September 2009

village books-BellinghamFuture Perfect Publishing has been following the Espresso Book Machine for the last several years.  The Espresso Book Machine, sometimes called the “book ATM” is developed and marketed by On Demand Books.  The system, about the size of a photocopier, allows a book to be selected from a digital catalog, then printed and bound in just a few minutes. 

Now it is beginning to make serious inroads into the bookstore community.  Two of the latest installations are going to be right here in the Pacific Northwest.  One is at Third Place Books in Bothell, Washington, just outside of Seattle.  The other is at Village Books. It is a community-based, independent bookstore located in the historic Fairhaven district of Bellingham, Washington, and was honored as the 2008 Outstanding Philanthropic Small Business in Washington State.


Village Books, Outstanding Philanthropic Small Business 

Chuck_Robinson_Village_BooksChuck Robinson has been co-owner, with his wife Dee, of Village Book in Bellingham, WA, since June of 1980.  Chuck has pioneered many causes in his community so it seems only natural that his bookstore would be one of the first to make this innovative new way of producing books available.  He’s a former board member and president of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association and the American Booksellers Association and currently serves as a board member of the Community Food Coop and as a trustee of Whatcom Community College.  He is currently writing a book about the history of Village Books to be published–on the Espresso Book Machine–during the store’s thirtieth anniversary next June.

Lindsey McGuirkHelping him with the installation is Lindsey McGuirk, Digital Marketing & Publishing Manager.  Lindsey has been in the book industry for over 5 years, beginning as a bookseller at Village Books where she eventually became the Events Coordinator. After a short stint on the publishing end of things with Algonquin Books, she returned to her true love as an independent bookseller at Village Books.  She now does the online marketing for the bookstore and will be the go-to person for Village Books’ Espresso Book Machine.

Chuck and Lindsey recently took the time to share their plans for the bookshop’s new Espresso Book Machine.

FPP:  How did you first learn about the Espresso Book Machine (EBM)?

CR & LM:  Though we had read about the machine in trade publications we first saw an early model of the EBM at Book Expo America a couple of years ago.

FPP:  What convinced you to put it into Village Books and how do you plan to use it?

CR & LM:  We’re convinced that “the times they are a’changing” and that we need to be on board or we’ll be left behind.

FPP:  What type of books do you expect to use the EBM to produce?

CR & LM:  Although we’ll have access to books through LightningSource and now Google’s public domain books, the bulk of the books we will be printing–at least in the short term–will likely be self-published. We have already been receiving inquiries from authors interested in having their books printed on the Espresso Book Machine and have a few projects lined up to print when the machine is installed.

FPP:  How many titles are available in the EBM catalog overall?

CR & LM:  Between LightningSource and Google Books, there are nearly 4 million books available to print through the EBM. There are also nearly 600,000 backlist titles that are in-copyright that we can print thanks to publisher’s permissions.

FPP:  Could you describe what happens when a customer places an order that requires the EBM?

CR & LM:  This could be an elaborate answer, but I’ll try to simplify it as much as possible. Assuming that an author brings us print-ready PDFs (those that will not need any additional layout changes or adjustments) of both the book block and the book jacket, we will simply upload those files to the EBM and let it do its work. It prints the book block, glues it, prints the book jacket, and binds it all together. It will then take the book and trim it to its specified trim size. It’s an amazing process!

FPP:  How does the cost of producing a book on the EBM compare with ordering it from a wholesaler or distributor?

CR & LM:  Pricing in print-on-demand, like that of e-books, is still shaking out. However, we expect the retail price for books printed in-store to be comparable to those ordered from distributors.

FPP:  Will having an EBM change how many titles you carry in your physical inventory?

CR & LM:  We believe the EBM will allow us to enhance our inventory by being able to offer books that would otherwise be unavailable. There will be some books that we may carry in smaller numbers because we can instantaneously print a replenishment copy and there will be other books that we won’t have on the shelf–just as there always have been–but, unlike the past, will be able to provide very quickly.

FPP:  What is the purchase model for the EBM? Is it an outright purchase? Lease? Per book fee?

CR & LM:   There are a couple of ways one may obtain a machine. We have chosen to lease ours.

FPP:  Will Village Books use the EBM to support self-published authors or small presses without distribution?

CR & LM:  We absolutely will be supporting self-publishing authors! We’ve been highly supportive of self-published authors for year—we have a strong consignment program and carry dozens of books by local, self-published authors. We haven’t considered printing books for small presses without distribution, but you have just added another element to our growing list of possibilities. Thank you!

FPP:  Are there any special logistical considerations for operating the EBM? For example, space, power, supplies, etc?

CR & LM:  We did have to provide 220V wiring to the site and we will be moving shelves around to accommodate the machine. And, we will, of course, need to stock paper, glue, etc.

FPP:  If you could design the next version of the EBM, what features would be on your wish list?

CR & LM:  It’s a little hard to say prior to our working with the machine for a while. We’ve spent some time with an earlier model and feel that the company has addressed many of the issues we would have had with that machine. I’m sure that this is a question we may have a better answer for in a few months.



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Google and book settlementThe Google Book Settlement has become the stuff of great courtroom fiction – a battle of titans over the future of digital publishing.  Google’s agreement with the American Association of Publishers and the Authors Guild had been plodding along toward what seemed like an uneventful conclusion.   However, last minute filings by the opposition have made court approval less certain.

The original settlement called for:

  • Payment of $125 million to settle claims and set up a book Registry
  • Give Google the right to store digital copies of books covered by the settlement
  • Let Google include these books in its search results, sell online versions and license book-scans to libraries
  • Allows millions of “orphan” works (books still under copyright but whose copyright-holders can’t be found) to be included in Google’s program

Opponents claim the settlement would, in essence, allow Google to create the world’s largest digital library and bookstore, stifling innovation and competition.  According to the New York Times, filings opposing the settlement have been submitted by a host of organizations, including:

  • Amazon
  • Microsoft
  • Yahoo!
  • Sony
  • groups representing authors and publishers
  • Some foreign governments
  • Antitrust and economics experts in academia
Gary Reback

Gary Reback

Some of these groups have joined a coalition called the Open Book Alliance, co-led by Gary Reback, an antitrust attorney in Silicon Valley who in the 1990s helped persuade the Justice Department to file its landmark antitrust case against Microsoft.  Many of these companies have a vital stake in the digital future of books and are anxious to block any attempt by Google to secure an advantage in managing the process by which readers access and consume book content.  According to the Wall Street Journal, no major publishers in the US have come out against the settlement, though some foreign publisher groups are opposed.

Judge Denny Chin

Judge Denny Chin

The settlement is being reviewed in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York by Judge Denny Chin.  Now the Department of Justice has weighed in with a letter that could alter the course of the settlement.  An article in ZDNet reported that the DOJ letter characterizes the settlement as:

  • Being not “fair, reasonable and adequate to the class members
  • In violation of antitrust law
  • Shutting off competition in digital distribution

Pretty heavy stuff.  But the DOJ is providing some guidance on how to make the settle more palatable.  ZDNet quotes from the letter on this point:

This risk of market foreclosure would be substantially ameliorated if the Proposed Settlement could be amended to provide some mechanism by which Google’s competitors’ could gain comparable access to orphan works (whatever such access turns out to be assuming the parties negotiate modifications to the settlement).

According to CBS News, Google has promised to share its electronic index with its rivals.  The next round in the drama that has become the Goggle Book Settlement will be played out in court on October 7.  Stay tuned!

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Jeff_HoweWe are in the midst of a gigantic experiment in journalism – seeing if crowssourcing can work effectively alongside traditonal reporting.  In a post on hte Online Journalism Review, Robert Niles defined crowdsourced journalism in the following way:

Crowdsourcing, in journalism, is the use of a large group of readers to report a news story. It differs from traditional reporting in that the information collected is gathered not manually, by a reporter or team of reporters, but through some automated agent, such as a website.

In his recent book, Crowdsourcing:  Why the Power of the Crowd Is Driving the Future of Business, Jeff Howe (right) recounts some examples from the history of crowdsourced journalism, including:

Assignment Zero – Assignment Zero was a short term experiment – the brainchild of Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at New York University, working in collaboration with WIRED magazine. The idea behind the project was to use the combined skills of a crowd to write a comprehensive report on the growth of crowdsourcing.  While the project failed to meet its original goal of 80 usable articles, it did achieve some modest success and highlighted some of the organizational factors that were important in managing a crowssourced reporting operation. – This political blog posted documents from the investigation into the firing of US attorneys during the Bush administration.  By crowdsourcing the document review to interested citizens, the blog was able to quickly parse through the mass of data to expose potential malfeasance.

Jeff Howe – Crowdsourcing

gas buddy websiteMore recently, we’ve seen numerous examples of Twitter, the micro-blogging service, being used by traditional journalists to get raw materials from a developing story reported by citizens as it unfolds.  The Iranian election protests showed that crowd reporting could effectively counter even strict government constraints on the regular media.  One applications of crowdsourced reporting includes situation where online reports by individuals contribute to a bigger picture view of a story that would be impossible for one reporter or even a small team of reporters to piece together.  Examples cited by Niles include:

  • Earthquake reports across a wide region
  • Reports of gas prices – e.g. during the recent gasoline price bubble
  • Accident Watch – This allowed citizens to report theme park accidents from around the country when such data was not forthcoming from federal or state agencies

citizen journalistJust as newspapers and other media organizations have added bloggers to extend their traditional reporting, it seems likely that crowdsourced journalism will rise as news has to be reported with ever shrinking professional staffs.  The lessons learned from the first experiments in this area show that the most successful partnerships combine the data gathering power of widely dispersed individuals organized into a project based community, supervised by professionals with the appropriate editorial skills and journalistic savvy.

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electric literature - reading thats bad for youThe new magazine, Electric Literature may represent the future for literary fiction in the age of new media.  The publication is a bi-monthly anthology of short fiction.  The first issue features stories by such literary notables as Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Cunningham and National Book Award finalist Jim Shepard.

The magazine’s structure is very basic; each issue has just five short stories, anchored by big-name authors.  The goal according to founders Andy Hunter and Scott Lindenbaum is to “facilitate a renaissance of the short story.”  As Mr. Hunter remarked in a recent interview with Ron Charles at the Washington Post:

If there’s any kind of hesitation, it’s from people who don’t really believe that a literary publication is viable. We started this publication to prove them wrong. There’s a human need for storytelling that hasn’t gone away just because print is having problems. We want to bring short fiction to an age that’s more mobile and doesn’t have the time to settle into a long text.

Electric Literature has a novel business model.  The magazine subscription price is based delivery format – $5 for the online version and $10 for the print version.  The magazine is also available now on the iPhone.  The publication’s circulation target is 20,000.

But what sets Electric Literature apart is what it pays its authors – $1,000, a fee certain to attract top writing talent.  The mostly electronic delivery and POD print model helps hold down production costs.  The publication is also tapping in to social media as part of its promotional strategy – using trailers on YouTube and Vimeo for the featured authors and stories.

Jim Shepard’s video – “Your Fate Hurtles Down at You”

Not everyone is convinced that Electric Literature’s model is the way to go.  For example, R.M Ellis of Ward Six writes:

. . . maybe I’m old, but I’m pretty typical of many readers of literary fiction, and I still haven’t shifted over to reading fiction on line, or on a screen of any kind.

But even Mr. Ellis later admits that “maybe I should start reading on-line fiction. It’s the future…”  Electric Literature will face stiff competition from more established literary magazines, including its free online rival, Narrative.  But it’s innovative business model combined with the passion of its founders for first rate storytelling could help rewrite the future of literary fiction.

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365 days. 536 recipes. One girl and a crappy outer borough kitchen.
Julie Powell (The Julie / Julia Project – August 25, 2002)

Julie and Julia movie posterBlog to book success stories have been around for awhile.  Now Julie & Julia has entered new territory – making a profitable  transition from blog to book to movie.  The first month’s box office receipts topped $70 million.  Sales of Julie & Julia (the book – Amazon rank 90) were brisk and Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Amazon rank 4) have sold more this past month than they did in entire years past.

julie_powellFor the aspiring writer, are there attributes that augur well for a blog in terms of turning it into a book and perhaps a movie?  What was it that made Julie & Julia a hit?  Here are some thoughts:

  • Celebrity – The blog involves a celebrity – in this case Julia Child.  What made the whole thing interesting was that she would have the conversation with Julia Child (who was not supportive of the blog) as well as her readers.
  • Drama – Julie Powell made herself the story; setting out her challenge in a very pubic way.  And she had a definite deadline; there was no ambiguity about whether she would succeed or flop.
  • That could be me! – Julie Powell took on the fears of EveryCook – preparing difficult recipes and sharing all her travails with her audience.  Each day, her readers could empathize with her discouragements and celebrate her triumphs, but be glad they weren’t going through it themselves.  In some respects, it was like reality TV.

All the right elements for any good story. The blogging medium might be new, but the formula for success is age old.  Bon appetit!

Julie & Julia movie trailer

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