Today we are going to speak with Casey Protti, owner of Bookshop Santa Cruz, one of the truly iconic independent bookstores in America. The bookshop just acquired an Espresso Book Machine, a new technology which is able to create a perfect bound paperback book in minutes. The quality of the books produced are indistinguishable from paperbacks published by major publishers. It’s a new technology that has the potential of redefining the role of local bookstores.
Andy: Casey, Can you tell us a little bit about the Espresso Book Machine.
Casey: I’m really excited about our new machine. It is a remarkable technology that allows Bookshop Santa Cruz to print books on site, and on demand. We can just hit a button and it prints, binds, and trims a paperback book in just a few minutes. What I love about this technology is not only the convenience factor of being able to give a customer a book when they want it, but more importantly, our ability to become a community publishing center- a place to have human to human interactions to create and distribute books.
Andy: The machine allows the local bookstore to become a self-publishing venue? Really. Tell us about that.
Casey: For those authors who have a novel or memoir or book of poetry that they want to make into book form, we can help them to bring their work to life through every step of the publishing process. And not just people who think of themselves as authors. This could mean people who want to create family histories, compilations of family recipes, businesses who want to customize journals, student groups who want to make zines or graphic novels, or teachers who want to put together an anthology of their students’ work.
Andy: Other than self-publishing, what else can you do?
Casey: There are 8 million titles available including works in the public domain and hard to find and self-published titles. Just the other day we had a man who had been searching for a hard to find book for over 20 years in used bookstores. We had it on the EBM and printed it for him in 5 minutes. Although other stores with Espresso Book Machines have seen self-publishing account for 80-90% of all the activity on the machine, more and more publishers understand the EBM as a good way of keeping their backlists available.
Andy: That’s a good point. It seems to me that as publishers get more commercial and media –obsessed, they are putting their slower moving back list titles out of print faster. Will Espresso change that?
Casey: I think publishers see the EBM as good way of keeping their backlists available even if demand for a given title has waned. It’s economical for them, because they don’t have to warehouse titles or incur shipping and handling costs. With EBM we only produce as many copies as are sold. We want to be able to sell a book that a customer asks for right away. It is of huge benefit to us, to publishers, and to the customer. And he gets the book a lot faster than he would if he purchased it online. And we’d love to bring books back in print that have local significance and could sell well to the community but that may not warrant a traditional print run.
Andy: What’s the quality of the books produced by the Espresso?
Casey: Books produced on the EBM are virtually indistinguishable from traditionally produced paperbacks.
Andy: Some people have said that this is a real transformative technology. Can you tell us what this means.
Casey: Six years ago, when I took over Bookshop from my father, I could never have imagined a technology like this. In the age of the Internet, our customers are looking for instant gratification, but also personalized services that you can’t get online. The EBM plays to the typical strengths of indie bookstores in terms of community connections and relationships with local authors but then brings it further with new products and services that meet new customer needs. Our hope is that as more publishers add content to the EBM, we will one day be able to say that we can print any book ever published on demand. That’s transformative!
Andy: What about ebooks? Aren’t they going to make print on paper books obsolete? That would make the Espresso machine a kind of dead end technology.
Casey: It has been fun to see people so excited at watching a physical book being made. Seeing this excitement puts to rest the idea that the book is dead. Although people rightly want to publish their books electronically, they’d be shooting themselves in the foot if they didn’t also want people to see their books in physical form in bookstores. Publishers will tell you that local bookstores are the showrooms for books. Online stores can’t duplicate that experience.
Andy: Let’s say that you want to use the machine to publish your own book. What do you need to bring to the bookstore?
Casey: The EBM machine prints from PDF files that authors can either choose to format themselves (following the EBM submission guidelines) or by getting help from their local EBM operator.
Andy: And how about distribution of the book after it has been printed? Is the store involved in this?
Casey: Authors using the EBM can upload their titles to the main EspressNet catalog making their work available at other EBM locations worldwide and authors printing their books at Bookshop Santa Cruz can also enroll in the consignment program to have their books added to the shelves of our store.
Andy: How will Espresso allow Bookshop Santa Cruz to compete with companies like Lightening Source and Create Space?
Casey: The self-publishing services we offer are much more one-on-one and personalized then most of the online self-publishing companies. We can walk through a project with an author insuring that we are able to assess and meet all his needs from cover design to purchasing an ISBN number. The authors never need to go it alone. They can easily reach their local EBM operator for trouble-shooting help and project support in person, over the phone or via email. This part of the EBM service package is completely in line with what indie bookstores do best – building relationships, customizing services, and providing that human connection that you can’t get online.
Andy: How much does a book cost per copy?
Casey: The base printing price for the EBM is $5.00 + 4.5 cents a page, although we do offer some bulk discounts and price breaks depending on the nature of the project. We also have publishing packages which include various levels of service including graphic design, proof copies, obtaining an ISBN, etc.
Andy: How long have you been operating the machine in the story? How much business has it been generating.
Casey: The Bookshop Santa Cruz EBM has been operational for about a month, and on a typical day we print anywhere from 20-50 books.
Andy: I hear that these machines are incredibly expensive. How much do they cost? Will they really support a viable business model?
Casey: Typically the machine, software and installation runs $100,00-$125,000. American Booksellers Association members receive a discount on the software. With just over a month under our belt, it is too soon to determine profitability. However, since the opportunities to connect with the community to publish works are endless, we think there is a good chance that the machine will be a profit center for the store. In addition, the feeling amongst your customers that the store is trying to remain relevant and innovate is priceless. Since the margin is so small on books, bookstores of the future need to move further into a service-based model in order to survive. This is a step in the right direction.
Andy: If you want to find out more about the Espresso machine or if you have a self-publishing project and want to work with the Bookshop, call Sylvie Drescher at the Bookshop at 831-460-3258 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks, Casey. We’ll check back in a few months to see how this new technology is unfolding.