Paris – Choose a PDF file on the screen and five minutes later a book, printed and bound with an appropriate cover, spits out. It used to be science fiction, but the machines that do it are now here and getting more and more attention from publishers and the public.
Two of these machines proved to be big attractions at the Paris Book Fair this weekend, with French publishing houses PUF (Presses Universitaires de France) and La Martinière showing just how easy it is to print books on site without the hassle of cumbersome transport and distribution.
“It’s a great opportunity for everyone,” said PUF chief executive Frederic Meriot, whose company was exhibiting US group Xerox’s Espresso Book Machine and running French software, Ireneo.
La Martinière showed off a smaller rival device made by Japan’s Ricoh and operated by a French company called Orsery.
Such machines have been around for quite some time. That of Xerox, for example, came out ten years ago.
So why haven’t they revolutionized the industry yet? Part of the reason is the high cost of each unit – around 80,000 euros ($90,000). Another is size: as big as two book display tables in a store – a prohibitive space stealer for small bookstores.
But the French companies promoting them have confidence in the inexorable march towards smaller, cheaper technology that will soon make such devices an obvious boon to booksellers.
In the meantime, print sellers can hire a Ricoh bookmaker for 250 euros a month, said Christian Vie, director of Osery.
By doing so, “they will pocket 33% of a book’s cover price,” a slightly higher margin than traditionally printed and delivered books, Vie said.
PUF, meanwhile, thinks an interim solution could see booksellers within a network share an espresso book machine, avoiding hosting the unit on their premises but still allowing them to have books delivered to them in a few hours.
The advantage would be to provide customers with seldom-purchased books without the need to physically store them, a service that is increasingly in demand in an ever-changing market.
“Today, a customer who can’t find a book in a bookstore goes to Amazon,” Vie said. “This machine allows bookstores to retain these customers.”