a bookstore.  It’s not a process that most of the booksellers I know are well suited to — moderately technical and involving potentially challenging customer service that is totally unlike bookselling (there’s a world of difference between helping someone find the right book and getting someone’s baby . . . I mean, their novel . . . to look right).

Now, the UA bookstore has a ready built market of students and faculty who will likely be needing textbooks and other course materials, so you’d expect that the self published books would represent a smaller percentage than the estimated 50%, right?
Well, yes. I’m surprised it’s not even higher.

College bookstores have long been able to print course material for instructors. I bought one such document in 2006 and the ability goes back decades. So I would have expected that the established needs would have consumed much of the production schedule. The fact that self-pubbed books are taking up as much as 50% of the run time on the EBM tells me that the market is both bigger and growing stronger than I anticipated. Needless to say, that’s a good thing.

There are thousands of college bookstores in the US, and if even a fraction decide to get an EBM it’s going to build a broad support network for self-pubbed authors. As much as I love ebooks, it’s beginning to look like self-pubbed POD has a strong future.

Right now only 24 college bookstores have an EBM (and are thus tied into the network), but I’m hoping that will change. College bookstores are the only type of bookstore that is virtually guaranteed to (atleast) break even on an EBM. They have an established need, and some were already halfway in the copy shop business anyway (custom course materials).


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