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The Media

Books on Demand 255

DreamerFi writes: "It's going to cost about $30k. Working from a digital file, it can print, bind, and trim a book of any size in a matter of minutes. Having finished with one title, it can proceed to another and another, as long as the machine is kept supplied with ink, toner, and paper-the same regular copy paper you might buy at Staples. It's called the PerfectBook Machine. How soon before your local book store has one?"
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Books on Demand

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    This is funny - yet again, provides us with yesterday's news. Heck, 10 year old news!

    Judge for yourself:

  • by Anonymous Coward
    if there was a way to make custom audio CD, the whole audio industry would change. You'll get those CD making machine in little shop, and you'll be able to buy whatever music you want, cheap.

    Wow, this kind of device would change everything. No more out-of-stock. No more return. Build on demand. I bet that the recording industry is impatiently waiting for that. Sweet, how technology change the way business work.


  • One of the easy benefits I see is for printing Out-Of-Print books on demand. A great example is a scientific textbook in my field on catalysis; it was published in '91, so most of the information is sufficiently current, and is an excellent resource. However, the book was last printed in 1995. Finding used copies is not only hard, but impossible, given the attention this book gets. Imagine being able to pay the royalities on the book + cost of printing + small fee for owner of machine to get a copy, even if not the highest quality (since you'd be using plain copy paper).

    Another possibility would be for faster distribution of overseas printings. For example, I try to follow the Dr. Who original novles published by BBC; these are typically printed and released in EU about a month or two before they get to the stands. In addition, the cost in the States tends to be higher due to the cost of import. I'd love to have a slightly cheaper-made copy that was in my hands earlier, as long as everyone in the chain of distribution was getting the appropriate amount of reward.

    But I think even more so, this device could empower more would-be-but-neglicted authors to get their works out in the public; I'm not about to read a 500 page work on-line, but if I could just tell the owner of this machine to print out something from a URL in book form, there's a much more likely chance that I would read that instead.

  • The way I see this being important is that it lets you not need a huge warehouse and a big store to offer a large selection. This means that a little storefront bookstore can offer as many books as a huge chain store. Of course, this doesn't let you browse the books that aren't on the shelves, but you should at least be able to look through a list of titles.
  • Why do we persist in wanting to print more stuff, when we can download ebooks to inexpensive readers like the Rocket eBook

    For the same reasons that have been mentioned thousands of times in the past when this has been suggested. When electronic books can match paper books, feature for feature, then and only then will they become acceptable. These features have to include:

    • High contrast, readable in both low light and bright sunlight
    • High resolution (IBM has 200dpi+ LCD displays, so there's some progress here)
    • Doesn't run out of batteries
    • Convenient size to carry around, read on the train, etc.
    • Lightweight
    • Costs about the same as a couple of hours' work for the average man on the street
  • I already thought about the idea of books-on-demand several years ago (it's a pretty obvious idea).

    Starting a bussiness around it is tough though, because of the copyright lock-up on most published works. Although, I thought of offering Project Gutenberg books via this method.

    I doubt there is enough money in it.


  • The irony is that makers of e-books and this kind of technology miss a very obvious point: There are literally more than 20 centuries worth of literary works that are firmly, totally, completely and irrevocably out of copyright, and they could feed machines like this (and e-books) with out of copyright material pretty much forever.

    They are making an unforgivable marketing mistake: for the sake of "partnering" with publishers, they are stunting the size of their own market. All the failed e-books, the tepid reception to Microsoft Reader, and a huge untapped opportunity for Adobe all can be attributed to the fact they did not emphasize free perfectly legal and legitimate content.

    Microsoft links (rather shyly, burying the link under all the paid content links) to the University of Virginia Library Etext Center [] but this source has only 1600 books. That's less than 1% of well-known books, and a tiny fraction of all books that have no copyright coverage. There is a lot of free (speech, beer) text out there but very little is formatted for an acceptable online (or print-on-demand) reading experience. And e-books take up a tiny fraction of the space of MP3s.

    If you really want to throw a bomb into the IPR world, get the Library of Congress or whatever your nation's corresponding institution is to provide a high-quality e-text of all materials that are no longer under copyright.

  • "Books on demand" sounds wonderful until you realize that this kind of technology is already offering publishers new ways to screw authors.

    Andrew Malcom is an author (and all-round brave and persistent guy) who has been taking on dodgy academic publishing practices for years.

    Read his article [] for the full story.
  • But conversely, printing out a book where you are is much more cost-efficient than printing it out halfway across the country and paying to warehouse and ship it to you. (How much does it cost to send one book through the mail, even at book rate?) These things should balance out--it might be less expensive to buy that book than you think.

    No, it's not. Do the math: that three cents a page, which is generous, by the way, costs you $15 US for a 500 page book. Mass-producing the same book and shipping it to your local bookstore, it's going to cost you between $5 and $10. If the cost is four cents a page, it's $20 for the same book.

    My point is, you're paying the SAME shipping fees for the materials, the only thing that changes is the point of assembly. And mass-production on dedicated high-speed presses is going to be much much cheaper than one-off production in the local book machine. There is wasteage in the distribution and sale of printed books, granted, and more middlemen, but that's the only thing that makes it even close. That $8 paperback they sell in the store only cost maybe a buck to print.

    Plus, the quality of both paper and printing and binding are likely to be inferior to the mass-produced version.

    Jon Acheson
  • When I go to a bookstore, I go for the experience of poking around and finding the book I want. The ability to be able to check out and access the entire book is vital for me when I want to consider which book to buy.

    If you replace this with kiosks in bookstores containing minimal information, then quite honestly I'd might as well buy from amazon.

    I do think this is a good thing, though, since it would mean only one copy of each book could be on the shelves. Then I would simply take a look at it, decide to buy, take it to the checkout, and they'd punch the button and give me a nice clean fresh copy. Cool; I often hesitate to buy books because they are in poor condition in the store, having been pawed by hundreds of hands.

    Before really loving this technology, though, remember it means the death of $5 remaindered hardcover books. Also, I wonder how this works with the increasing use of glossy paper and colour printing in today's books; look at the computer section of any bookstore and you'll see a few dozen books on Adobe Photoshop that are printed this way. That's bound to dramatically increase the cost of this machine, or limit its ability to serve stores and customers.


  • Ummm cince you missed it...

    Input file in one end - get book out of other end.
    the D in DN stands for Duplexing. For a total of 8000.00 plus toner cartridges and paper and staples/binding supplies you press the print button and go and pick up books at the other end (if you want to run the binding tape down the edge for a better look you can, but you dont have to)

    I pay out the ass as you say, at the tune of 0.5 cents per page (both sides printed) which is pretty expensive compared to the 0.3 cents per page the offset printer in town pays for his ink. (His ass is smaller than mine... Less doughnuts in the morning! :-)

    So your point is? other than not being hardcover and a wierd size as books are (book printing at these bizzare sizes wastes more paper than all offices combined!) I have a working solution.. and far cheaper than anything else I have seen.

    Oh, and it's 100% linux compatable :-) gotta love postscript!
  • Printing out pages one at a time is nowhere near as cost-efficient as printing out thousands of copies at a time.
    But conversely, printing out a book where you are is much more cost-efficient than printing it out halfway across the country and paying to warehouse and ship it to you. (How much does it cost to send one book through the mail, even at book rate?) These things should balance out--it might be less expensive to buy that book than you think.

  • By your argument the last Daniel Steel book would have been Shakespeare.
    Not at all! But look at what you wrote for just a second. You may have misspelled her name, but you did know who Danielle Steele is. Why? Because her books were pro-published. You saw them on the bookshelf.

    The last Danielle Steele book may not have been Shakespeare--but it was a Danielle Steele book. People who want to read Danielle Steele books know who she is, and that she writes books of the quality that they want to read. But, people who have never read a Danielle Steele book and have never heard of her can look at the blurb, think, "Hmm, that's the kind of story I like to read. If it's been professionally published, then it's been given a professional proofreading, and it must have been at least good enough for a publisher to want to publish. I think I'll give it a shot." That is to say, they can know from the fact that it has been pro-published, the cover of the book should be accurately representative of the writing/editing/proofing quality within.

    Not all published stuff has to be good. Not all published stuff even is good. But there is at least someone to weed out the stuff that goes into the slushpile.

    I mean, look at fanfic groups on the Internet sometime. See how long you have to look before you find something that is actually worth reading, even if you like that sort of thing.


  • Lawsuit my butt; the publishing industry will be one of the major users of this machine. The vast majority of publishing costs are printing, storage, and shipping. These factors are why midlist authors are having such a hard time; the economies of scale are such that a book that is only a modest success cannot pay for its own publication costs. (One of Salonmag's articles [] from a couple years back aptly discusses this point.)

    This machine, in one fell swoop, will let publishing houses stop having to warehouse and print so many titles. Costs will go way down, profit margins will go up, and perhaps more midlist authors will start being published again.

    As for piracy . . . I think some people are only skimming the article. This is a big, complicated, mechanical, $30,000 machine--it's not likely to be the sort of machine that the "casual pirate" is going to be able to buy. If you're talking about the overseas printers that churn out physical pirate books--well, they're doing that now, with regular printing presses. The lack of a machine like this won't stop them either.


  • Don't worry guys, since the files are designated ONLY for printing, we know they'll never be pirated... because they're designated after all. How long do you think that will last?
    Since the machine costs $30K, only bookstores, copy shops, and other businesses could buy it; as long as the machine owner plays nice with the publisher, everyone profits.

    I suppose a bookstore clerk could try to defeat whatever auditing system is built into the machine and either run off ten free copies of Lady Chatterley's Lover or convert the book image to an unlocked PDF ... but if the machine's designers put a little effort into tamper-proofing the equipment, I don't think the publishers would lose much to this kind of copyright violation.

  • This would have been news 3 years ago. Actually, it was news 3 years ago. For instance, Wired had a article [] on this on June 16, 1998. Xerox and IBM have had machines to do this job for ages, so I don't see why this is big news now. I recall that Borders was planning to offer this service in their bookstores (obviously, this did not happen).

    There are still unresolved issues. For example, convincing numerous copyright holders to allow on-demand printing. A former colleague worked on a startup with similar goals, but never got past the legal and funding issues. If even Borders could not pull this off, who could? There is also the problem of contracts. Many publishers' agreements with authors have clauses that depend on when the book goes out of print. In electronic publishing, the title never goes out of print.

    I would love to see books-on-demand really take off ... 3 years ago. I'm still waiting.
  • by Ruis ( 21357 )
    Why do I get the feeling that the majority of the books that come out of this machine will be custom porno mags?
  • The file must be stored somewhere, so all it takes is one person to steal the file, figure out how to rip it to [insert arbitrary file format] and then stick it up on a website.

    And, truth be told, if they can steal one book, they'll probably steal the whole database full of books.

    Ever heard of napster?

  • This is grand,
    No more stock doing nothing. Ten books sold, ten books printed. 1000 trees saved...

    And books will be cheaper because of reduced transport costs.

    But the really grand thing in it is it'll give new writers a chance. How many publishers are willing to risk to press 10,000 books if they're not sure the book's going to succeed? Now they can just deliver the electronic version, and if it'll succeed, cool. If it doesn't, less money wasted.


  • "But if your customers want to peruse your shelves for hours while sucking down Starbucks, an in house press is not for you."

    Yes it is! It is still possible to have a hard-copy of the books in the store, and the value of the thing would still be evident:

    • Much less storage needed. The store only has to store preview-copies.
    • No need for transport and ordering of books, customers can get their book in a matter of minutes instead of days.
    Think about it, your local bookstore could have an almost unlimited sortiment of books, because they just download and print it if needed.
  • Does anyone know of a machine that will do the exact opposite? If you are like me, then you have way too many bookshelves filled with technical reference books, many of them 10 years old. But you can't bare to throw away that ancient PC Interrupts book least someday you have an arcane question about the PC BOIS call while working on a Virtual PC emulator. I agree that reading paper copies is preferable most of the time, but books that I'm going to access once every 5 years would be better off as digital. These books take of a ton of space and space is expensive in San Francisco.

    I want a machine that can remove the bindings from books and scan in both sides of the pages as a big stack of papers. Then I'm left with a digital copy, which fits into one millionth of the space, and some a lot of firewood. Anyone have a suggestion on the best way to remove book bindings? Are there service companies out there that will do this? It's not going to be worthwhile if it takes a lot of time or money per book, but I'd be willing to pay a dollar or two.

  • Like someone said above (now I've lost the cid, of course...), why not have a bookstore that keeps *one* copy of each book, maybe more for Grisham etc., and prints out a copy when you bring the `demo' up front. Kind of like renting a movie.

    -grendel drago
  • Who the hell is going to transmit already-rasterised pages?! That would limit even DVDs to 470 pages. I don't even want to *think* about transmission times.

    There's a *reason* printers use PostScript instead of enormous TIFFs. Well, several, actually. But anyhoo.

    If not PostScript, what *do* large imaging houses use? I assume they convert from PostScript in the first place...

    -grendel drago
  • Who wants to produce copyrighted works on this?!

    Frankly, Net-HOWTO would look a lot prettier in a book than in the ubiquitous TRB (three ring binder)...

    There are free books *everywhere*. Gutenberg. linuxdoc. Graduate theses. The latter two are things you wouldn't be able to get at Borders in any case...

    Now someone just has to start making Project Gutenberg's ASCII files into TeX versions. Mmm, TeX.

    -grendel drago
  • All right! Yes!

    I ordered Barefoot Gen from Amazon's Used search, and when they got back to me (two months later) they wanted seventy bucks for a book that had drawn a ten- or fifteen-dollar cover price in the eighties.

    Plus, with this, I'd get a brand spanking new copy. Mmm, spanking.

    -grendel drago

  • In seven minutes, I am holding a finished book-a trial run of a Simon & Schuster children's title

    With 10% downtime, that's 185 (short, monochrome, page-paper covered?) books per machine per day

    Uh, ever heard of pipelining? There's no reason the machine can't print and staple while it glues. Yes, the *latency* is seven minutes, but that says nothing about the throughput.

    -grendel drago
  • Interesting note: copyright reverts to the author if the book goes out of print. With little-to-no effort, Print-on-Demand keeps books `in print'. So copyright effectively never reverts to the authors now.

    Well, shee-it.

    -grendel drago
  • Ahem. (Using

    • Volkswagon Beetle 1968 $3000
    • Volkswagon Beetle 2000 $17,000 -- $3400 (1968 dollars)
    • top of the line PC 1996 $3000
    • top of the line PC 2000 $3000 -- $2740 (1996 dollars, not bad for four years!)
    • bottle of Coke 1901 $0.05
    • bottle of Coke 2000 $0.75 -- $0.03 (1901 dollars)
    • top of the line Xerox Machine 1985 $15,000
    • top of the line Xerox Machine 2000 $15,000 -- $9390 (1985 dollars)

    I rest my case.

    -grendel drago
  • Remaindered hardcovers? Five bucks? Explain, man, explain!

    And here I've been saving up to buy from Amazon, the chump that I am...

    -grendel drago
  • Absolutely right; laser paper is 20- or 24-pound stock. I was just saying that if your documentation is big and unwieldy, and you don't want a book, just a binder for miscellaneous stuff, then duplexing can help.

    -grendel drago
  • Why does everyone think that PDF is the start-all, be-all and end-all of document transport?

    PDF is (basically) compressed, encoded PostScript with a few bells and whistles (hypertext, (rarely-used) forms and a prettier viewer than GSView) -- it doesn't really do anything that PostScript doesn't.

    And if you're thinking of exporting from MSWord, be ready for some piss-poor-looking documentation.

    The printing industry already went through this business about portable formats in the late seventies and early eighties. SGML, TeX and PostScript all came out of that.

    PDF is an obscured format. In an ideal world, everyone would write in TeX/LaTeX and distribute in DVI...

    ... but I'm really reaching now. Unless you count almost every MS/PhD student who's written a thesis for a math/physics/CS/engineering department in the last fifteen years.

    -grendel drago
  • I could see this replacing paperbacks maybe, but this will do to good quality harcovers what CDs did to LPs: make elitists out of real readers.

    While self-styled "audiophiles" may argue about the fidelity of analog vs. digital recording, how does a self-styled "real reader" argue that I'm not getting the full impact of the text of (to pick the used paperback I finished re-rereading for the nth time last night) A Wizard of Earthsea because it's printed in paperback?

    A "real reader" loves the work. An elitist who buys books by the yard to make an impressive decoration for his living room may care more about hardcover vs. paperback.

    Tom Swiss | the infamous tms |

  • "Well, I don't think there is much value in making a machine that can print out the same titles that you can get from your local B&N (or online, for that matter)"

    That's not the point. The *point* is that your local B&N, does not have to order physical copies of books brought in truck loads. They just have one (or several) of these machines, and create a book just for you "on-demand". That reduces storage overhead, and risk for them, when they buy 1 Gazillion copies of _Peer_to_Peer_Will_Never_Amount_to_Anything_.

    And speaking of P2P, this is yet another technology where the digital world is invading the real world and breaking down artificial barriers. First it was music. Now it's going to be books. Publishers will have to bring prices down (or, even further, might not have any reason to exist, now that the "distribution channel" is digital). Publishers, like the music industry, will (or should), move to a role of 3rd party services, all competing for the author's/artist's business, as opposed to being in positions of near absolute authority and treating authors and artists as migrant workers to be used and spit out. Decentralization is a good thing (well, at least in the case of control of information).
  • Thats why theres a license in the front of most books:

    All rights reserved. No part of this book shall be reproduced, stored in a retreival system, or transmitted by any means....without written permission from the publisher.

    You've never had the rights to do this with most books.

    This poses as much danger to that law as, say, a photocopier. Maybe a little more. I don't forsee a bookster in anyone's future. Some of you heathens dare not read dissenting opinions anyway. =)
    Slashdot something useful. []
    Management is not a tunable parameter.
  • The bookstore can keep your experience of thumbing around (which they recognize that customer's love), while still improving their ability to sell. Imagine if they only bought a single copy of each title that they normally carry. No more in the back, no being shipped or stored. A 'browsing copy', that you can look through as much as you want, but if you buy a book, you buy one printed new.
    This means that they still get to reduce stock and floorspace (how many '50 of every harry potter book' displays have we seen in the past few years?), while preserving the customer experience. You also don't have to worry about stock being damaged by people browsing- if little Billy tears a page while looking through Whorton Hears a Who, you didn't lose the sale of a 7 dollar book, you've just had minor damage to a display copy that will cause you to take it off the shelves maybe a week earlier than you would otherwise.

    "Sweet creeping zombie Jesus!"
  • > Besides been too expensive, hardcovers are just harder to read.

    I don't have a problem paying for the better binding and cover. That's why you will notice a lot of reference /science / math books are hardcover. They are not meant for "general reading" but more for "general lookup."

    I have too many times "cracked" the spine of cheap paperbacks, and the pages have become dog-eared from carrying them around so much.

    I'm certainly thankfull that my graphics and math books are all hardcover.

    > with a hardcover, forget laying in bed or in a hammock and reading.

    I agree. Softcovers have that "comfy" level.
  • I agree that this device can be revolutionary, but not quite to the extent you say. As one of the posters above stated, many people go to the book store to browse through books and generally poke around from section to section. Taking that touchy-feely aspect out of the book shopping "experience" would result in very little difference between shopping online or at a b&m.

    What I see this device doing is eliminating the cross-country shipment of inventory and localizing the printing process. Maybe B&N has one of these printers per store, or one in a central store per city, county, or region. It's used strictly to restock the shelves, not for on-demand printing unless it's an older, "out of print" title. As the stock on the shelf of a certain title runs low, rather than order a new shipment or keeping a reserve stack in the back-room for each title, they simply print 5 more copies and put it on the shelf. This would eliminate a large chunk of the time and cost that goes along with the current warehousing system. And imagine what this device could do for a company like Amazon, who is being held back by these same warehousing and shipping costs.

  • Isn't it interesting that all this technology is being used to create paper based products. We all know that the feel of a book is generally unsurpassed... but isn't this like pointing a webcam at a piece of paper that says "Gone Fish'n" (Instead of a graphic that says the same thing).

    What do you think it will take for people to move from paper based to "ebook" type devices?

  • This is not a machine for the consumer (did you see the price??), this for B&N.

    The other advantage I see is that this would provide a 'standard' on digital book format.. How long until we see this 'digital files' floating around gnutella?


  • voilla! You have a book-like product.

    Simply take scraps, newspaper and glue, compress into block form, push into a can and label "Spam" and voila, you have a meat like product.

  • Interestingly enough you can already do everything that this machine does, and for considerably less than the 30k price tag. Go down to your local kinkos (or any other large scale copy shop for that matter) with a PDF file of the book you want to print, or better yet send it in over the web. As long as you have copyright access to the matterials contained within they will be more than happy to Print, Cut and Bind a professional looking book for you. True not ALL kinkos (or other copy shops), have the facilities to bind your book so it looks like a paperback, but many do.

    In fact this is the area where you are most likely to see these machines first, not your local book store, or small publisher. The reason is speed, at "a few minutes" per book these machines are not nearly fast enough to be used in the publishing industry, and they will most likely require a signifigant ammount of training to run. When was the last time you trusted your local book store register jock to make you latte correctly? Copy shop employees operate this type of machinery on a regular basis, so training costs would be lowered, and heck, copy shops are where this type of thing is most in demand (you can tell because that's where it happens now).

    Disclaimer, I do work at Kinko's, but this isn't an ad or a Troll.
  • Now books would never go out of print again. I'll bet Amazon will be setting up kiosks in airports pretty soon. And someone ought to give this functionality to suggest possible books for you to print out based on your tastes.

    Oh, and when I've written my biography (hah!) I'll be able to get it published and give it to difficult-to-buy-for friends and family at Christmas without actually needing to include anything in there that would make it worth publishing in the first place. Sweeeeeeet.

  • here's the graphical [] description. ...basically, this just slaps a few machines together and automates a bit, but this kind of 'new' technology existed in my /high school/ six years ago and wasn't new then (actually, it was rather old). at $30k for the machine, you can expect to pay a bit more than the actual production of your book.

    and this machine prints ONE book at a time, making it useless for anything other than personal books (so your school is still better off with a publisher or in-house method to produce your yearbooks). I'd expect a four hundred page book to cost you roughly $25-$40 ... hardly worth it. (math done: 3-5 cents a page, $5-10 for other materials like binding, $5-10 surcharge.)

  • I read the article in Business 2.0 a few days ago, and wasn't impressed. This has been done before. The main innovation seems to be the use of a quartz light guide in the hot-glue binding process. The machine itself looks like three off the shelf copiers bolted onto a huge paper transport mechanism.

    Given that on-demand printing is reasonably expensive, machines like this might be more succesful if they produced saddle-stitched hardcover books with rigid covers. Might add a dollar or two to the price, but the books would be more valuable.

  • You are missing the point of course. The benefit of these local presses is to make available the whole universe of printed works to people everywhere. Say I want "Flyfishing in upper Siberia", which was printed in 100 copies back in the 50s. Now I can just type in the pertinent information and have it spit out from this machine in my local book store, instead of trying to track it down in used book stores around the world. 20, or even 30, dollars doesn't sound so expensive any more does it?

    While a book store might have a few thousand titles available, these machines could in theory have millions of works available for printing.

    Now, the article might not have spelled this out, but I find it obvious.

    Another benefit that should please most Slashdotters is the possibility of computer literature being constantly updated, so you always print the most recent version of a certain title. Computer books are often rife with errors in the first edition, so now you'll have the opportunity to wait a few weeks (as opposed to months or even years) and let the errors be corrected.
  • "Piracy, for example, goes away almost magically, since the network is closed and files are designated for printing, not for viewing on a handheld device or PC."

    Ha ha ha ha ha! Yes, because we all know that files that are designated for printing cannot possibly be viewed by any other process. Forget about that whole Postscript language that any decent printer uses. And all the drivers that convert other printers' format to postscript.

    And the network is "closed"? Come on now, you'd think people would have learned by now that any network that is open to anyone is not closed. It is extremely unlikely that they would not use the Internet for this, and also unlikely that they would use a VPN. And even if they did use a VPN, you can spoof members' VPN connections without much trouble, all it takes is one machine that is less secure than the rest.

    I was about to propose a system where the publishers used a PKI to encrypt books so they'd only be unlockable with a private key, or maybe even a private key *card* (kind of like a book club card or something). But even those can be spoofed. However, if they put enough into making the system tamper resistant it might be cost-prohibitive to spoof. Kind of like the reason no one tries to counterfeit U.S. quarters: if you make the machines smart enough so they don't accept 2 cent washers instead, the system works because it's not worth it to copy them. So tamper-resistant book-club type cards might work for this system. But I bet they won't use anything that easy, so they will go out of business quickly just like all the rest of the people who try to make money off this stuff.

  • If it is $30,000 I don't think they'll need to worry. Adding some measures to decrease piracy incidence to a $30,000 machine will add perhaps $500 to the cost and a few cents to the cost of each book. It isn't like people are going to have these hooked up to their home computer, and they won't be standard with all new iMacs. hehe
  • I'm surprised that in this paranoid forum nobody's made the connection between this and the conditions attached to availability of DVD-R drives. Basically the system there is that you (the Little Guy) not only cannot REproduce copyrighted materials, but also cannot produce materials with YOUR copyright protection on them. For that you need a much more expensive "DVD-authoring drive". In other words, piracy aside, the ability to CREATE works on par with the Big Guys has been restricted by technology.

    That said, who thinks that anything NOT published by a Big Publisher will be available from these printers? Say, if I make my self-published book "The 100 Greatest Publishing Conspiracies of All Time" into a PDF file (or whatever format is appropriate), who's to say that I'll be allowed into the game? After all, if I can essentially "publish" my book from a PC, sending a PDF file to the Insta-Book Network (who in effect become my "publisher" without having to exercise any editorial effort or control) then why would I ever take it to one of the old "dead tree publishers"? Who would ever publish with them again? They'll fight hard to control this technology, because it could easily make them redundant.

    (This assuming the technology improves to reduce the per-copy price to what is now considered acceptable for mass-market books)

  • You're oversimplifying here. First off, a lot of dreck gets published professionally: books about pyramid power and astrology, for example.

    You're misunderstanding the meaning of "dreck." Even someone who *wants* to read about pyramid power and astrology wants to know he's getting something that's of reasonable quality... it's at least had a token proofreading and maybe even copy editing, and so on.

    If you think everyone who would self-publish meets that quality standard, you've never run/read an APAzine...

  • How long until the publishing industry files a lawsuit? They need their cut -- No, its only used by pirates, it has to be stopped -- the children must be protected.

    Though won't empty the books of a bookstore, you just won't have to wait 10 days for that out-of-stock book. The main benefit of a bookstore, now, is to go in and browse. If you wanted to buy a specific book, you have on-line sellers.

  • I see the application for this machine in public libraries rather than bookstores.
    You should be able to go to a library and get a personal copy of any book that is out of copyright (perhaps a nominal deposit to cover cost that would be refunded if the book is returned for re-use).
    No more need for inter-library loans. And no more disappointment at finding that the book in the catalogue isn't on the shelves.
    Oh, and the machine's a natural for magazines and periodicals, too! Print on demand at the newsstand (returns on magazines are as bad as/worse than on books).
  • And read in the shitter...

    No e-book or .pdf file will ever be perferable until I can take it into the bog with me.


    If you don't have anything nice to say, say it often.

  • Publishers are still needed, partly for doing publicity and such to promote the book for more sales, but mostly because most readers are accustomed to having publishers act as the gatekeepers, the arbiters of quality--if something has been pro-published, they know that it's more likely to be worth reading.

    By your argument the last Daniel Steel book would have been Shakespeare. I disagree. Publishers only really serve one useful purpose (in a world of digital media and zero-cost copying) and that is editing. Even that could be remedied by an Editors Union... publishers then become completely unnecessary. The 'quality' assurance should and can be very competently done by librarians, scholars and critics. THEY are even better at it because they can be assumed to be impartial (unlike the 'sony-movie-reviewer' scenario and other corruption), but trusting a publisher to tell you what is quality is ridiculous. Thats like listening to a wolf on how to tend your sheep-farm. Lets remember: Capitalists (Publishers) are interested in Profit (money) not Enlightenment (good books).

    ..and on the function of 'publicity' - it is useless trash. Publicity == advertising == marketing == garbage. If you let appearances on 'good morning today' influence your book reading Id suggest you may want to find a more honourable source of direction (to put it mildly). If a book is significantly important, such that you want to read it, you will hear about it through other means of critical reporting, maybe a fansite (for Sci-Fi) or a Trade Union (for manuals/technical analysis) or anywhere else.

    In a world without publishers to moderate product based on 'market-demand' just imagine the array of new and compelling works that would be created. This device could liberate artists from publishers, and the public from Publisher controlled Pap-O-Matic that sells millions of 'lowest-common-denominator' trash every year because they can do 'publicity' and 'gatekeeping'.

  • Hey,

    On the second page:

    Though virtually every American book published since the late 1980s was typeset by computer and presumably exists in digital file format, the vast majority of books ever published were not and do not. While some publishers have begun to digitize their back catalogues, it's a forbiddingly expensive enterprise.

    Presumably they type the books in manually. It would be easier to get a nice digital camera, put it on a tripod, point it at the desk, and get some nice OCR software. It would be easy enough to automate the system - just place the book in, hit the camera button, and it pulls down one page, then turn the page, hit the button again, and so on.

    Well, maybe.

  • Actually, I think this could work for one reason - trusted client. You've got a $30K machine there, I guarantee you it'll use tamper-resistant hardware on a proprietry network. Think bank ATM.

    Print files generally can't be viewed on any old machine - forget Postscript & PDF, I'm talking about the systems that are used commercially; metre-gauge inkjets with head data rates over 1 Gb/s. How are you going to view that on your piddly little PC, let alone a handheld? If the machine is basically a network connected image setter at 2400 dpi, and the data is already rasterised, you've got 10 MB of data PER A4 PAGE, just for black and white.

    Why on earth would publishers buy an internet-based (i.e. proven-insecure) system?

  • Screw that, I read constantly and I'll only buy paperbacks. Besides been too expensive, hardcovers are just harder to read. Its impossible to get confortable in any position besides sitting strait up with a hardcover, forget laying in bed or in a hammock and reading.
  • Plus in order to use a stack scanner on a book, wouldnt you need to cut out each individual page, or slice all the pages at once at the binding? So in order to copy the book you must destroy it. If you're selling copied books on a large scale that would work, but the average person would never copy books under those conditions.

  • I buy a lot of books, both new and secondhand...

    one of the most frustrating things is losing an out of print book that's unlikely to ever be in print again

    if this was to work, there would have to be some changes to the publishing industry, and if that's going to be half the pain in the ass that the music industry is, maybe we need to be a little more active in initiating change.

    I'd love to be able to go into a store and "order" a book, maybe customised, with a certain cover from the range, in various sizes or languages.

    a book copying machine is neat, but a made-to-order book system would be much neater

    maybe this really needs a DVD-factor (not the encryption kind)... customisable, with extras

    if it comes from a database, can the books be updated regularly?

    how easy is it for an indy publisher to enter the ring?

    could you sandwich books? if you wanted a series printed into one solid book, is that possible? bindings would probably limit sizes possible, but the publishing industry doesn't really allow for bundling of books outside the publishing houses deciding to

    come to think of it... this in general should be making publishers pee their pants...

    on a side note, I bought three books today... One that would be crap to print in this way (I'm guessing), as it's a glossy little quote book with cartoons, cute and it relies on it's looks to be readable... the other two would probably print nicely, no fuss covers, both made out of that weird plastic-covered paper, one of them smelling quite strongly of bleach (?!)

    It's got potential... and like Henry Ford said...

    there's a better way to do it, just find it

    No chance the music or publishing industries are really going to seriously look for a better way, since some of the more useless people might lose their jobs... but that's evolution for ya...

  • machines on the street corner that print you up the daily paper on demand.

    hasn't there been mention of this before? I remember something about being able to buy your local paper when travelling (or something like that)...

  • I like to do both. I read a lot of stuff in front of the computer. I also print out a lot of stuff so I can read it in a more comfortable offline setting.

    I was just commenting about a device whose purpose struck me as helping us consume ink and trees at an even faster rate. It seems that with all our computerization, we consume paper/ink at a rate much higher than 20 years ago. It is just so easy to print and photocopy stuff. Think back to what it was like in the dot-matric, non-GUI, days when photocopiers were ultra expensive. I simply think this device will accellerate this trend. It's just too easy to print out something that you'll read once and throw away -- although the reading experience may be more pleasant.

    I don't have any delusions of paperless. I think we'll go paperless when paperless alternatives offer all of the advantages of paper.
    "Linux is a cancer" -- Steve Ballmer, CEO Microsoft.
  • Yet another piece of technology to help accomplish the fabled paperless office, or paperless society.
    "Linux is a cancer" -- Steve Ballmer, CEO Microsoft.
  • That's key. A couple of people have assumed that publishers would own these, but instead, booksellers like B&N or libraries would be better served with one of these.

    What I'd be impressed by is if it can handle thinner paper. If I print a 100 page document on normal copy stock, it comes out as thick as a 300 page book I get at B&N. There are times when I've wanted to print out a manual or PDF, but the length was prohibitive.
  • Actually, that's counting duplexing. The documents are thinner because the stock of the paper is so dramatically different. It may not look like much when dealing with one or two sheets of paper, but it's noticeable both in terms of size and weight when you've got 500 sheets of paper (regardless of whether there's printing on both sides or not.)
  • starting about ten years ago and did what seems to be a superior job.

    It should be noted that the the main use for publishing on demand appears to be scientific and technical data, where very expensive information is to be distributed in an easily chargable form. You don't need these books very often, and the shelf cost is prohibitively high for a bookstore to keep them. Print on demand is turning out to be the answer.

  • Yeah, but at $30,000 it's going to be beyond the price-range of most Indy writers and zine publishers. So, if Staples gets one, you get to go there and use it, which is great, unless you're like every zine writer I know, who wait until 3 in the morning to publish, which leaves Kinko's as the only local option.

    And considering that there are machines that already do practically everything that this one does... yeah, maybe not all in one, but you can take the output from one machine, get it stapled, folded, bound, trimmed, whatever at any other... it takes a little longer, sure... but having worked with several of these machines, I don't know if I want something that can do all of this in one case. It's that much more that can break down, and given what I know, it will break down. Check the warranty and repair license before you buy or lease. (Although, Xerox was giving a year of free service calls with their larger machines a while back... not sure if they are still doing that.)

  • Damn, and to think I do it all the time at work. Yeah, all it takes is a stack scanner, some Xerox software, and clicking on that 'Begin' button. I can even walk away, get a Coke and wait for it to finish. Then I come back, clean up the document if it needs it, send it to Acrobat, and from there I can either use some more Xerox software to set things like tabs, covers, or funky pages up, or just send it straight to the machine to get printed automatically.

    It's pretty easy, actually. But hey, why let hyperbole get in the way of facts?

  • What I think is so great about this is that it's got tons of possibilities.
    Writers trying to break into the market and writers who are writing books that might only have a local interest can have maybe 20-30 books printed up at a time instead of hundreds, or have their books printed on demand.
    Textbooks can possibly become cheaper and be made available on demand to students at universities. No longer will shipping be a problem, if the book is out of stock, they'll print you one! I know alot of people see digital text as the future, but as it stands, it's not really a possibility. People don't want to sit in front of a monitor that long.

    Finally, I think that this means that out-of-print books don't necessarily have to become 'not available'. If someone is interested in reading a book that has gone out of print or is not in demand enough for most stores to carry it, the store can print one up!

    Perhaps eventually this will even be ported to newspapers, so that I can go and buy ANY NEWSPAPER that I want and get the full content (not just the stuff that they have online) from ANY city in the United States. Right now it's really only the big cities you can buy in any city, but if I wanted to say, read the news from Truth or Consequences, Nv. I wouldn't be able to.
    Anyway, this technology has some pretty cool possibilities.

    [Something witty and intelligent should have appeared here.]
  • About time really. Of course, this is the kind of technology that the established hierarchy wouldn't care to see (it has, to some extent, the ability to significantly reduce publisher's clout since an independant could have as much 'shelf space' as a large house).

    A few questions though... first, does the machine do different typographic styles and layouts? Does it print in the font of the author's/editor's choosing, complete with pictures, chapter icons, and so forth? All of these things are stylistically important, and are often chosen by the author for particular reasons.

    Second, standard copier paper is usually considerably worse than the paper used for hardback books. It doesn't have the grain or the weight. This machine is obviously not meant for this kind of thing, but it'd be nice if it was an option.

    Third, while it's a nifty thought of "wow, you could replace that huge brick & mortar bookstore with a machine the size of a photocopier!", don't forget the rest of the experience you would thus forgo - browsing the aisles, finding new and interesting books by leafing through them, meeting people, avoiding people, etc.

    A complementary device for this is a high quality electronic viewer. Current display devices have nowhere close to the resolution that's given by real books, which is one of the reasons there is eyestrain with computers. Fix that, then you can browse through books electronically and then print them out for cheap (and still pay the author legitimitely) and carry them with you wherever you go.
  • Well, I don't think there is much value in making a machine that can print out the same titles that you can get from your local B&N (or online, for that matter), because those books (they mention Stephen King's Dreamcatcher) are at least somewhat popular and available (save remote/country areas, where this machine could be used for that purpose).

    Well, then, remind me to never hire you as a corporate executive. This machine (if the article details it truthfully, and it can be mass-produced for under $100,000) has the potential to REVOLUTIONIZE the printing industry. Can you imagine the cost of shipping millions of books? Can you imagine how much in inventory, warehousing, shipping, handling, and retail space is taken up by books? Not to mention the costs of guessing demand for a title, then having to credit hundreds of thousands of purchases to retailers when the book doesn't sell and the titles are destroyed. Or, even worse, lowballing demand and not selling thousdands of copies. Or, not selling books becasue the cost of publishing a specific title is too high to justify the niche market. Or, books that are out-of-print, and dollars go to the secondary used-book market?

    With this machine, Books-a-600-million could be located in a small corner cafe, instead of the huge retail outlets they are in now. Each major, semi-major, and even indie publisher could snail-mail a DVD/CD/etc. to the retail outlet who would load them to the network. Go in to order a book, and they print it for you while you wait. Or, order from the Internet, pick it up at the shop. The only possible downsides I can see are the lack of back cover info, easily remedied with computer workstations or the Internet, however.

    This is the ultimate Just In Time inventory system. Eliminates shipping and warehousing costs, gives access to a publisher's entire (digitized) catalog, and the money saved coul go back into digitizing the works. Hell, I'd even be willing to grant the publisher's an extension on copyrights if they digitized their entire catalog for this machine.

    This piece of machinery is amazing, and if publisher's are smart, they'll jump on this. Of course, I'm not going to argue that publishers of any kind of medium are smart, so we'll have to wait and see.

  • Well, if a 'bookstore' relies on this machine to print out all the titles it carries, I'd hate to be them every time a new Harry Potter books comes out. If they follow the "print-on-demand" idea, you can't print extras and hope you'll sell them or it defeats the idea in the first place (and in all these concepts, you're eliminating any storage areas). So if they get swamped, they're screwed.

    Crikey, why does everyone have to take everything so literal? So, perhaps they would forecast demand a bit, and print up some extra copies. It's a helluva lot easier to forecast demand 24 hours in advance (or less), than it is 1 month in advance (or more).

    Second, most copy machines, even the color ones, cannot generally produce the same quality you see on standard soft-cover books. And if you don't think that the covers help sell books, you are so wrong that it's not even funny.

    Standard soft-cover books? I'm not real sure what that means, I guess it depends on your standard reading material. IMO, standard soft-covers would be novels and the like, printed on cheap stock with limited typefaces, with no color pictures, and perhaps a few black and white illustrations or drawings. Of course, that may come from my habit of reading Westerns and Mystery novels.

    If, by standard, you're referring to something like a photo-montage book, with glorious full-page color photographs, then I'd have to admit that you may have a point. But, most everything in between, from novels to self-help to religion to cookbooks to most computer books to most magazines could be reproduced in fairly high quality by this machine.

    Third, these machines cannot do true hard-covers. Sure you can run cardstock paper through them, but that's only 200 grams/square meter, and for those people who like hard-cover books, there is no substitute.

    Well, I didn't see any specs on the machine (nor did I, I admit, look for any), so I don't know what the heaviest weight paper it can use would be, but I think most books these days are soft-cover. For those that are diehard into hardcovers, then you should be willing to pay a premium for them (as you already do).

    Is it going to majorly upset the publishing industry as we know it? Not a chance in Hell(tm).

    The more I think about it, the more I have to agree with you. Why? Because publishers, being of the old-school business leagues, ar eprobably afraid to invest in something better than what they have now. That, and short-sighted fellows not realizing the true potential of a machine like this.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 10, 2001 @06:07AM (#95220)

    I read this article, but couldn't find any per-book printing costs. If you use a commercial printer these days, your per-unit print cost is high unless you do at least 1000 copies. If you use a print-on-demand service like Lightning Press, you get per-book costs higher than printing (savings is in waste and cash-flow).

    For game and hobby books, here's the numbers. A general rule of thumb is your per-unit cost should be under 1/5th the purchase price. For print, you want maybe $1.50 to print a book, toss in a quarter/book for paying the talent and a little for shipping; that sets a $10 list price. The retailer often gets a 40% discount, distributors a 60% discount. So retailers get 40% and publishers get 40% (of which half is the per-unit cost).

    If the per-unit cost goes up, what sort of margin will retailers get, and will publishers see? Do retailers get 40% and push the printing cost back to the publishers? If so, publishers will have their profit margins cut (since I'm pretty darn sure, whatever the cost, the per-book machine costs more than printing several thousand on a web press).

    Which means books on demand still won't save the alternative book trade, because the lower profit margin means publishers still will have to be picky about things. It'll be easier and less risky in terms of printing a book, but since publishers still have to pay writers, cover artists, and marketing, there are still barriers.

    from RPGnet, The Inside Scoop on Gaming []
  • by Smack ( 977 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2001 @08:03AM (#95221) Homepage
    And it sucked then too. One of our professors decided to use a service like this for his trial year of using his textbook, before it went out as an official priting. We despised the book.

    * The pages were too big. 8 1/2 by 11 is just too big for a book.
    * The covers suck. It's usually just a thicker card, rather than a nice cover like a real book has.
    * Pages fall out at random, especially after you mistreat the binding, like everyone does.
    * No resale value -- maybe only an issue for a textbook.

    In summary, it was just as expensive as a real book, but was no better than a bunch of photocopies in a binder or with a binder clip on them. What's the point?
  • With the advent of cheap CD-ROMs and .pdf files, it's been damned difficult to get my paws on a real live manual for quite some time.

    OK, so call me analog - I like books I can place next to the keyboard and actually read.

    If the per-unit price is decent enough, maybe I can start restocking my bookshelves.

  • by Thag ( 8436 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2001 @06:28AM (#95223) Homepage
    All of this technology is old stuff that's off the shelf, and all of it is already at your neigborhood Kinko's. You can already bring in a CD and walk out with a full-color hardbound book.

    The difference is that this is all in one unit (though Kinko's may have that by now too), and that the method of distibution and payment isn't in place at Kinko's. Of course, it isn't in place yet with this guy's invention, either.

    The real sticking point, and what this shoddily-researched article fails to mention, is that your insta-book is going to cost you several times as much as a mass-produced volume. Printing out pages one at a time is nowhere near as cost-efficient as printing out thousands of copies at a time. How much is your book coing to cost at 3 cents a page?

    Jon Acheson
  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2001 @05:52AM (#95224) Homepage
    It's called a HP8100DN
    with the stapler/stacker it will print (selecting covers from a different drawer) bind and output 8.5X11 books all day long. the only thing I have to do is apply the spine tape to the stapled edge.

    I use it regulary to print training manuals and just about every linux documentation on the net available as PS

    A 100page duplexed book takes 3.5 minutes to print.

    and a paper jam causes 10 sheets of paper to be crumpled/crammed into tiny spaces.
  • by Robotech_Master ( 14247 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2001 @07:05AM (#95225) Homepage Journal
    If Authors could publish themselves, they wouldn't need the Publishers. They still need a middle man, but this one would be a lot cheaper.
    I'm afraid you're falling into a common fallacy here. Publishers are still needed, partly for doing publicity and such to promote the book for more sales, but mostly because most readers are accustomed to having publishers act as the gatekeepers, the arbiters of quality--if something has been pro-published, they know that it's more likely to be worth reading.

  • by DoorFrame ( 22108 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2001 @05:43AM (#95226) Homepage
    Salon... they're usually pretty good about tech stuff:

    "Piracy, for example, goes away almost magically, since the network is closed and files are designated for printing, not for viewing on a handheld device or PC."

    Don't worry guys, since the files are designated ONLY for printing, we know they'll never be pirated... because they're designated after all. How long do you think that will last?


  • by p0six ( 23324 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2001 @05:58AM (#95227)
    The author of the article mentions probably the most important possible impact of this, but so far I don't see anyone who recognizes this. By putting one of these in major bookstores across the nation, publishers can now eliminate all the waste that comes from printing too many copies of books.

    As I understand the current system, bookstores have a "return policy" with the major publishers. If they buy a book from the publishers, and it sits on the shelf for too long, they can return it. This is a HUGE loss for the publishers, not only because they lose the price of printing the book, but because of the overhead of shipping it out.

    As the article mentions, if these machines become widespread, it has great potential to streamline the publishing industry and reduce cost for the consumer.

    Oh, and for all those people who are harping on the security concerns, who said that these books had to be on an open network? ATMs talk to each other all the time, and hacking of those networks are minimal. I don't see why they couldn't implement something similar for books.
  • by Squirrel Killer ( 23450 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2001 @06:16AM (#95228)
    This guy isn't trying to start a business selling books made on this machine, he's starting a business selling the machines that make the books. That's the key difference. In the first situation, he's competing with booksellers, distributors, and publishers. By just selling the machine, they all become potential customers.

    As the article notes, there's a huge amount of waste in the book industry. Ever stop and think that if your Barnes & Noble or Borders is able to stock the entire O'Reilly library that every other B&N and Borders does too? O'Reilly pays to print all of those copies, but doesn't get paid until they get sold. If Microsoft Bob in a Nutshell turns out to be a bomb, O'Reilly takes it on the chin.

    So this guy would sell his machine to publishers, distributors, and booksellers to eliminate all that wasted printing. B&N gets the machine to offer more titles than they fit in their shelf space. Borders gets the machine because the distributor is tired of renting all that wharehouse space. Your local indie bookseller gets one because the publisher wants to offer their titles everywhere possible, but can't take the risk to print enough copies of a potential blockbuster. The corner mega-store gets one of their own so that they can sell you a library as you pick up your groceries and get your oil changed. Finally, your city library gets one so that when some little snot steals Harry Potter and the Increasingly Over-Commercialized Pot of Gold, they can just print another copy.

    At $30k, it's affordable for all those applications and more. This guy could sell a ton of machines without ever having to listen to one whiny retail-level customer or worry about the ever-changing copyright law.


  • by Raleel ( 30913 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2001 @06:00AM (#95229)
    and I mean, I buy a lot of books..probably at least one a week. Anyhow, this will be nice for a lot of the stuff I like to read for enjoyment...those paperbacks that are a light read (sci-fi, fantasy, my wife and her romance novels). Of course, being able to feel the book before purchasing is a good thing, but I suppose they could have a "demo model" on the shelf. You know what's going to suck though? Someone is going to try and make a scheme out of this that will be effectively a book lease. They will insist that you are just renting the book or some crap like that.

    Please, just don't let someone screw this up.
  • I know somebody pursuing a very similar vision; his company is called PushButton Press [].


  • by SirSlud ( 67381 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2001 @06:01AM (#95231) Homepage
    Bad thing. Why? A book's ability to be sold often depends on it being on a shelf. (You pick it up, flip the pages, and buy it, never having intented to buy this particular book when you entered the store.) These machines will simply facilitate more of the 'let them pick what we read, watch, eat and sleep with' mentatility content puclishers have, as they will subvert the browsing process and put only the books that the publishers want to sell front and center in advertising associated with the machine.
  • by ( 113202 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2001 @05:49AM (#95232) Homepage
    No, it's B&N that wants this machine. No excess stock, no shelf space, no reshelving, no warehousing, no transportation costs.

    Heck you could probably automate the whole store!

    Customer sits down at screen, searches for, previews titles, selects, enters cash or credit card, walks to end of machine, walks away with actual real book.

  • by PokemonMaster ( 114279 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2001 @05:40AM (#95233)'s called the Xerox DocuTech.
  • by driehuis ( 138692 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2001 @08:18AM (#95234)
    No, no, you got it the wrong way around. Airline pax will pay any amount of money to fulfill their real or imaginary needs, so margins can be higher.

    Try to buy a roll of tape to hold your suitcase shut. Then buy a cup of coffee. Add the experience of the eternal smile and good humor of the check-in handlers, and you'll be softened up to the point that you will need to buy a nicely bound copy of, say, Taiwan's Agricultural Statistics 1980-1989 and go for the leather binding option!

  • by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2001 @09:16AM (#95235) Homepage
    most readers are accustomed to having publishers act as the gatekeepers, the arbiters of quality--if something has been pro-published, they know that it's more likely to be worth reading.
    You're oversimplifying here. First off, a lot of dreck gets published professionally: books about pyramid power and astrology, for example.

    Also, there's no fundamental reason why the organization that judges the quality of the book has to be the same one that distributes it. Currently there's only an economic reason for this coupling of the two roles, since traditional printing has huge setup costs.

    What about publishing free-information books? The traditional publishing system makes it unlikely that many publishers will make the investment to print an edition of a book without being guaranteed a monopoly via copyright. Yes, O'Reilly publishes free-information books, but the rest of the industry isn't exactly rushing to follow.

    Warning: shameless self-promotion coming up! The Assayer [] is a site I run for user-contributed book reviews, with an emphasis on reviews of free books. The aim is to get the best of both worlds: free information, but with a mechanism to keep from drowning in all the low-quality stuff.

    The Assayer [] - free-information book reviews

  • by SubtleNuance ( 184325 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2001 @11:09AM (#95236) Journal
    Of course, the problem is that a lot of authors' contracts specify that the rights to shop their books to other publishers revert to them when the books go "out of print."

    Maybe some person would be able to setup these units in public spaces as complete alternatives to book stores. You could make a VAST array of printed material available on one of these - what do you want the bookstore for? Im thinking about destroying publishing houses all together... authors could simply share a royalty with the "Insta-Book Kiosk" owner. Millions of zines, comics, magazines, books, guttenburg texts with zero incremental costs for increased volumes - you would be able to skip all your traditional 'big publishing' houses at first and just sell 'niche' material (just an absolutly VAST array of it) - and then invite authors to make their back-catalogues available...

    Ill bet one, or a collection of PUBLISHERS buy up this company in order to stear it to a 'reasonable and appropriate' usage... and avoid your described scenario all together.

  • by tenzig_112 ( 213387 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2001 @05:44AM (#95237) Homepage
    For years, I've been doing this at Kinkos. I built a leaf-style print of my book (The Narcoleptic Dialectic []) and had Kinko's copy & perfect bind five or so at a time. Add a glossy coper with 2-sided carpet tape and voilla! You have a book-like product. Of course, it costs me $12 or so per book, so my margins are crap.

    The machine seems like it would be great for circumventing the publishing industry. But remember, publishing is much more than just printing. The Baltimore Sun even serialized this book (on SunSpot) back in 1997 and still very few people found out about it.

  • by schnitzi ( 243781 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2001 @06:54AM (#95238) Homepage
    I worked last year for a startup in the on-demand book business, so let me try to address some of the issues and questions raised here.

    1. Besides the industry-wide drying up of venture capital, the big problem we had was a cart-before-the-horse sort of thing. That is, no bookstore wanted us there without a huge database of titles, and no publisher wanted to supply us with titles unless we were in a lot of bookstores. Still, there was more than a modicum of interest expressed by a number of the major book distributors.

    2. Don't kid yourself that these books printed on demand will be cheaper. Nobody will start charging you less for your books out of the goodness of their hearts. There are even justifications for increasing the price.

    3. New books that you have stored as PDF or something are a snap, but there is considerable labor involved in scanning in existing books so that they can be printed on-demand. Basically, chop the cover off, scan it, (rescan it because the colors are all off ;-), feed the pages into a scanner, digitally remove the scanner shadow from along the binding edge for each page, look over everything to make sure the pictures scanned okay and no pages stuck... It's a huge pain in the ass.

    4. As someone else pointed out, the big win here is getting access to books that are out-of-print. Once you have the database built up, there's no reason any book should ever go out of print. A lot of our short-order print requests were for long out-of-print manuals and such. And the other big win is for new writers; there's no risk at all for a publisher to put a new writer's book into the database and if it succeeds, great.

    It's an idea whose time will come, obviously. I forget the exact statistic, but something like 40% of the people who request a particular book from the Barnes and Noble information counter come away disappointed, despite their having hundreds of thousands of books in stock. The lost sales figures are staggering.

    Here's another very interesting possible application for you to stew over -- machines on the street corner that print you up the daily paper on demand.

  • by Rogerborg ( 306625 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2001 @06:35AM (#95239) Homepage
    • In seven minutes, I am holding a finished book-a trial run of a Simon & Schuster children's title

    With 10% downtime, that's 185 (short, monochrome, page-paper covered?) books per machine per day. That's not really going to help the Amazons of the world. However, on the Amazon...

    • At [$30,000] they could be distributed widely enough to put everyone on the planet within a few miles and a few dollars of every book ever written. "I see this going into places like India or Brazil where you have real distribution needs," he says.

    Now, that is a big whoop. However, at $30,000 and with lots of moving bits, this beastie might be too expensive to buy and maintain. If you're that cash strapped, you could buy a good printer, cheap PC and hot glue binder that would let you do the same job (and more) for less money (but a little slower).

    Also, in the immediate future, publishers will likely only want to pay to digitise their bestsellers, not educational or special interest texts. But have a look on the ebooks usenet groups, and there are plenty of titles out there if you have a PC setup and aren't not that fussed about copyright - and remember, we're now talking about the impoverished here, where we're trying to educate people up to the stage where they do have the leisure and luxury to care about abstract issues like copyright.

    As a prospective author currently whoring my way around publishers, I find this an attractive idea. However, it looks as though it falls between two stools, being too small scale for commercial use, but over-engineered and expensive for those who could really benefit. I think they'll find it hard to break out of their initial target niche of corporate documentation departments, although I can also see college bookshops making great use of this to print obscure texts - but at a premium, and assuming that they can get them in a (proprietary!) digital form.

  • by krugdm ( 322700 ) <(moc.gurki) (ta) (todhsals)> on Tuesday July 10, 2001 @07:08AM (#95240) Homepage Journal
    Here's another very interesting possible application for you to stew over -- machines on the street corner that print you up the daily paper on demand. Mmm. There's a good one. Think of the extra cash a newspaper publisher could take in if they keep the news updated throughout the day. I could print out a paper for the train ride in, and another one going home with brand new or updated content. Make it so each customer can set their own preferences, perhaps stored on a magnetic card, so they only get news/sports/comics, etc. that they care to read, and perhaps advertising that is targeted to them, or ads for stores within a small radius of the printer. This way, the paper would only be a few pages long instead of 4-6 fat sections that I never have time to read completely. Wasn't HP or some other company working on something like this where you could have news sent to your printer in the morning?
  • by discogravy ( 455376 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2001 @05:42AM (#95241) Homepage
    Coming soon to Just for Karma, the true story of CmdrTaco and by CowboyNeal...and of course, it'll have ten blank pages at the end, so you can add your own comments.
    Slashdot: When News Breaks, We Give You The Pieces
  • by Thomas M Hughes ( 463951 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2001 @06:22AM (#95242)
    First off, I think this is a fairly good idea. Barnes and Nobles no longer has to go from being a gigantic book store with tons of popular titles and a handful of not so popular titles. Furthermore, the little corner bookstore will have the same inventory (and same prices) as the big boys. Point for good.

    Second, it should lower book prices (read the section of the article about expensive guess work). Also, good.

    Third, chances are, you'll see an actual drop in the number of obscure books that get read. Why? Well, lets go into some depth here...

    Whenever I feel like reading something new, and interesting, I go to the book store and just roam around for a bit hoping I'll stumble into something that looks interesting. When I find something, I pick it up, flip through it and decide to buy it or not.

    With this system, the above situation is impossible. The book doesn't exist until I buy it. Sure, I can "flip through it" on a computer monitor, just like I can on Amazon. Though, I can honestly say I've never bought a random book off Amazon. Its always been something I planned for, and directly went for. Not to mention, they never put anything but reviews on monitors. After all, they want you to buy the book.

    Point for evil. This isn't a good development. No longer will people be able to stumble on little jewels of good literature as easily. Instead they'll have to know what they want, before they can look at it. I'm not sure I feel peachy about that.
  • by Thag ( 8436 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2001 @06:51AM (#95243) Homepage
    It says they use a hot-glue binding. That's not encouraging; they can be really cheap and nasty. What good is an expensive paperback book (and it will be at least 4 cents a page, more for color) that falls apart halfway through?

    Now, if they had a quality paperback binding like you find on, say, Penguin paperbacks, that would be different.

    Jon Acheson
  • by oneiros27 ( 46144 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2001 @07:58AM (#95244) Homepage
    I did some printing in high school, so when a friend was looking at getting a book printed, I called about and got the details.

    In about 1995 or so, when I was doing this, not many places could print straight to plates for offset printing. I tracked down one place in the DC Metro area that could, and could do perfect binding [as most places wanted to do crappy plastic combs or wire bound] I think in the end, for a press run of 500 copies, 200 pages, it was about $3k. [20lb offset]. [It might have been 1000 copies, can't remember].

    Anyway, we _specifically_ went this route, as it was printed, not copied. From the sounds of this machine, for the speeds it's doing, there's a good chance that it's doing copying. Copying uses toner, which flakes with use, and makes the books slowly become useless.

    Ink, however, from offset printing, penetrates the paper, and is good for many, many readings. [Anyone who's had that grad class with the teacher who's too cheap to get their book printed knows these the letters slowly start disappearing from the pages].

    This may be a great invention, and I'm sure that this has its uses, especially for vanity press, but I'm reluctant to say that this is the greatest invention 'till I've seen some samples so I can guage the quality of the printing. [Hell, this might not even support multiple color prints]

    Oh...and for manuals, I prefer wire binding, as as I can open up the books flat, or fold them back on themselves.
  • by EvlPenguin ( 168738 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2001 @05:37AM (#95245) Homepage
    Well, I don't think there is much value in making a machine that can print out the same titles that you can get from your local B&N (or online, for that matter), because those books (they mention Stephen King's Dreamcatcher) are at least somewhat popular and available (save remote/country areas, where this machine could be used for that purpose).

    Where I think the most important use comes in is in the opportunities this opens up for Indy writers and zine publishers. This way, seemingly anyone can get a "professional" looking hardcopy of their own material, whereas previously they would be confined to the copying machine at Staples.
  • "Working from a digital file, it can print, bind, and trim a book of any size in a matter of minutes."

    Wow. The scalability of this things is awesome! To be able to make books at the nanolevel all the way up to ones with enough pages to bridge the earth and moon! The implications of this new technology reaches far beyond any printing system, that's for sure.
    To be able to cut paper of *any* size, whether having a length of the sun's or an atom's diameter. Amazing.
    And talk about strong bindings!
  • by LetterJ ( 3524 ) <> on Tuesday July 10, 2001 @06:27AM (#95247) Homepage
    I figured this would be pretty much common knowledge among /. readers, but I guess not. [] has been using something similar for quite a while to allow people to self-publish. For $99 or so, your book gets put in a format these machines understand, assigned an ISBN number and entered in the Ingram book database. Amazon and BN then can sell your book. The books only get printed when someone orders one and then shipped out. The more successful ones sometimes end up on BN shelves in the brick-n-morter stores.

    A great many of the books have been utter drek, but for those looking to get a few copies of their novel out, it's worth it. They are also targeting companies for internal manuals and custom books, professors who write their own texts, authors whose books are out of print, etc. If Amazon or your local Borders got one of these machines, it's still likely that a service like this would exist to get your book into the system.
  • by Robotech_Master ( 14247 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2001 @05:52AM (#95248) Homepage Journal
    The big revolutionary use for this thing lies in keeping mass-published books in print. Say I wanted a book that was published back in '84, but is now out of print and the only way I can find it is by ordering it via one of Amazon's used book stores. Well, if this thing were set up, and enough old books were on file, I could just go down and have them print me out a copy. Which means the author would get a royalty from it, instead of the nothing he would get from me buying used.

    Of course, the problem is that a lot of authors' contracts specify that the rights to shop their books to other publishers revert to them when the books go "out of print." If a POD-able book might be considered never to be out of print, we might be looking at another Tasini fight.


  • by American AC in Paris ( 230456 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2001 @06:02AM (#95249) Homepage
    from the article:

    The most esoteric taste could, in theory, be satisfied anywhere and anytime: Running to catch the 6 a.m. flight to Denver, you could stop at an airport kiosk and buy a title as obscure as Thomas Merton's The New Man just as easily as you now pick up a copy of Stephen King's Dreamcatcher.

    ...sheesh. For whatever reason, visionaries and pundits alike seem to think that the following scenario is some holy grail of everyday events:

    • <person> is running to catch a flight;
    • for some reason, <person> wishes to purchase <product in question> first; and
    • Cannot rely on the old way of getting <product in question>, as it does not provide <specific parameter> that only <hot new technology> can provide.

    Folks, I fully endorse giving bogus information to online surveys, but honestly. We've got to stop telling them that we address most of our shopping, reading and entertainment needs while running to catch our daily transcontinental flight. This is getting nutty.

"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." -- Howard Aiken