Friday, April 08, 2005

Print-on-Demand Getting Interesting

On April 4th, Amazon announced that it had acquired BookSurge, a South Carolina-based company, providing print-on-demand services to publishers, authors, retailers and libraries as noted in many places. This January 2005 report notes that BookSurge was founded in 1999 (although the company web site says 2000), and "is the global leader in inventory-free book distribution and fulfillment with print and sales facilities in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Spain, the Netherlands, Poland, Australia, Greece and Panama."

It looks like books are available in eighteen languages, including Croatian, Welsh, Esperanto and Persian. And one of their latest releases is The Da Vinci Code in Arabic.

Most interesting. I'll bet there's some behind-the-scenes stories related to this acquisition. BookSurge would be considered a smaller player in the POD world, which is dominated by Lightning Source, a division of Ingram Industries, of which Ingram Book Group will be the most familiar to librarians (I had no idea that another part of Ingram is a shipping company). Ingram Book Group is also Amazon's major conduit to print books. Salon magazine has an October 18, 2001 story, "The Instant Book That Wasn't" that involves all three of the players: Amazon, Ingram Book Group and BookSurge. Here's the link but if you don't subscribe to Salon you'll need a (free) day pass to read it.

In the story, the CEO of BookSurge, Bob Holt, is quoted: "Ingram will be disintermediated, maybe in 10 years, maybe 20. The model where you put a bunch of books in a warehouse and distribute them, that's a dying horse. It's still valuable for bestsellers--but what percentage of titles are bestsellers? Less than 1 percent of titles each year." Hmm, perhaps disintermediation is closer than 10 years?

But this isn't the only interesting BookSurge news--this is older but somehow I missed it entirely. Our colleague Eric Childress (a very good "spotter" for IAG) passed it along to me. Back in January 2005, BookSurge and ebrary announced a partnership for the "joint development of a print-on-demand offering, initially focused on the library market. The initiative will enable libraries throughout the world to purchase authoritative content in print from leading publishers, without astronomical shipping costs or lengthy waits for delivery."

An analysis of the ebrary/Booksurge partnering can be found in The Seybold Report for Feb. 9, 2005.

The article linked to above ends with this: "Although the battle over e-book sales continues -- Internet portal Yahoo also has e-book sales deal with four major publishing houses -- e-books are still a small part of the current online book market, but both publishing companies and online retailers clearly are expecting significant growth. When that might happen is the open question."

It might be an open question but librarians should keep an eye on this because the answers are likely to have a big impact on the supply chain for books.

Addendum (April 12): The choice of quote above from, about e-book sales makes it sound like the author conflates Print-on-Demand books with e-books. This wasn't the case...and I should have put the quote in content.


waltc said...

Good piece, and I've printed off the Seybold report for reflection. I didn't read the direct news report: Does it make the usual and unfortunate conflation of "ebooks" and PoD?

If someone said "PoD will make up x% of the book market in 20xx" (use your own x's), I'd respond "That's interesting"--as opposed to my response when they say "Ebooks will make up (some large value of x%) in (some plausible value of 20xx)."

As you know, a PoD book is a book. Period. It's just a book with a very short print run repeated as often as necessary and perhaps done a whole lot closer to the demand point.

awd said...

Sounds to me like the big G is getting ready to make short print runs (to quote Walt) of public domain titles.

Want a personal copy of an old (and very likely out of print) book? Print it from Google's cached copy. (for $xx.95)