Although the cost has been significant, the University of Alberta Bookstore, Edmonton, Alberta, which installed an Espresso Book Machine last November, has found the POD machine to more than meet expectations, according to Todd Anderson, director of the Alberta Bookstore, who spoke at a seminar at the CAMEX show and National Association of College Stores meeting in San Antonio, Tex., last week.
The benefits of the Espresso machine have been both tangible and intangible. "The machine is a symbol of change for a lot of our professors and students," Anderson said. "They are very excited."
At the same time, the store printed more than 50 titles in the first three months of operation, saved students buying some of the textbooks significant amounts of money and has kept the machine humming. The production model that the Alberta store has is "a workhorse and just what we need," Anderson said. "We are running flat out."
Before the machine's installation in November, the store devised a marketing plan, but it turned out the plan wasn't needed. "Everyone came to us," Anderson said. The machine was created by the company owned by former Random House executive Jason Epstein and others. Another one has just gone into use at Northshire Bookstore, Manchester Center, Vt. (Shelf Awareness, February 20, 2008).
Among the main reasons the store obtained one of the machines were to save money for students; keep old editions of books in print; make custom anthologies; print public domain titles; be a printer for for-profit publishers (particularly short-runs from small publishers); serve vanity presses; and print conference proceedings, user manuals, etc.
The machine can handle most any job except that it does not print color inside the book, so that, for example, the machine doesn't work well for gardening books, Anderson noted.
From November through the beginning of February, the store printed 53 titles in 74 business days: 16 were from digital files; 12 were textbooks; 13 were self-published, mostly novels and family histories; six titles were out-of-print; 3 titles came from writing courses; 2 were research papers; and one was a presidential address. The store made 2,364 copies of books for a total of nearly 540,000 pages. The store does not use the machine for course packs.
A bestseller has been Blue Moon Poetry, with more than 440 copies sold. It has become, Anderson said, "a model of sell one, print one rather than print one, sell one."
A typical Long Tail title is The Dictionary of the Cree Language, which the store "brought back" to life.
The average cost of production is "about one cent a page" and the store charges five cents a page--and more for high-quality paper. But it is revamping its pricing structure, effective May 1. The store will price vanity press and series titles closer to LuLu prices and aims to "subsidize the cost of the machine and the cost of textbooks," Anderson said. "I want to sell textbooks, not be a printer."
The store found that using heavy paper for books--30 and 32 lb. paper--made some longer ones very thick, so that for long titles, it uses 20 lb. paper now.
One staff member--who just turned 21--has become the "expert" on the Espresso machine, although eight people know how to use it.
The machine manufactures a book in about five minutes. The main "bottleneck" now is the binding machine with shear. Even with new models, Anderson sees the gluing process as a continuing bottleneck. "The length of a book doesn't matter," he said.
So far there have been only a few major technical glitches: Edmonton's dry climate helped wear out a gear and a belt broke. But the problems have been "easy to diagnose," Anderson said.
The machine operates in the public part of the store and draws "a ton of traffic," Anderson said, so much so that the store had to put a stanchion around the machine. The store offers tours of the machine.
Some publishers--most notably McGraw-Hill, which is allowing the store to print from its Primis Online catalogue--have cooperated fully with the store. "Other publishers are waiting and seeing," Anderson said. "There is a certain amount of fear." The store has followed copyright law "to the letter," Anderson emphasized, and reports the number of digital copies made to publishers who send or license digital files of books.
POD is good for the bookstore and the book world, Anderson maintained. "We see POD extending the life of the print book and extending the Long Tail," he said. "We will have e-books," but the book will retain a major place.--John Mutter