Thursday, May 7, 2009

Random Thursday - Espresso, KindleDX and Print on Demand

I've talked about Kindle and eBooks before.

In the last month, the printing industry has introduced some major innovations - the KindleDx, and the Espresso printing machine. I'm not going to ask the silly question "are libraries and bookstores dead?", because that's patently not the case. However, will libraries and bookstores look very different in the future?

The Espresso printer is a "Print on Demand" device. You tell Espresso what book you want, and a few minutes later a warm (literally) copy drops into the output bin, hot off the "presses". This article describes the actual process involved in getting an Espresso print.
Thor Sigvaldason, co-founder of On Demand Books, the people behind the machine, clicked a mouse and it started making whirry, photocopier-like noises. Laser-printed pages started flying out from the first half of the machine into the second, where the book is made. It was clamped, glued, stuck to the cover, cut to size and spewed out of a letterbox-sized slot in the side of the machine - where it promptly fell apart.

“Things do happen,” said Mr Sigvaldason, phlegmatically. “It is actually perfectly bound. It just doesn't have a cover.”
(The second copy came out of the machine perfect.)

You can read more about the Espresso here and here.

The second bit of news was Amazon's introduction of the Kindle DX - a larger format version of the Kindle eBook reader. Amazon made this larger version to better "fit" with newspapers, magazines and textbooks. No more "missed newspapers" when your paperboy is sick (or your neighbor is mooching your paper in the morning.) No more soggy newspapers in plastic bags (when we actually have weather in Vegas.) Your newspaper or magazine will be waiting for you when you wake up, on the table, in your Kindle.

Does this mean that books, newspapers and magazines will be cheaper? Initially, not yet, not much. If you do a long-term subscription, Amazon is working out deals with the newspapers and magazines. But it's not a massive cost saving. It's cheaper to buy a bestseller on Kindle than in paper form, but not dead cheap. How about the Espresso? Cheaper? No - figure $15.00 base plus 3 cents a page, so roughly $25.00 for a 300 page book.

Textbooks? With textbooks running roughly $100 per copy, will textbooks be cheaper on the Kindle DX? Again, probably not. You won't be able to buy a cheap, used copy of the textbook. And you won't be able to "sell it back" at the end of the semester. The cost reduction won't be so great either - maybe 25% (ish) (scroll about 3/4 of the way down, to see the cost discussion.)

So what is the big deal here?

Kindle is going to be a huge SPACE saver and TREE saver. Most people don't realize that one of the biggest problems libraries have to contend with is SPACE. New books keep getting published, but there are never more shelves. Libraries have to "weed" their shelves, taking out older titles to make room for newer titles. That can be very frustrating when you're trying to find the first few books in series, and they've all been "weeded" from your library.

Do I really need to say anything about trees? (Poor trees!)

When I look around my room at my bookshelves, there just aren't that many books that I really want or need in paper format. Yes, I want them available, to read any time. But I'd love it if they weren't taking up shelf space (and if I didn't need to dust them!)

But there are some books I prefer to have in paper format. Any time you read an article about eBooks, the author will probably say something like "there's just nothing like the feel of a real book." True. Very true. Having agreed, how many of YOUR books do you actually really want to feel? And store?

Are libraries and bookstores going away? Heck no. eBooks and Print on Demand are just going to eliminate some of the storage/waste issues.

If you have shelves of books, how many, what percentage, do you think you could happily convert over to a digital format, if it was easy and fairly cheap, and the "book" was still there for you to pick up an enjoy any time?

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