Monday, November 24, 2008

Just a book

McMaster University Bookstore recently became the second location in Canada (and the second Campus Stores Canada member) to own an Espresso Book Machine from On Demand Books of New York.

There has been no end of media drop-ins and calls in the past few weeks; no end of a stream of customers interested in the amazing possibilities that exist when a local bookstore has the ability to produce a perfect bound trade paperback book right on the spot in a matter of minutes.

This is the first time in my career as an academic bookseller that I have seen students wonder at a printed book. Normally it's the latest iPod or other electronic handhell device that captures their imagintion. But this time it's an old-fashioned handheld device. A simple book.

Watching a book being produced is indeed a wonder, and not just for "book nerds" like me. Certainly, the process the EBM uses isn't the same as the one which is used to mass produce books. But it is certainly a fascination to observe. Anyone who attended the recent CSC 2008 in Edmonton and got a chance to see the University of Alberta Bookstore's EBM in action knows what I mean.

But having a technology like an EBM doesn't just create excitement for a long-existing product (the book), but it opens up all kinds of opportunities for publishers and bookstores to work together.

In the short time we've already had the machine, we were able to collaborate with a small Canadian publisher to get the rights to print copies of their book for an upcoming course. The lowered cost of printing the book ourselves combined with the royalty payment resulted in a lower cost to my store and thus allowed us to reduce the price to students by 30%.

Similarly, in cooperation with McGraw, the University of Alberta bookstore was able to drop the price of a "custom textbook" produced by McGraw for one of their courses by about $60.

This new publishing model, which saves publishers money and shipping costs, also saves the bookstore money and shipping and removes the often frustrating business model that includes returning books to publishers. That doesn't even take into account the reduced carbon footprint involved when you're not shipping books to and from the publisher's warehouse.

I'm certainly looking forward to watching this new opportunity within the publishing industry continue to grow.

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