“Of course,” says Clay Shirky, “because people will hit the print button.”
Interesting article. Although he’s mostly right, I disagree with couple of points. Shirky says:
Imagine only having one browsing copy of every book in a bookstore. You could say “Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers looks good”, and out pops a brand new copy.
Actually, no bookstore in its right mind (especially an independent bookstore) is going to print books on demand. Think about it: how many pages in a Harry Potter? War and Peace? The Bible?
Let’s a say a new kids/fantasy book on the order of a Harry Potter hits the market. Say your local Barnes and Nobles sells an average 100 per day the first week, at 700 pages per book. Now add in the hundreds of other books the store sells that day. And he’s saying the store is going to print all those books out that day, right there in the store? Hello? The cost of the printing infrastructure alone will make management balk at the idea.
Let’s say I want the kids book, 700 pages, and I am fifth in line to get mine printed. I don’t think so. Not to mention how many sales they’ll lose because people don’t want to hang around waiting their turn at the printer. If you’re talking speed and convenience, pulling a finished copy off the shelf wins, hands down.
Print on demand is great for short papers and research articles. But not for novels.
I can see bookstores switching over to a print-on-demand system, but not in a way that is anywhere near instantaneous:
The first thing POD will do is to cover backlist and limited market books. While no manager would replace his stock of books with a set of POD printers, adding a single printer to add a ‘virtual stock’ of books that each sell one a month could be a rather easy sell.
Another consideration is that, until things develop to the point that there is no more waiting for the printer than there is waiting for a cashier, you aren’t going to stand in line for the printer. Instead you will submit your order, (either to a clerk of to a machine), then head off and continue shopping until your job us ready.
As things go along, you will see the POD capacity expand, (again no big switch, just adding a second printer because the first one is always busy…). The usage would be extended first into being a backstop to allow tighter inventory, (instead of buying 150 copies of a book, and discounting the 25 that don’t sell, you buy 100 and POD the extra 25). Then extend into being the way mid-ranged books are sold. Eventually, the only books large stacks of books would be for the ones where you are going to sell loads of them, (and even then, they might just be run off on the POD printers after hours).
I agree with you about the Printing O’ the Books. Shirkey doesn’t seem to realize that part of the buying experience is having things jump out at you from the shelf, and then picking up, smelling, feeling, and browsing the book or magazine, and finally being able to walk out with that very item.
I think book-buying is far more like meeting a lover at a favorite haunt than it is hiring a hooker!
There’s also a big difference between what comes from a professional printing press and what comes off your average printer. I don’t see that kind of quality coming off a printer any time soon.
Additionally, whilst the Harry Potter era is over for the time being, there are still going to be big book launches where people will want to go grab their copy on launch day with no waiting. More and more of those people will, in time, get the book shipped to arrive at their home on launch day, but the midnight book store openings are an event you don’t get in mid-morning when UPS or Fedex shows up with your purchase!
Besides, if a PoD system is available, why wouldn’t people have it installed at home instead of hiking out to the store, wasting gas, and dealing with mall or traffic hassle to get it? There are already organizations that give you a free coffee-maker in the hope that you’ll have them deliver your “gourmet” coffee once or twice a month, why not do the same thing with books and magazines?
He also seems to have completely overlooked the advent of electronic books.
With regard to TV, I don’t think the networks, ironically, given their name, have realized the potential. It seems to me that people would love to watch their shows online if they could network simultaneously in a side-bar with others who are watching along with them at the scheduled viewing time, chatting about the show or sports event whilst they’re watching it on screen.
This blog has moved. I am now cultivating Neuron Culture at Wired Science Blogs.
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