When On Demand Books introduced its Espresso Book Machine to the U.S. book trade in 2008 by installing a beta model at Northshire Books in Manchester Center, Vt., the company promoted it as a tool for printing backlist titles and books in the public domain, as well as for authors who wanted to self-publish. While more publishers are making titles accessible on the Espresso, the 14 independent bookstores in the U.S. that have installed the machines to date report that what’s really driving sales is customers wanting to self-publish, oftentimes for limited distribution.
According to Pierre Camy, Espresso Book Machine coordinator at Michigan’s Schuler Books & Music, 95%, if not more, of the books printed on the regional chain’s three-year-old Espresso are self-published works. Despite occasional demonstrations, he says, “There is little demand for out-of-print books or backlist titles.”
“I’d say, 50% of the books printed are for sale, 30% are for private distribution, and 20% are for sale that evolved from books that were originally for private distribution,” says John Zeck, director of business development at Tattered Cover Press, the imprint of Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver. The store, which installed an Espresso a year ago, is solidifying its base of self-published authors by integrating the machine into the store’s event scheduling. This past summer, Tattered Cover began partnering with a self-publishing consultant, Kelly Jo Eldredge, to hold a series of eight-week workshops—each with 40 participants—which include a finished copy of each participant’s memoir in the $250 fee. Participants can also order extra copies. Although orders for books printed on the book machine have not yet significantly increased as a result of the workshops, the Espresso’s output is “meeting our goals,” says Zeck. The store just hired a part-time employee dedicated to printing books under the digital manager’s supervision.
At R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, Conn., which only recently installed an Espresso, On Demand consultant Bronwyn Blaney says that 90% of the books the store has printed to date have been self-published works, including approximately 20 limited distribution “labors of love,” ranging between 10 to 50 copies. Only a handful of authors have printed books they intend to sell. “People are saying, ‘Oh, I can print my memoirs,’ not ‘I can print the out-of-print book from 1942 I want to read,’ ” Blaney says. The store plans to draw more Espresso customers by scheduling a demonstration for patrons. There are also plans to hold classes to address every aspect of self-publishing that will incorporate the book machine.
Politics & Prose, in Washington, D.C., which installed an Espresso a year ago, also prints mostly self-published titles intended for limited distribution. Although any book produced on the store’s book machine may be sold on a consignment basis in the store for three-month renewable periods, few take advantage of the opportunity, according to David Moritz, one of two booksellers in charge of the Espresso. To date Politics & Prose has scheduled few promotions around “Opus,” as it calls its machine, although the store has reached out to local writers’ groups. Last year, during the annual NaNoWriMo novel-writing project, participants who wrote at Politics & Prose could enter a drawing to get one copy of their book printed for free. The store plans to launch an eponymous imprint by next March.
Bookseller Brendan Clark who cares for and feeds the three-year-old Espresso, aka “The Beast,” at Village Books in Bellingham, Wash., says that almost 90% of its output is commissioned by self-publishers. Unlike the other bookstores PW spoke to, however, the majority of the titles produced have been sold in the store to local interest groups. For instance, he says, Village Books has sold more than 4,500 copies of the last two editions of Hiking Whatcom County by Ken Wilcox, which is published under the store’s Chuckanut Editions imprint. The book was originally self-published in 1996.
On Demand CEO Dane Neller isn’t surprised that stores are having success using the Espresso to self-publish. The explosive growth in self-publishing is one reason for the trend, but the other, Neller acknowledges, is that On Demand hasn’t had success in getting publishers to provide faster-moving titles. A recent agreement with ReaderLink to help On Demand work with publishers could change that.