Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I Love New York: BEA and Lightning’s Espresso Book Machine

I came to NYC recently to promote my new writing guidebook The Fiction Writer, at Book Expo America (BEA), North America’s largest book fair. The Fiction Writer was showcased along with other new books for 2009 at the BEA, which was held at New York’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Centre, located in the heart of Manhattan with a view of the Hudson River.

The fair was huge and I was enthralled, if not slightly overwhelmed. I’ve been to several World Science Fiction and Fantasy Conventions; but this trade fair was ... well… HUGER (is that a word?). Over 1,500 publishing houses, retailers, printers and associated industry people displayed exhibits at the book fair. Upcoming titles (like The Fiction Writer) in all kinds of formats and genres were showcased. As I entered the Javits Centre, feeling like a character in one of my SF books, the floor buzzed with the frantic energy of industry representatives.
I surfed a moving sea of forced smiles and sweaty hands clutching advanced reading copies and galleys of the latest summer and fall releases.

The fair kicked off with a one-day writer’s conference where my friend, super literary agent Donald Maass (author of The Career Novelist) gave a workshop.

The fair was jam-packed with great panels on publishing and writing given by CEOs, editors, publishers, marketing managers and designers. Some of them included Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired and bestselling author of The Long Tail; Jared Friedman, co-founder and chief technology officer of Scribd; Nick Bilton, design integration editor of the New York Times and Mark Rotella, senior reviews editor of Publishers Weekly, among a list that read like the Who’s Who of the literary world (well, I was in New York!). A common thread ran through the talks and panels devoted to the “new wave” in internet marketing, POD publishing and online access to everything to do with publishing. Many compared the coming changes in the publishing industry with the recent (and unnecessary) devastation in the music industry as a result of changes in the music consumer-producer relationship. Panels addressed how—in the age of Google, YouTube, iPhones, Blackberries and social networks—publishers and authors can position themselves to successfully surf—rather than be swept under by—the Internet wave. Here are some choice things—if not totally new—that I gleaned from talks with titles like “Twitter for Dummies”, “Stupid Things Booksellers and Publishers Do”, “How Publishers Can Succeed Online Where Others Failed” and “Wired and Receptive: Reaching Boomer Book Buyers Online”:
  • “Books” are going to change to accommodate the multiplex crowd of new portable-wearable technology, and readily dispensable and disposable entertainment. This will include what books look like, how they “behave”, and how they are accessed and purchased (see my reference below to Lightning’s new Espresso Machine). Publishers are actively looking for ways to accommodate our youth’s—not to mention our own—new love affair with the cell phone-iphone-netbook
  • Authors need to promote themselves by connecting with their audience in a genuine way. Readers want to know YOU. Get out there on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace. Do cheesy YouTube videos of you doing anything. Start a blog. LOL! (read my guidebook on blogging).
I met my publisher at Starfire at the BEA and she took me aside to catch Lightning Source’s debut of its “Espresso Machine” (how did she know I really needed a coffee?). She found me eagerly devouring the last of a quiche from Grazies at the food court downstairs. I was a culinary island of focus amidst the agile whispering of people closing deals over rubens and cheap beer. I’m familiar with this ironically clandestine activity in a wide open social setting, though in the places I’ve seen it—and taken part in—it’s usually been in a bar.
“Come on!” my publisher urged me. “I have something to show you.”
When we got there, I realized that the Espresso Book Machine (EBM) didn’t make coffee. It’s actually the fastest and most agile book-to-market distribution channel, according to Lightning Source staff, who smugly demonstrated their miniature printing machine/computer to an excited audience. The EBM, which was named by TIME Magazine in 2007 the "Invention of the Year," is essentially an ATM for books. It automatically prints, binds, and trims perfect bound paperback books on-demand, at point of sale. I saw the thing in action and thought it was slick. So, it didn’t give me coffee; it gave me the next best thing—a printed book in four minutes! The Fiction Writer will be one of the first titles offered by the Espresso Machine, which will eventually be found in major retail bookstores and libraries throughout North America and abroad. Besides Starfire, other participating publishers currently include John Wiley & Sons, Hachette Book Group, McGraw-Hill, Simon & Schuster, Clements Publishing, Cosimo, E-Reads, Bibliolife, Information Age Publishing, Macmillan, University of California Press, and W.W. Norton. The list is getting bigger as I speak.
Back in April Publishers Weekly reported five Espresso machines in the U.S. (with 10 others in locations throughout Canada and the U.K.). Dane Neller, CEO of On Demand, said that "within a relatively short period that number will be increasing dramatically.” In April, the first Espresso Book Machine was installed at the InfoShop at the World Bank in Washington, D.C., which loaded 200 of its titles online for the three-month test period. Two additional Espressos will be installed at the New York Public Library and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, in Egypt, in September.
If you have a chance to see one, go check it out and surf the wave.
The wave of the future.

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit Visit for more about her writing.


Jean-Luc Picard said...

How innovative! I'd love to be at one of these conventions.

SF Girl said...

It was so COOL, Jean-Luc! You missed the one in London this spring... There will be more... :)

Janet said...

Unlike most of my writing friends, I think this is one of the best things to come along in recent years for authors. I think it will enable us to go back to a model of authors building a career slowly, instead of having to prove themselves in the first month of their first book. I think I've probably worked this to death on my blog, but I hope they pop up all over the place. If I ran a bookstore, I'd be sitting in front of a bank loan officer right now.

Anonymous said...

Print on Demand:

POD sounds great for a Harlequin Romance, a Dummies series book and especially those University self published "textbooks" they force the students to acquire. But if you are going to sit and read a great book and devote a day to the reading of that book, you will want a proper offset press printed edition. It is all about the paper, the ink used and the resulting feel and ease on the eye.

Book Business vs Music Business

Don't get too caught up in the problems faced by the Music business, it is a completely different paradigm.

The music consumer wants singles (like in the old days when 45's ruled). The Hit song! The business wants to sell an album. The artist will be asked to come up with 8 to 12 songs, and the company hopes that 1 or 2 will become popular. Consumer resented paying $10 to $15 and then find they only listen to 2 songs. Since the advent of cassette tapes, consumers were happy to compile their own collections of songs, often to suit and match a purpose - Driving Songs, Romantic Songs, Party Songs... With digital copies of songs available, the consumer is happy to find and pay for just the tunes they want and create playlists at will. Bad news for the record companies - it is tougher to find the gold. The other thing that that hit the market place - any fool can make a decent sounding recording in their basement (I have the technology) and flood the market with pyrite. Thus there is a lot of turmoil in the music business and it is tougher to make money at it.

Books on the other hand (especially fiction) aren't amenable to the comsumer to just cherry pick a couple of chapters and leave the rest. The consumer will sit down with a book and not do much else besides nibble some food and maybe have some music in the background. Music is often the soundtrack to accompany the things that we really do (work, exercise, commute, read, dine, smootch+...).

People are more accepting of lower quality audio than they are of low quality print / images. Thus the very slow acceptance of eBook Readers like kindle. Plus, if you have just finished a great book, you can pass it onto a friend, not so easy (publishers work hard to make next to impossible) for you to share ebooks.


Silly people think they want to know everything about a celebrity / artist. A lot of the great books were written under a pseudonym - either to avoid reader preconception or to maintain privacy or separation of business.

Too often we clamour to see everything only to discover we've seen too much. You want the buzz about your book to go viral on the web, you don't want your latest viral infection to be broadcast to the world.

Youtube the reading of a chapter of your book. Or better yet, a video of some hyper university students riffing on the characters of the story.

"Lose" a manuscript on a bus/skytrain/plane and put out a panic notice to the press for help to find it. This is where the music artists can have the edge - They get out in public and perform. They jump on a flat bed truck and play while it drives through downtown.


SF Girl said...

LOL! You raise excellent points, Limberger.

Although the paradigms are very different between the book industry and the music industry they do still share a common plight... the struggle of the traditional product maker to accomodate the new and creative demands of the youth and technical savvy seeking something in another package. For the book industry, there isn't a comparative example of the music industry's response to pirating by providing people with easy access to songs in MP3 format for a dollar... But it may be by providing the "book" in a completely other form (e.g. think of the surging industry of audio books, podcasts or graphic novels). I think that is where the innovation will occur for the publishing industry... through the evolution of "storytelling".

The art of storytelling is changing.

Anonymous said...

Bad news Nina - The Art of Story Telling has changed - Movie / TV.

It would be telling to see the results of the following surveys:

1)Demographics of Gender / Age vs Number of Books read outside of work/school.

2) Number of students by gender in Literature and Creative writing Classes over the past 10 years.

3) Demographics of those who purchase audio books.

My gut tells (it's big and tells me lots of stuff) that very few males between 13 and 25 are reading books for pleasure. The do consume a lot of magazines that focus on their passions. I would guess that Lit/Creative writing is dominated by females and that enrolement is declining. Partly due to the population bulge being in the 45+ ages.

Audio Books - I know that many are purchased by commuters and most of those are business books and some personal growth books. The rest are purchased by those eyesight is poor or have problems sitting for long periods of time.

Rightly or wrongly, the attitude of many of today's youth is along the lines of a joke I hear from time to time: ... Read a Book? Why? I can watch a movie in 2 hours, how long did it take you to read the book?...

La Grande Fromage, Limberger

SF Girl said...

Yes, I totally agree with you and your big gut, Limberger. :)

So does the publishing industry, who are also sadly aware of the statistics you did not disclose but we all sadly know... This is why the art of storytelling in "book" form is changing and ironically, the role of the internet is playing an active role in its resurgence and evolution... a great Zen master once said, "We'll see..."

Baby Brie said...

On a much more practical note...I was wondering how the publisher/author gets paid for the number of copies that the Espresso Book Machine produces? Are numbers of copies recorded and then 'x' amount per copy is sent to the publisher every six months, for example? Does the publisher pay a fee for the privilege of having a title on the Expresso Machine i.e. normally paid to the printer...
Is the Expresso Machine out there in the public and operational? Just wondering if you've had one of your books sold from the machine.
Very intriguing...
Quite curious how the whole thing works...
Are there any in Canada?

Baby Brie said...

On a much more practical note...I was wondering how the publisher/author gets paid for the number of copies that the Espresso Book Machine produces? Are numbers of copies recorded and then 'x' amount per copy is sent to the publisher every six months, for example? Does the publisher pay a fee for the privilege of having a title on the Expresso Machine i.e. normally paid to the printer...
Is the Expresso Machine out there in the public and operational? Just wondering if you've had one of your books sold from the machine.
Very intriguing...
Quite curious how the whole thing works...
Are there any in Canada?

SF Girl said...

Great questions, Baby Brie! I'll have to ask my publisher! LOL!... as far as I understand it, though, from what I've been told (and remember! LOL!), the machine is just a vehicle to have the book available in a book store without the bookstore having to carry a bunch of copies on a shelf (I believe the bookstore either buys or leases the machine from the publisher/printer/distributor). The model for selling it (and getting paid) is the same -- publisher to printer to distributor to bookseller to customer-- the book machine is a slick POD device that answers an inventory and accessing need of publisher/bookseller and customer. And, yes, it is already in some book stores in Canada, US, UK and several other countries. And, yes, the Fiction Writer is one of the early wave of books available through the machine. How many have sold this way so far?... well, that's a whole other area called communication between distributor and publisher and writer... and don't let me go there now! Let's just say that distributors are not known for being punctual...

Oh, by the way, I also like to repeat myself... I also like to repeat myself...