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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Bookstore Without Books?

Via Twitter, a publishing friend and visionary, Dominique Raccah, forwarded me an interesting article from Publishing Perspectives.

The article, entitled "Could You Run a Bookstore With Just an Espresso Book Machine?" asks an interesting question.  As someone who "owns" and operates an Espresso Book Machine at Titles Bookstore, McMaster University, it's something I've long thought about.

After all, along with using the machine to work with publishers to reduce the cost of required textbooks, one of the reasons I was eager to get the EBM installed in our store was the thought that, with access to millions of POD titles, we'd finally have a distinct advantage over online retailers. Sure, Amazon could ship the book in 24 hours - but we'd be able to get it for you in 15 minutes.

Of course, as it stands right now, the catalog I have access to contains somewhere in the realm of 1 to 2 million titles. (Every week thousands of titles get added and I haven't received an official count in a while, so I'm taking a guess - for all I know, it could be closer to 3 million by now)  Sure, that's a phenomenal title count, far surpassing the 30,000 to 40,000 books we normally keep in stock.  But in the grand scheme of title availability, it's still just the tip of the iceberg of selection that will be available through the EBM POD channel. (Yes, one of the challenges of being among the first stores to get this technology is waiting for the industry to catch up)

And while I still believe, as the catalog expands and more publishers provide files through the On Demand Books/POD channel, that vision of access to almost everything will become a reality, I still wonder at the concept of being able to run a bookstore without having ANY books in it. (And for now I'll simply ignore the fact that the current inception of the EBM produces only trade paperbacks, and not hardcovers)

There are many titles that we produce on our EBM that we keep stock of on our bookshelves right beside the books we've received through traditional distribution channels. Why? So that customers can discover them while browsing. That's one of the common joys customers moving through the physical space of a bookstore continue to marvel at -- the serendipitous nature of discovering something completely unexpected.

I can thus imagine a bookstore that perhaps has a small stock of selected titles -- perhaps Bestsellers, some of the top selling items in a few different categories/genres, some local interest, locally authored/published titles -- and, of course, a sample of some of the 10+ million titles available on the Espresso Book Machine, combined with a customer-friendly browseable kiosk with randomly rotating product information pages on screens inside the store to entice customers to want to check them out.

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