The Future of Publishing?

On West Broadway in Vancouver, near the Granville Street intersection, there is a modest book store named Oscar’s Art Books. It is in one of my favorite areas of Vancouver (although sadly the nearby Korean family coffee shop, Big News, under the clock tower on the corner has gone out of business).

Oscar’s has been in business at its Broadway location for many years, and it managed to survive the onslaught of the mega bookstore Chapters, right across the street. When Chapters in its many venues around the city first appeared in the nineties, it savaged the city’s independent booksellers, sending many of them into bankruptcy or like the well-known Duthie’s Books into severely curtailed operations.

But Oscar’s seems to have even thrived in the face of the competition. Its main appeal to me is its selection of books on art, photography and related subjects that can’t be found in Chapters. It also offers a 10% discount on a free signup when buying a book, unlike the 5% off card Chapters will let you purchase for an annual fee of $25…

And now the store has done something really intriguing. It is offering among the first on-site publishing devices of its kind in North America (outside of a few in university libraries, I understand).

Printing books on demand

Not only will it print books on demand if they are available, but would-be authors, memoirists and poets can publish original works out of that small machine in the store for anywhere from a base price for setup of $100 to $600, depending on which level of production one chooses based on amount of preparation and distribution included. There is also a page (single-sided) printing cost, depending on how many pages. In the case of say, a 300 page book, it’s 6 cents per page. So if you want to publish your 300-page family history in an edition of 50 copies, that could run $18 x 50 or $900 in printing costs beyond whatever setup level is chosen. Seems feasible…

Espresso-book-machine-Esp-001The printing machine is quite fascinating. It sits in the middle of the store. Nearby on shelves are examples of what it can do. It seems to produce a pretty finished job.

(If you just want to buy an existing book, you can choose from millions of titles, and according to Oscar’s, have a “library-quality paperback book printed in minutes.”)

A company called OnDemandBooks produces what it calls the EBM or Espresso Book Machine 2.0, which is what you will find in Oscar’s, with its inner workings viewable through plexiglass. OnDemandBooks claims that “the EBM will print, bind, and trim a 300-page book in less than four minutes with a high speed printer model.” There is a brochure on their site which details how the machine operates.

Will self-publishing and traditional publishing converge?

The internet and new technology are giving rise to a number of creative business models in publishing. I think of the talented photographer Mark Whitney (known as “forestrat” on his blog) who recently self-published a book of photographs.

He used an internet book publishing service called Blurb. They offer free software for you to use laying out your book. Then you order as many copies of your book as you want, or can afford.

They appear to do a good job. Mark describes the process in his post “Publishing Your Own Photo Book.”

There are a number of book publishing services on the web similar to Blurb. There’s Lulu, CreateSpace (a subsidiary of Amazon), WeBook, XLibris, AuthorHouse and Wordclay.

This article on Mashable examines some of these in a helpful way.

For an interesting discussion of what’s ahead for publishing, see Jason Epstein’s recent essay in the New York Review of Books, Publishing: The Revolutionary Future.

Shall I partake of this trend? First I have to actually write the novel I’ve been collecting notes on for a long time. By the time I get around to it, all the regular publishers might be out of business (or if they’re smart, will have taken up some aspects of this new trend).

But I’ve also thought of gathering up whatever I judge to be the better posts of this blog, especially my intermittent memoirs, and going the vanity press way, if only to leave something slightly more enduring, perhaps, of myself behind. (At the moment this falls into the interesting idea, no action category.)

Gutenberg would be amazed at what he started.


Note on image:

The photo of the Espresso Book Machine was found on Zandland.

Explore posts in the same categories: Culture, Internet, Photography, Writing

6 Comments on “The Future of Publishing?”

  1. Sputnki Says:

    Hey Fencer,

    I’m a fan of Lulu. When my fiancee’s cat had to be put down, I spent an afternoon with her 11-year old daughter gathering photo’s of the feline together into a “remembrance” book. She added some poetry she had written and I combined them in Lulu’s helpful photo-book wizard with the pictures. A couple of weeks later we received a lovely hardcover with nicely done photo’s. A great service I was quite pleased with all around!


  2. fencer Says:

    Hi Sputnki,

    Now that’s great… instant book, and a great way to remember anything or anybody.


  3. forestrat Says:

    Thanks for mentioning me. I’m always surprised when I find that someone other than myself actually takes note of the drivel on my blog.

    I didn’t know about the Espresso Book dealie. Pretty cool.

    I love reading and I prefer actual paper and ink to electronic forms. I sometimes worry about the future of hard copy. The other day I was downloading Dumas to my IPod. It got me the words, but it just wasn’t the same experience as cracking a book.

    I’ll have to read Epstein’s article.



  4. fencer Says:

    Hi forestrat,

    Although the Espresso Book Machine produces a quite passable paperback, it doesn’t quite have the same feel as a more traditionally produced volume. I hope the durability is the same, although normal paperbacks don’t necessarily last that long either (but I do have a few on my shelves that are pretty ancient!)

    The whole electronic book thing doesn’t appeal to me much, although I hear the digital readers are starting to get more appealing than they used to be.


  5. The idea of self-publishing is very appealing for someone like myself who writes for my own entertainment and doesn’t believe that the traditional publishing houses would be interested.
    I also think that it might be a very good way to prepare one’s book for submission to a traditional publisher, if an author decided to go that route.
    It certainly gives the option to us, family historians, to get a more permanent copy of our efforts for posterity.
    I love Oscar’s books and was quite disappointed when the Kerrisdale branch of it closed its doors. I don’t live in that area anymore, so I feel the loss a lot less.
    Where I live now, the thrift stores and the second hand book stores are the next best sources to the library. I’ve more books than I will read in a lifetime in my home from these sources… and more come in per week than I read. Oops! There’s a storage problem.
    But as for reading any volume of work on the monitor screen – I’m sure it’s ruining our eyes. It’s books for me. And I’ve even been sucked into the Folio Books trade since I love the handling of good books and good bookbinding.

  6. fencer Says:

    Hi lookingforbeauty,

    I was disappointed too when the Kerrisdale store closed… I hope they can keep on going on Broadway. I hope the cottage industry book publishing works out.

    I was talking to the owner, the white haired gent (Oscar? don’t know if that’s his name) and they’ve been getting inquiries, but it sounds like not too many prospective authors have taken the plunge yet.

    Maybe this is a good time for you to publish there!

    I know that storage problem… we live in a small townhouse, and we can’t buy any more books, art supplies, cds, DVDs, music equipment, cameras or clothes… the place is bursting.


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