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Bookseller sells books on demand

8 April 2002

The future has arrived at Books Express in Cambridge, Ontario, where customers can buy books which are then printed for them, using an in-store print on demand facility. Instabook Canada has a counter in the store and it takes just five minutes to produce each volume by downloading the file from the computer, printing the pages , trimming and binding the paperback books. Audrey McNeill, the first customer to use this new facility, bought a two-volume set of Adam Bede by George Eliot and Agnes Gray by Anne Bronte for her daughter's birthday and was pleased with her purchases, which cost only slightly more than they would have done in ordinary paperback editions: 'The books weren't available in the store.. I wanted to get something personalized... My daughter was thrilled,' she said.

The Instabook range currently consists of 650 titles, mostly classics. Naturally the print on demand facility would be more attractive to book buyers if more titles were available, but publishers, having been 'burned' by the lack of demand for e-books, are likely to move only cautiously to make their titles available for print on demand purchase.

In spite of early expectations that print on demand would immediately change the way publishing and bookselling works, publishers have been slow to adopt the new technology. Offering as it does the possibility of printing each book on demand at the point of sale, ie the bookstore, it has radical implications for publishers and booksellers, although both groups may well be feeling wary when other components of the technological revolution have so singularly failed to deliver the anticipated payback. But in-store print on demand would enable the book business to slash the cost of unsold books by offering the book-buyer sample books on display, which could then be printed for the customer as required. Daniel O'Brien of Forester Research has forecast that print on demand books will be a $3.9 billion market by 2005 and that with consumer e-books they will constitute $7 to $8 billion of sales, which would be 17.5% of the US publishing industry.