Could A Printing Press Save Independent Book Stores?
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?
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