OnDemand Books Provides the Technology to Run Digital Publishing

Dane Neller, CEO of On Demand Books, which produces the software and machinery for the Espresso Book Machine, had a specific goal in mind for the BookExpo America 2011 event: to convince publishers that giving customers and book retailers the power to print any of its almost 7 million titles directly at the point of sale was a good idea.

“BookExpo was everything we hoped, it was a very promising three days. We met with a lot of publishers who are now on board with the idea of releasing their titles to our catalog for immediate sale to customers,” says Neller of On Demand’s presence at BookExpo.

It shouldn’t have been a hard sell. Customers enter a brick-and-mortar store, or in some cases a library, and purchase any book from On Demand’s massive catalog of public domain and copyrighted titles, pay for the title, and walk out with a fully-bound, professional-quality paperback print copy of the book. Yet there have been publishers who are reluctant to release their titles to print-on-demand technology, largely due to the relationships they maintain with their printing houses. Another hurdle to leap is the fact that publishers set a suggested retail price for books and the booksellers set the actual price’ On Demand simply makes the technology available without getting involved in the politics of setting price points.

But On Demand’s Espresso Book Machine is a win-win for publishers, booksellers, authors, and readers. The publisher chalks up another sale, the book store can push high-interest product without losing valuable shelf space to stagnant inventory, the author comes away with another happy member of his fan base, and the reader gets a great book.

“We are bridging the divide between traditional and digital publishing, we are truly the best of both worlds,” continues Neller, speaking of a machine that takes up very little floor space and requires no more routine maintenance than loading it with paper and toner occasionally.

The strange dynamic in the EBM has been low numbers of actual store-based kiosks. Despite its partnership with Google Books almost two years ago , giving On Demand access to two million of Google’s public domain titles, there are currently only about 75 EBMs at work in locations around the country, with another 75 or so expected to be in use by the end of the year.

One reason for the sluggish progression of EBM may have been its steep price tag: the software license alone is around $25,000, and even with the 10% discount afforded to book retailers now that On Demand has partnered with ABA for a discount for all of the member booksellers, that was still more than many independent book stores could afford. On Demand has now made it possible for book sellers to roll the software license into payments in the lease agreement of the machine, making it more plausible for middle and small sized stores to manage.

The real winners in the rise of On Demand’s popularity as a publishing model may very well be the indie authors. When a reader can walk into a brick-and-mortar and buy an instant hard copy of James Patterson’s latest bestseller and a copy of an “unknown” author’s debut manuscript at the same time, indie authors can expect to reap the benefits of instant marketability. This access to a fan base of readers is invaluable in terms of establishing oneself as an author since book retailers can now host author readings, book signings, and meet-and-greets, all without having to load up on expensive and risky stock in unknown books. For self-published and digitally published authors, EBM will provide the capability to put works into the hands of people who actually buy books.

Mercy Pilkington (1982 Posts)

is a Senior Editor for Good e-Reader. She is also the CEO and founder of a hybrid publishing and consulting company.