Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Expresso on the High Street?

The Espresso Book Machine, has been coming to publishing for some time and in the last year we have continued our updates on the machine’s progress. To-date it has been deployed in five installations and now On Demand Books announces that it is ‘in advanced talks with a well known London-based bookseller to bring one to the UK on early 2008’.

Is this the way it will work, as an additional facility within an existing bookstore? Will the machine drive sufficient traffic and volume within a bookstore? Will demand such that the machine is idle 80% of the time and very busy during the 20% when the store is also busy? On demand implies ‘just in time’ not ‘can you come back later’ and if it where drop shipped then why do it locally?

The library opportunities to offer much potential in terms of width of offer, economics of digital over inventory, a more consistent foot flow and the potential for titles to be ‘always available’.

Stores such as Foyles would appear to be the perfect fit, offering both footfall and destination pull. However, what will they sell on demand and will these sales compliment or cannibalise existing sales? Will the facility generate new footfall and incremental revenue? Will the machine be at front of store or hidden away in a corner where few tread?
It certainly is an interesting venture and one we certainly wish the ‘London based bookseller’ well with.
We return to Starbucks or Starbooks and what would appear at first a better fit. However, who will do the serving, selling and take the money and what will come first the latte, the POD book? Importantly when they have paid for the machine, supplies, space and the titles will there be sufficient margin to make it profitable and more than a loss leader. The mini ‘expresso’ may be more viable when and if it arrives.
Kelko, Rymans, Prontoprint all offer a clearer offer, after all their business is paper and copying. However, will they know anything about the works and be able to select and sell and would a book buyer expect to go there to get a book?

Supermarkets are an interesting option. They are often open 24 x 6 and always need new product lines and could even accommodate a venture on a franchise basis. Imagine your local Waterstones on demand within your local Tesco. The footfall certainly would not be a problem and they often have cafes and sell commodity. However can they afford the square footage and would it deliver the required return?

The list of potential players is only restricted by the service package and their commitment. We have already written about the likes of BookGG, one of many in China using similar technology and new business models to bring ‘just in time’ production to their customers on the High Street. Localised POD offers much in negating book miles, reducing stocked units and offering other formats such as large print.

The challenge is finding a way in which communities and existing channels can effectively participate and that is exactly where the Brave New World report came in.