An imagined scene:
You: “I’d like Just A Geek, because Wil Wheaton is funny and charming and he smells of lavender and whatever awesome smells like.”
Bookseller: “Oh, sorry, but the publisher promoted that as a Star Trek bio, and since those don’t sell, we didn’t stock it. We can order it for you, though. You’ll just have to wait two weeks.”
You: Well, how about Sunken Treasure?
Bookseller: Sorry, we’ve never heard of that.
Me: [::pained look::]
Anne: What happened?
Me: It’s like yet another person tried to buy my books in a bookstore, and cried out in anguish because nobody stocks them.
Nolan: But with the blastshield down, I can’t see anything! How am I supposed to fight?
Anne and me: What?
Nolan: I just heard you referencing Star Wars and I wanted to be part of it.
Me: I am so proud of you right now.
Man, it’s so vivid and real, isn’t it? I almost put a unicorn in there, but I thought that’d be silly. Anyway, joking aside, it’s really hard for indie authors like me to compete for shelf space in bookstores, which means that it’s harder for our reliable and potential customers to get our books. It’s just a matter of economics, really: there’s a finite amount of physical space in each store, and it makes more sense for booksellers to fill up a lot of that space with multiple copies of heavily-promoted, mainstream stock that’s going to sell like gangbusters, instead of a couple copies each of lesser-known stuff by guys like me that isn’t guaranteed to move as quickly or consistently.
Well, the rules are changing:
It’s not elegant and it’s not sexy – it looks like a large photocopier – but the Espresso Book Machine is being billed as the biggest change for the literary world since Gutenberg invented the printing press more than 500 years ago and made the mass production of books possible. Launching today at Blackwell’s Charing Cross Road branch in London, the machine prints and binds books on demand in five minutes, while customers wait.
Signaling the end, says Blackwell, to the frustration of being told by a bookseller that a title is out of print, or not in stock, the Espresso offers access to almost half a million books, from a facsimile of Lewis Carroll’s original manuscript for Alice in Wonderland to Mrs Beeton’s Book of Needlework. Blackwell hopes to increase this to over a million titles by the end of the summer – the equivalent of 23.6 miles of shelf space, or over 50 bookshops rolled into one. The majority of these books are currently out-of-copyright works, but Blackwell is working with publishers throughout the UK to increase access to in-copyright writings, and says the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
“This could change bookselling fundamentally,” said Blackwell chief executive Andrew Hutchings. “It’s giving the chance for smaller locations, independent booksellers, to have the opportunity to truly compete with big stock-holding shops and Amazon … I like to think of it as the revitalisation of the local bookshop industry. If you could walk into a local bookshop and have access to one million titles, that’s pretty compelling.”
(Emphasis mine, because holy shit.)
I need to figure out how to get my books into the distribution stream for the Espresso Book Machine, because this is a fundamental game-changer for indie authors and publishers like me.