Bookshop Santa Cruz had a big opening party to launch their Espresso book machine. It’s a book printing machine and a partnership between Xerox and On Demand.
The audience was mostly aging boomers and as far as I could tell from the questions they had no clue about independent book publishing. So they were ripe for the puffery and half-truths ladled out.
Some of my issues:
They kept telling the audience how easy it is. It is not easy. Oh, I believe once you have the text file and the cover file properly formatted in pdf (and how easy is that?) you can turn it over to them and pay for the paperbound copies you want. That part is easy. It’s getting to “properly formatted” that’s the problem. Of course they are selling the conversion and creation services.
They’ve created yet another proprietary format, as if we don’t have enough already. So you have a manuscript in this format and it is only available via On Demand. You’d have to start all over again to get it into epub for Smashwords and iBooks. Then again to get it into Kindle. The point of an independently published book is it should be available through as many sources as possible.
They caroled on about the 8 million copyright-free titles available for the price of printing. And it is indeed nice to be able to have a printed and bound copy of a book that has only been available up to now as poorly formatted html or a scanned image or through inter-library loan. But these are all titles published before 1923 and most of these source files are pretty poor quality. How many times have you been desperate to read a pre-1923 title lately? I’m interested in Edwardian and Victorian fiction and I do read many of these titles. But I know no one else who does. Girl of the Limberlost, anyone?
They said they would help authors get an ISBN. Anyone can get an ISBN. That’s the point. Everytime you publish a book in a different format (and file formats count) you should give it a new ISBN. Except for Amazon, who doesn’t use them. So the ISBN is tied to the proprietary format and is neither here nor there. Smashwords gives free ISBNs. So does Lulu. Or you can go direct to Bowker and pay.
They also said they would help authors copyright their books. Authors don’t need help copyrighting books. You create it, it’s copyrighted to you. End of story. There is no big copyright registry in the sky or in Washington. The ISBN is to help distinguish the edition, not a copyright license code.
I looked at the Espresso machine itself and it does look fun to watch. Unfortunately, it brought back all those years of calling the Xerox repairman, loading toner, clearing paper jams, and calling the Xerox repairman. I wanted to print up an ‘Out of Order’ sign and give it to them but I was sure that bit of humor would not be appreciated.
Now, the big selling point, and I suppose it is a point: they said if you had a memoir or a short essay or a handwritten manuscript and only wanted one or two copies for yourself and your family, this would be perfect. I can see that. I’m not sure how big this market is, however. The price of this machine, according to Business Week this year, is $100,000. I’m sure Bookshop Santa Cruz got it for less, or they may be leasing it. I don’t know and I don’t care. But that’s a lot of tiny books, even amortizing a capital purchase over several years.
Also, they mentioned how wonderful this would be to print recipes. What is it with recipes? Back in the day, waaayy back in the day when personal computers had just come out and I’m talking late 1980’s here, there were no application packages to speak of, no Turbotax, no games, no internet as a matter of fact. So personal computer salesmen, when asked what the thing was for, always mentioned recipes. That did take me back. I wonder what memory bank Xerox pulled that out of.
I do have a copy of the price list, which is broken out into ala carte bits. If I feel the urge I might take the time to do a price comparison with one of my books, to see how it compares. Although, and this brings me back to the proprietary limitations, I could pay the same with Espresso and get less distribution and exposure.
Oh, and a note to the gentleman who told me traditional publishers are trolling indies to pick the best and give them contracts, that’s not what they are doing. They are trolling the indie sales figures. So if you write a great novel and get lucky in the marketing and sales (luck being defined as selling over 5,000 verified copies) you might get a query. The publishers have enough slush to wade through without reading indie pubs.