Tens of thousands of genealogy and local history books have been printed over the years. Wouldn't you like to walk into a local bookstore and purchase the book(s) of your choice within minutes? That may not be as crazy as it sounds.
Blackwell bookshops in the U.K. are testing new, super-fast in-store printers, called Espresso Book Machines. Similar machines are already used in the World Bank in Washington and at the Library of Alexandria in Egypt. The best part about these printers is speed: the standard unit can produce a 200-page book, printed and bound, in just 7 minutes. The higher-priced “double-printer” cuts that time down to just 3 minutes.
Blackwell is only installing a few printers at first. If successful, the company hopes to add the printing on-demand facilities to 60 retail outlets. If it works for Blackwell, you can expect to see other stores install similar systems.
The business plan of Blackwell is simple: local retailers have been losing a lot of business to online bookstores such as Amazon.com. Until now, the local retailers had no means of matching the online bookstores' immense inventory. Anyone can order almost any book online. Local bookstores, the so-called "bricks and mortar" stores, have inventories that are limited by physical space. Local stores can only carry a small percentage of the books out there. They also have higher prices because of the rent they pay, the staff they need, and the cost of shipping the books to the stores.
Amazon's much larger inventory is available by overnight delivery, if required. Amazon.com's warehouse space is presumably cheaper than retail space, and the labor expenses are also cheaper. As a result, Amazon's prices are often much lower than those of retail stores, even after shipping charges are added.
Super-fast printing on-demand solves most of the retail stores' problems. The content of thousands of books could be stored on a local disk drive or on remote file servers connected to each store's Espresso Book Machine via the Internet. The customer could walk into the store, order a particular book, and then receive the physical book within three minutes. Even Amazon.com cannot match that speed. Blackwell expects the "print on demand" pricing to be very competitive when compared to Amazon.com's prices.
In today's announcement of the new Espresso Book Machines, Blackwell representatives never mentioned the word "genealogy." However, more than 25,000 genealogy and local history books have already been scanned by others and are now available as digital files. I would think it would be simple for Blackwell or some other bookstore chain to enter into an agreement with one or more of the companies who already have digitized thousands of out-of-copyright genealogy and local history books.
Retailers do have one big advantage over online – there is no delivery time wait. You can walk into the store, purchase the book, and walk out with it. Amazon.com cannot compete with that business model.
You can watch an interesting video of the book machines in operation at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JMFh5axDKWU.