The Espresso Book Machine: Perhaps it'll make coffee also.
As some of you may know, Barnes & Noble is currently for sale. It's my guess that, should the company no longer be publicly traded that wholesale changes will be made—including the dumping of half its inventory.
Most of the books that you see in Barnes & Noble's stores don't sell many copies—if any. In fact, the vast majority of it is window-dressing for the big sellers. It's also the case that the books that you see in stores represent a tiny fraction of the number of new titles published each year, and an even tinier sliver of the number of books in print. Needless to say, that minuscule amount becomes even more microscopic when you add in the number of books that have ever been published, and are available on-line through Amazon or Amazon's vendor program—including those vendors that re-sell out-of-print titles. In that regard, therefore, one might reasonably ask why anyone would go looking for a book at Barnes & Noble, or any bricks-and-mortar store. Sure, it's nice to browse, but one could do that at a library. You can drink coffee and read magazines there; but you can do that at a café as well.
So, what might be the place of a bookstore, in the age of Kindle and, indeed, B&N's own Nook readers? Well, one solution would be to install several Espresso book machines, which print up books as you wait. It's early days, yet; however, I'll wager that, in a few years time, you'll be able to walk into a bookstore, go to the information desk, and get the book's International Standard Book Number (ISBN) from a computer. You'll then walk mosey over to the Espresso (or equivalent) machine, and it will "pull" that title from "the cloud" (or equivalent) and print it there and then, while you wait sipping an actual espresso. The bookstore will get a cut of the deal, while "the cloud" will handle delivering the royalty reports to the publishers and/or authors. Ironically, this futuristic vision is actually a return to the past, when bookstores used to be the ones who actually published the book.
Such a future would be excellent news for bookstores and consumers—and for small publishers such as ourselves. No longer will the store be limited by shelf space. No longer, indeed, will books have to be shipped all over the world to sit in warehouses or molder on store shelves. Anyone, anywhere, with one of these machines would be able to print out a copy of any book, in any language (as long as it's been digitized), and walk out of the store. That means many fewer fossil fuels consumed in transportation, and fewer trees cut down in order to print books that will never be sold.
In the next blog, I'll give you my thoughts about what might be available from "the cloud." Meantime, here's a video that says pretty much the same thing.