Related Articles

24 users responded in this post

Subscribe to this post comment rss or trackback url
mygif

It sounds like the best use for this technology now is for out of print books. If you really want to read some out of print 1940′s SF, it’s either this or pray that a used copy of the book appears on E-Bay (or Kindle, but then you have to stare at a computer screen rather than something which resembles paper.)

ReplyReply
mygif

And if instant-on-the-spot produced books which avoid the necessities of large print runs aren’t going to get produced more cheaply, a lot of the Espresso’s appeal drops away immediately. It can’t make academic books cheaper either because those are already printed at such small print runs that the savings generated by the Espresso are minimal at best.

I think you need to keep in mind that the overhead cost on this thing is probably phenomenal right now. And it’s geared towards out-of-print books. So the marketing strategy is basically, “Go spend collector’s prices to buy a first edition Alice in Wonderland, or just give me $30 and have a copy to read to your kids.” And that’s not entirely unreasonable.

When the Xerox printer first debued, you could get photocopies for, like, $1 a page or some nonsense. Because it was a hell of a lot faster than copying by hand and the machine costs $50k off the shelf.

So yeah, this is the beginning, not the end. The prices will come down when the machines start getting rolled out into production and competitors start cropping up. For now, they’re just trying to recoup initial investment.

ReplyReply
mygif

“Go spend collector’s prices to buy a first edition Alice in Wonderland, or just give me $30 and have a copy to read to your kids.”

Isn’t the entire point of a “first edition” — and the subsequent collector’s prices — the “very bookishness of books,” as MGK puts it? Once you’re at the point of having a mechanically printed and bound copy, how does it matter whether it’s a cheap copy of a First Edition vs. any other edition? I’m a bit confused about that part of your analogy.

ReplyReply
mygif

Oh, sweet. This stuff I totally know. Indeed.

And you’re totally right.

Seth Godin makes a rather cogent point I very much, at this point anyway, agree with: we are going to reach a point where books are souvenirs.

I was a big supporter of the Espresso when I first heard about it. But when I first heard about it was a solid year or so before the introduction of either the iPhone or the Kindle. I recently upgraded my own phone to a Blackberry Pearl Flip, and I love the damned thing. Not sure I’d read a novel on it, but short stories? Hell, my text messages have become short stories.

Novels? I’ve got a netbook. HP2133. Wi-fi and Adobe Reader is all you need, really. I don’t mind an e-book on a screen. I’ve heard people lament that it’s more difficult to take a laptop in the bath, but I don’t bathe anyway (showers ftw!). Also, I’m a writer. Novelist and screenwriter, come that; I’m always reading on a screen, because I’m always writing on one. It just doesn’t bother me.

Would I give up my books in favor of e-books? Some of them. Not all of them. The ones I wouldn’t give up are my souvenirs. They’re the ones I enjoy the bookishness of, I guess, if that’s how you want to put it; me, I like a good bookshelf. I like the look of it, and I also, at times, enjoy reading unplugged. Not so much not on a screen as freer from the temptation of signing on to download a song a character just mentioned, or something.

I haven’t seen an Espresso book, but I’ve seen a lot of POD books; my own is one. I’m satisfied with my book, but I’d change it if I could; the cover is too glossy, for one, and the dimensions are just a bit taller and wider than I’d like. The interior’s fine, though, so I don’t complain. And besides that, most of the sales have been downloads, anyway.

And let’s be honest: DVD rental vending machines haven’t replaced video stores mainly because Netflix and torrent sites pretty much drove them out of business, anyway.

ReplyReply
mygif
Bryce (Mouser) said on April 24th, 2009 at 6:53 pm

They actually DO have competition, and that’s the Kindle. Or (hopefully) the otherway around where the Kindle books will go down in price.

One hopes.

ReplyReply
mygif

I’m a bit confused about that part of your analogy.

There are editing changes and revisions between editions. I mean, I agree, maybe that’s kinda a silly example. But perhaps there’s an old translation of the King James bible no one but a biblical scholar would use – or maybe you want to read the King James Bible in Hebrew and (due to a lack of market) no one is willing to print it. Or perhaps you want a copy of Alice in Wonder Land that uses a certain specific illustrator.

I mean, there are things that simply are not in print anymore that people would want to own. Under the current system, the cost of those things would be ABOVE retail price. Asking retail price for a book that would be more expensive any other way you would get it (excluding digital) is hardly unfair.

And there are sacrifices you’ll make that your kids just won’t understand. Bookishness isn’t inherently good or bad. It’s just something you personally appreciate. Making something “less bookish” doesn’t actually make it worse. I mean, I’m sure there are a few left who still pin for the oil lantern or the steam powered locomotive, but I like to think we’re not worse off as a society having moved past them.

ReplyReply
mygif

I don’t want to defend something that might kill independent bookstores, but I have to take issue with point #1. The price of books has NOTHING AT ALL to do with any physical property of the book. A hardcover doesn’t reflect the price of cardboard. A long book doesn’t cost more than a short book. An instant, crappily bound book won’t cost less than a properly bound one.

What you are paying for with a book is mostly to humans. You’re paying the authors, primarily, and the editors and the distributors and the publishers. Academic books cost a lot because you still have to compensate the five authors for their 5 years of research, even if you only plan to sell 15 copies. Cutting production costs won’t mean the intellectual property will be worth any less.

ReplyReply
mygif

In my day, I’ve had to acquire a book that had been printed from a microfiche and bound. It would have been possible to find a reprint, sure, but I wasn’t able to get the microfiche, or print it myself. If something like this means no more filching from Elias Ashmole, all the better.

ReplyReply
mygif

Wait – I don’t think I follow.

How won’t this help in terms of academic books? I thought this was ideal for books that needed to be printed in small runs – like academic books might be. I thought small runs created more expensive books to offset the small runs? If so, how wouldn’t this be a boon, other than the obvious “well they’re being shits about price”

ReplyReply
mygif

“What you are paying for with a book is mostly to humans. You’re paying the authors,”

Um. Seriously? Because not really much at all. 10% royalty is high for authors, and it’s usually a graduated system. That is, an author gets 7% royalties on the first 500, then 9% on the first 1500, and then 12% thereafter. I’m pretty sure the highest I’ve ever heard it go is 15%, which would be, what, $4 for every $25 hardcover? Not to mention that even those rarely occur, given that an author gets an advance against royalties, and so often never sees a penny for the first thousand or so book sold.

“Academic books cost a lot because you still have to compensate the five authors for their 5 years of research,”

What? Can you cite this somehow? Because so far as I know, books get advances, period. If a book gets, say, a $5000 advance, it doesn’t get $5000 for each author. It gets $5000 for all the authors, so your five authors get $1000 each for their years of research. Well. Minus agent fees where applicable, minus taxes (self-employed taxes are horrors), minus etc.

The people compensating five authors for five years of research are usually the universities where they’re conducting the research, because they’re usually teaching classes simultaneously. Well. Teaching as they research. Not five guys teaching a class all at once, though that might be entertaining.

I’m pretty sure publishers get the largest chunk of the profit. But then, that’s partly because they’re the ones who have to invest so much into it in the first place.

ReplyReply
mygif

Um. Seriously? Because not really much at all. 10% royalty is high for authors, and it’s usually a graduated system.

What Charlotte actually meant was “when you pay for a book, you’re primarily paying for intellectual property rights.” It doesn’t matter really how much of that goes to the publisher and how much to the author; the cost of actually materially producing the book is much less of the price than the intellectual property cost.

It’s not so much less that a reduction in production costs shouldn’t be reflected in the cost of the book. But it’s less.

Because so far as I know, books get advances, period.

Academic book publishing works differently from standard publishing because, frankly any jackass can write a novel but writing class-grade textbooks, especially at the university level, requires the apropriate skillset and level of knowledge. At that level the writers aren’t so much working creatives as they are contractors. They can afford to be much more stringent about giving up their intellectual property rights.

The people compensating five authors for five years of research are usually the universities where they’re conducting the research, because they’re usually teaching classes simultaneously.

No, the universities are paying them to teach. Research is ultimately their own endeavour, entirely separate from teaching, and if they get paid for it by the university it’s a different paycheque and different job title that they happen to additionally have.

ReplyReply
mygif

“No, the universities are paying them to teach. Research is ultimately their own endeavour, entirely separate from teaching,”

Aren’t many universities known as research institutions?

And by academic publishing, we mean textbooks and not just the non-fiction work academic presses publish?

I’ll leave the “any jackass can write a novel” thing alone, because you’re right. Just not a good one.

ReplyReply
mygif

Will Entrekin: ““What you are paying for with a book is mostly to humans. You’re paying the authors,”

Um. Seriously? Because not really much at all. 10% royalty is high for authors, and it’s usually a graduated system. That is, an author gets 7% royalties on the first 500, then 9% on the first 1500, and then 12% thereafter. I’m pretty sure the highest I’ve ever heard it go is 15%, which would be, what, $4 for every $25 hardcover? Not to mention that even those rarely occur, given that an author gets an advance against royalties, and so often never sees a penny for the first thousand or so book sold.”

The author isn’t the only person who gets paid.

Editor. Sales person. Publicity. Accountants. Managers. IT (who put together that kewl system and who’s keeping it running?). Production (who’s ordering the paper, cardboard, etc?). Personnel, to make sure everyone gets paid and gets days off.

ReplyReply
mygif

I think MGK clarified my position fairly accurately there. :) As to citations, I can only cite experience – I work in an academic bookstore selling academic books to academics, many of whom publish their work.

Academic books are not always textbooks, though some are. I think your second definition is closer, though there’s a difference between “non-fiction” and “academic”. When a publisher solicits a title as “academic” rather than “trade” it refers to an entirely different publishing (and pricing) model. For starters, the academic book contract is usually agreed upon before the book is written, based on an abstract and the author’s credentials. Trade publishers, unless from established authors, pay for finished manuscripts. The academic book is marketed at institutions (universities and libraries), the trade book at the public. The academic books sometimes get published not because they anticipate heavy sales but because the book is necessary to fill a hole in “the literature”; the publishers know they will only ever sell a handfull of copies and those will be to institutional libraries at a large per unit cost.

All of this means that there is a heavy intellection cost to producing the book which has nothing to do with physical production. And lowering the price will not increase the unit sales of these books. _Finding Room: Policy Options for a Canadian Rental Housing Strategy_ or _Defining Urban Design: CIAM Architects and the Formation of a Discipline, 1937-69_ will sell the same number of copies whether they cost $10 or $80. The few people who need them will pay whatever the publisher asks and that’s pretty much it.

A print on demand machine makes a lot of sense for academic books because you were never going to mass produce the damn things anyway, and this way you print the 150 copies you needed rather than guessing you might need 180 or 120.

ReplyReply
mygif

The problem with academic textbooks is that from a student’s point of view, they’re up against a monopoly. If a given text is required for the class, you have to buy exactly that.

Which is why the price is high- no competition. The instructors all get free copies, so they don’t care about the price. They (or a department head or whatnot) pick the textbook, and the students get screwed. Then next semester, there’s a new edition of the textbook, so the student can’t just pass ‘em on.

I’ve taken way too many classes where the text was more expensive than the tuition. Usually for no good reason.

ReplyReply
mygif
NCallahan said on April 25th, 2009 at 12:52 am

So I can go up to one of these machines and I randomly flip through books I have never heard of before, yeah?

ReplyReply
mygif

I agree with supergp.

Also, I could see this tool as a way to bring back the print industry. With these kinds of machines spitting out books as quickly as they suggest, they could be surely be set up by individual people to create their own individual and independent publishing companies.

ReplyReply
mygif

This has nothing to do with the sort of textbooks you’re talking about, which sell a large number of copies. Printing a large number of books has always been cheap (of course, this just makes your complaints more justified…); POD only matters for cases where you have unpredictable and small print-runs.

ReplyReply
mygif

Oh, and publishing companies are already separate from printing companies… the hard part of starting a publisher is not getting the books physically assembled. Plenty of people are happy to do that for you, using a wide variety of different technologies.

ReplyReply
mygif

As an employee of Blackwell (although not in the shop with the Espresso), I figure I should chime in. Unfortunately, head office haven’t really given out many details about, so I’ve not got too much insider info to add (I didn’t even know which store had the machine until I read an article on The Guardian’s website).

As for the Espresso killing independent bookshops – I’m not sure I really agree. Amazon is already kicking Blackwell’s ass on price and availability, and we’ve got more resources at hand to get improved prices than any indy shop will. If people will still go to the indies over Amazon, then they’ll do the same over Espresso.

“Then next semester, there’s a new edition of the textbook, so the student can’t just pass ‘em on.”

In my experience, there’s usually at least a couple of years between editions, unless there’s been a major change in the subject).

ReplyReply
mygif

The author isn’t the only person who gets paid.

Editor. Sales person. Publicity. Accountants. Managers. IT (who put together that kewl system and who’s keeping it running?). Production (who’s ordering the paper, cardboard, etc?). Personnel, to make sure everyone gets paid and gets days off.

Right. The word I missed quoting from Charlotte’s response was “primarily,” which I’d meant to take. As I noted in the portion of my response you quoted, median royalty to an author is 7%, which they get only after the book has earned back the advance. If the author gets 7%, it necessarily follows that other people get the other 93%, does it not? Most goes to the publisher, who has to pay the overhead of the publishing process, including everything from IT and the things you mentioned to the utility bills and lease of the office space.

The discussion here, however, seems to skew more toward academia, in which I have worked but about which I actually know rather little, so I can’t comment much toward that. I’ve edited two clinical nursing journals, the contributors to which were usually academics in some way, but that’s the extent of it.

What I question, though, is the assertion, as Charlotte made, that

The price of books has NOTHING AT ALL to do with any physical property of the book. A hardcover doesn’t reflect the price of cardboard. A long book doesn’t cost more than a short book. An instant, crappily bound book won’t cost less than a properly bound one.

But again, I don’t know if the printing process for academic books is different from others. What I do know is that much the opposite is true in trade/commercial publishing. Long books do, in fact, cost more to print, though the length is more tied to the number of–I want to say they’re called signatures, but can’t recall. But if you tear apart a book, you’ll find the pages come in groups of approx. 16, if I’m not mistaken. A commercial paperback does cost more to produce than a commercial hardcover; for a hardcover, the pages are grouped into those signatures, which are then bound together (literally bound), and then cardboard is glued to the front with fabric over the spine; if you rip off that fabric, you’ll find the fibers used to bind the signatures, almost like they’re sewn in. Paperbacks, on the other hand, are pretty much all glue.

But books are physical objects. You can mass produce CDs at a dime each, but not a book. They just don’t work like that. And, yes, an instant, crappily bound book will cost less than a properly bound one, though we might have to substitute “printed” for bound. Because good ink costs more than cheap ink, and good, high-stock paper costs less than cheap paper. I don’t know about academic publishing, but a commercial hardcover does cost more to print than a commercial paperback, often by a measure of a few dollars each.

(the way this is sometimes offset is the reason the Espresso is novel; it costs less to print more books than fewer, at least on a per book basis. The problem there becomes that so few books sell more than a thousand copies. I think the last number I saw was that something like 93% of all books printed sell fewer than 1000 copies overall. And if you print 1,000 you have to remainder, you’ve lost an arseload of money in the process)

This is all why I think the digital thing will happen more quickly than widespread use of portable POD machines (which is basically all the Espresso is). Kindle is getting there but hasn’t reached there yet; it could, but my gut still tells me cells are coming into their own, especially with all the app stores cropping up. I think something like 5 of the ten best-selling novels in Japan last year or the year before were delivered to readers via their cells.

ReplyReply
mygif

Will, what you say above might once have been true, but it isn’t anymore. Book length and cost are simply not related. Of course the print cost of a longer book will be higher, but that cost isn’t passed on to the consumer. As a percentage of the total costs involved with publishing a book, the printing and binding itself just isn’t big enough to greatly effect the price. Take for instance my copes of Fagels’ _Aeneid_ translation and Jared Diamond’s _Collapse_, both in hardcover, both published in 2005 by Viking. _The Aeneid_ is $50 for 484 pages while _Collapse_ is $44 for 574 pages, including a glossy photo section in the middle. The difference between the two books is how many copies they might expect to sell – _Collapse_ is a big-name release from a Pulitzer Prize winner while the _Aeneid_ is a specialty title with a limited audience (especially in this format).

Hardcovers are also no longer sewn, as a general rule. Some publishers still sew all their books, and some books still warrant sewing (deluxe editions, etc.) but your average trade hardcover release is glued, same as a paperback.

Anyway, that’s nitpicking on my part (apologies) – the salient point for me is still that regardless of the print cost of a book, that cost still isn’t much, if any, of a factor in the final price of the book. It isn’t nearly as influential as the human costs of producing a book, which will stay the same whether they are nicely bound or shot off in five minutes by a machine.

As to the author being the primary recipient of a book’s costs, I think it still stands. Authors might only get 7% (or their advance), but no other single person gets a larger percentage.

ReplyReply
mygif

They had something rather like this in a bookstore in Melbourne recently. You could smell it half a block away – stank like a toner cartridge explosion in a tannery. Have they done anything about that yet?

ReplyReply
mygif
Bryce (Mouser) said on April 26th, 2009 at 9:40 am

BringTheNoise: In my experience, there’s usually at least a couple of years between editions, unless there’s been a major change in the subject).

Depends on the class and the school. They were swapping accounting texts every year when I attended the University. ($97 for a two inch thick text and all they kept changing the were the homework problems…)

I don’t know – is the Expresso is being deployed in college bookstores or in malls? Personally I don’t think it’s going to work in mall, other than as a novelty or an emergency. If I “want a book” I want it NOW or I want a specific book. I I *NEED* one RIGHT NOW, then they make sense to do. If I need a specific one but not in an emergency, I’d rather someone set up a POD that does a “publishers level” version that I can special order…

Wow, that was a ramble…

ReplyReply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Please Note: Comment moderation may be active so there is no need to resubmit your comments