Turning e-books into paperbacks

Some of the most prestigious institutions in the country are taking efforts to create a new, permanent archive of scholarly work online.

TEXT OF STORY

STEVE CHIOTAKIS: Borders Books and Music could be filing for bankruptcy as early as today. That's according to the Wall Street Journal. The retailer's troubles come partly from its failure to keep up with technology. And with a new machine that prints and binds e-books, it looks like things could get a little tougher for the big booksellers.

Tracey Samuelson reports.


TRACEY SAMUELSON: When you print books for a living, there's one saying that never gets old.

DANE NELLER: Hot off the press.

That's Dane Neller, CEO of a company called On Demand Books. We're standing in an independent bookstore in New York next to a printer that On Demand has developed. The Espresso Book Machine is a bit bigger than a bath tub. It can print, trim, and bind a book in about the time it takes the cafe here to prepare your espresso.

NELLER: You can by any copyright books, public demand books, or if you had your own book we can make it for you.

McNally Jackson Books recently installed the printer -- the first of its kind in New York City, and charges between $10 and $15 for the books it prints. The machine has access to over 4 million titles, including the Google Books catalog.

Sarah McNally is the store's owner. She hopes the wider selection will help her compete against big chains and Amazon.

SARAH MCNALLY: We then become closer and closer to an infinite book store.

The printer turns e-book technology on its head, using digital files to print old school, hard copy books. Despite all the hype around e-books, that's what most consumers still want -- something they can hold with pages they can flip.

Michael Norris is an analyst with Simba Information, a Marketing Research firm.

MICHAEL NORRIS: There are at list five or six print book buyers for every one e-book buyer.

On Demand will soon begin leasing its printers. Til now, it's sold more than 20 in the U.S., for just under $100,000 a piece -- an investment that takes stores around two years to recoup. McNally says profit margins on books she prints will be 8- to 16 percent higher than books off the shelf. Still the machine is a bit of a financial unknown.

MCNALLY: But I think what it does represent is that this bookstore is a bookstore of the future and it's finding new business models and remaining relevant to its community as the world around it changes.

In other words, innovation has its own value.

In New York, I'm Tracey Samuelson for Marketplace.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...