Almost a year ago I wrote an article (http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2008/06/3-minute-book-p.html) that predicted a new service would soon appear. It took a year but a trial of the service will start this week.
As I wrote last year:
This week the Blackwell bookseller chain will launch a three-month trial of the machine in its Charing Cross Road branch in London as a “print on demand” service for shoppers in an effort "to consign to history the idea that you can walk into a bookshop and not find the book you want." The Blackwell store will be able to print any of some 400,000 titles. The company's overall goal is to extend this to a million titles by the summer, and to spread out more machines to the rest of its sixty stores once it works out pricing.
I don't know how many of those books will be genealogy or local history topics, but in a catalog of 400,000 titles there are bound to be at least a few such books. The print-on-demand-in-the-store service should be very effective for low volume books, such as genealogy or local history books.
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 that are available in print at any given time. 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.
Says Blackwell chief executive Andrew Hutchings: "This could change bookselling fundamentally. It's giving the chance for smaller locations, independent booksellers, to have the opportunity to truly compete with big stock-holding shops and Amazon."
Blackwell's web site notes that in addition to getting books printed in-store, in the future you will be able to order titles via their site and then pick the order up at the nearest Blackwell store. You'll also be able to bring in your own book to print. You will need two PDF files, one for the book's pages and one for the cover. With thousands of out-of-copyright books already available on Google Books, this sounds like an excellent method of printing books that even Blackwell's 400,000-title database does not contain. Simply download the book as a PDF file from Google Books, then take it to Blackwell's for printing.
You can watch an interesting video of one of Blackwell's Espresso book machines in operation at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JMFh5axDKWU.