Machine Grows Local Bookstore by 8-Million Titles

Jul 26, 2012

Rare book seekers and aspiring authors have a new resource.  Santa Cruz is now home to a print on demand book machine, one of only four in the state. 

Sylvie-Marie Drescher just got off the phone at Bookshop Santa Cruz.  A woman called looking for a hard to find book. “It’s ‘Elizabeth and Essex’.  It’s an account of Queen Elizabeth,” said Drescher.  The book isn’t on the store’s shelves, so Drescher will make it. She runs the store’s new Espresso Book Machine.  It prints books on demand.  “This is a pretty lengthy book, 350 pages, so I’m guessing this will probably be around 8 minutes from pdf to bound paperback edition,” said Drescher.  

The whole process takes place inside the machine, and can be viewed through the machine’s plexiglass exterior.  An inkjet color printer does the cover, and a Xerox machine prints the pages.  The two pieces are joined together with glue, and then the book is cut to size.  The final product looks like any paperback book, and the cost is comparable. “The cost run anywhere from about $8 to $23,” said Casey Coonerty Protti, the owner of Bookshop Santa Cruz. 

The Espresso Book Machine has a catalog of 8-million titles.  It can print public domain books, self-published work, and some copy-righted material.  The company behind the machine, On Demand Books, has agreements with publishers to allow select titles to be printed.  “So it’s not like if we run out of the Steve Jobs best seller during the holiday season, we can just print up a new hardcover of the latest and greatest.  It’s really for things that are harder to find,” said Coonerty Protti.  Still this a huge catalog expansion for Bookshop Santa Cruz, which normally stocks 30,000 to 40,000 titles.  And it helps the store match the inventory of online competitors.  “As opposed to having to have it shipped, ordered online, which a lot of people do. So a lot of ways we are beating the online retailer in terms of the convenience factor,” said Coonerty Protti.

In a world of instant gratification, Oren Teicher, the CEO of the American Booksellers Association, sees this machine as a big opportunity.  The ABA represents independent bookstores. “It’s difficult to know today if this is going to be the killer app to help independent bookstores necessarily, but it’s an innovative, creative program, and we have lots of optimism that it’s a piece of the way stores can compete in the very competitive book environment,” said Teicher.  There are 81 machines worldwide and just four in California. Teicher has seen several stores have success with them, especially with the self-publishing component.  “The part about it that allows you to print content of local interest is really critical because that’s what helps stores distinguish themselves in the marketplace,” said Teicher.

Since Bookshop Santa Cruz unveiled the machine a couple of weeks ago, Sylvie-Marie Drescher’s calendar has been filled with people interested in self-publishing. If the author has all their materials in order, Drescher can print the book right away.  Otherwise, she can help the self-publishers with things like finding a local proof-reader or developing a cover design.  “We don’t mind just printing one copy for you.  We don’t mind if you want to keep it as a private work, or if you us to help you get an ISBN, so you can sell it,” said Drescher.

The machines can create a new revenue stream for bookstores, but they don’t come cheap.  They cost around $100,000.  Instead of buying one, Bookshop Santa Cruz entered a partnership with On Demand Books.  On Demand would eventually like to see them in every bookstore, library or even café.