Could A Printing Press Save Independent Book Stores?

Pagie M. Gutenborg

Via Forbes

The only thing sadder than an independent bookstore’s going-out-of-business sale is Cormac McCarthy's The Road. And even that gets trumped if the dying bookstore is in your neighborhood. But how are tiny family-owned shops supposed to compete with the colossal catalogue and long tail of Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble's in-store eBook stations? After all, you can't fit five million books on the shelves of a corner bookstore. Or can you?

Jeff Mayersohn, owner of Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, found a way to do exactly that with the help of Paige M. Gutenborg. Paige is not a super-hot salesgirl with a short skirt and a knack for moving inventory. She is the shop's $100,000 book-making robot—an Espresso Book Machine to use her proper title. The digital printing press sits in the corner of the shop, ready to kick out the perfect-bound, acid-free paperback book of your dreams in around four minutes.

Paige, one of fewer than thirty of her kind in the world, can instantly print millions of public domain and out-of-print books from Google Books, as well as thousands more publisher-permitted titles, and previously inaccessible titles such as Lewis Carroll’s original Alice in Wonderland manuscript. According to the Mayersohn, it is part of "a particular mission to have any book ever written available in our store or printed in minutes."

It's production, distribution, and fulfillment at the speed demanded by our instant-gratification-obsessed society, and it makes the odds for this David vs Goliath fight a little less skewed. Harvard Book Store has seen double-digit growth while others in the area struggle.

Is this the future of independent book retailers? Is it enough?

Kimberly Turner

News by Kimberly Turner

Kimberly Turner is an internet entrepreneur, DJ, editor, beekeeper, linguist, traveler, and writer. This either makes her exceptionally well-rounded or slightly crazy; it’s hard to say which. She spent a decade as a journalist and magazine editor in Australia and the U.S. and is now working (very, very slowly) on her first novel. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing and an M.A. in Applied Linguistics and lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband, two cats, ten fish, and roughly 60,000 bees.

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Comments

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated May 15, 2012 - 8:10am

Are all of these things so expensive, or just the model/company they went with?

Kimber's picture
Kimber from Atlanta May 15, 2012 - 9:06am

Dwayne, I'm not sure. But I'd think that in general, a printing press that can print, cut, and bind a high-quality 300-page perfect-bound book in under four minutes isn't going to come cheap. It's just whether it will end up paying for itself in the end or not that's important.

JamieMarriage's picture
JamieMarriage from Sydney, Australia is reading Spider, Spin Me a Web - Lawrence Block May 15, 2012 - 3:28pm

Great little article @Kimber.

I think the future of books in general is so unsure that it's even difficult to guess at this point.

Most people I know would rather a flesh and blood book (made of dead tree, not the Cryptonomicon) than an eBook, but still have ereaders. And Australia at this point is very focused on small-time stores since all the big ones have gone out of business (I think Dymocks is the only big one left).

We also seem to be selling large numbers of books to filthy hipsters.

Where we go from here is anyone's guess.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated May 16, 2012 - 4:25am

@Kimber - No, I wouldn't expect them to be. I'm just wondering if this is a top of line model, and others are in the five figure (affordable by more bookstores) range. I'm not a expert on  indy bookstores, but seems like most couldn't afford this machine.

Kimber's picture
Kimber from Atlanta May 16, 2012 - 7:47am

@JamieMarriage So what we need is more filthy hipsters, yes? I lived in Sydney for years, but being from the States, I noticed that Australia is generally more supportive of non-chain, independently run stores than the U.S. It's a good thing. I haven't been there in a year or so but last time I was, I remember looking around the train and being amazed at all the people staring at magazines and paper books rather than screens.

JamieMarriage's picture
JamieMarriage from Sydney, Australia is reading Spider, Spin Me a Web - Lawrence Block May 16, 2012 - 3:26pm

@Kimber Half the reason that Aus supports the small-time stores can be narrowed down to price. I've had housemates from the US, Canada and the UK, and from what I gather from them the price of a good hardback there is what we pay for a trade paperback. Our second hand books cost what a new one does anywhere else.

It may change one day but the big stores won't be able to build up again unless the publishing industry here decides to set reasonable prices.

I'm with Patrician Vetinari on two points; 1) Mimes are bad, and 2) Words should not be too expensive.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated October 23, 2013 - 6:40am

Can someone clean this up?

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated October 25, 2013 - 6:25am

Please?