Sunday, April 19, 2009

Blackwell Steps Up To Local Print On Demand

We congratulate Blackwell for introducing the first Espresso print on demand machine on the UK High Street. It could start the logical shift we have long argued for, from print and distribute, to distribute and print. Overnight Blackwell’s Charing Cross store has gone from fixed inventory to a virtual inventory. No more special orders for titles available on demand, instead it’s just a short wait and it’s in the customer’s hand.

The pilot may not be as bullish as first announced, but if proven it could well be as widespread. The only downside is yet another ‘exclusive partnership’ between a retailer and technology supplier. However, it appears to be only an 18 months exclusive. The exclusive could be good for Blackwell, but we feel an open market could have raised greater awareness, driven down cost, encouraged different models and offers and moved the agenda forward quicker. On the other hand Blackwell’s may not have moved at all without the exclusive arrangements.

Out of the 400,000 books currently available on the Espresso, over a quarter of a million books were previously out of print and effectively not available from stores. By the end of April it is claimed that there will be in excess of a million titles.

So the big question now is how the public will react? Will they perceive any noticeable difference in quality? Will they mind the 5 minute wait? Can they be sold on the green credentials and virtual inventory? Will the footfall and demand in store be continual, or spiky and if the later, how long will a customer wait to be served? Will the machine be best hidden away, or in the shop window? How will customers know and be able to search the range of books available? The million titles be the right range?

We believe that the POD distributed model is an ideal vehicle to regenerate interest in back lists, provide public domain works and potentially service orphan works under licence, but once again it appears that the later may be restricted by another exclusive arrangement.

We hope the community POD machine works and that others are able, albeit after 18 months, to take advantage of the lessons that Blackwell will learn in the pilot.

No comments: