Tuesday, 16 September 2008

More on E-Books

This weekend's Independent on Sunday Magazine is devoted to the future of books - although for books read Novels in this case. One of the areas which didn't get much coverage is print on demand.

For me, it's print on demand that's really waiting for it's "Technology Trigger" - that golden moment when everyone goes "oh yeah". I think that E-Books have their uses - especially for
 high-density readers, those who want to cut down the weight, people stuck in hospitals, etc - but there's always going to be a need for bound paper.

Here's a couple of scenarios which I think will really bring Print on Demand for books into the mainstream.

Airport Bookterminals - Simply a 'vending machine' - hey if you can buy an iPod why not books? - which has a limited array of books pre-loaded which can be run off for you on demand. Multi-lingual, cheap, 24-hour and loads of selection - perfect for closed environments like travel hubs.

eBookstores - What's great about Amazon? Choice - The Long Tail. What's great about the high street? Immediacy. Bookstores with huge print on demand catalogues meet both of these needs - there's no need for anything to be out of print ever again, no need for short-run publishing, just a simple case of having a huge portfolio of eBooks which can be printed and bound as quality hardbacks or cheap paperbacks quickly and easily. Want a copy of Emma? - Which version. Fancy the newspaper from the day you were born? - No problem.
Now there's got to be a huge change in business models for publishers in order for print on demand to really take off. I can foresee a situation whereby publishers have to sell themselves to authors and rely on significant lock-in contracts. If the suppliers get on board with authors then they can split the profits, with authors working with publishers providing the editors, proof readers and marketing to those who want it.

But what for libraries? Well we could think about doing away with stock... just a thought but if our future is as a public-private memory space then a mixed provision of eBooks (for in-Library reading) and print on demand (take it home for a price, return it for free?) could work. Of course it's an interesting dilemma for Legal Deposit libraries - what exactly is 'publication' in this environment and who has the responsibility to deposit with you? International publication is more likely so the geography of publication becomes more complex. 

At the same time there's easy access to the Long Tail of material - what kind of impact might this have on the large-scale digitisation schemes? Will we sell our unique material via print on demand machines on the high street? I for one will be fasciated to see how the shift to e-publication and print on demand will affect us as all. 

UPDATE: Looks like the University of Michigan Library are already moving forward with print on demand. [via LISNews]

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