Monday, January 25, 2010

On Demand Books' Espresso Book Machine..the next big thing?

Back in 1999, when POD was barely a three-letter acronym,  Jason Epstein was trying to figure out how to get the great backlist of books easily into the hands of the public via localized, automated printing and binding machines.  So like any good entrepreneur, he sought out like-minded folks to make his vision a reality.  He found inventor Jeff Marsh and a partner in Dane Neller and On Demand Books was born in 2003.

Move forward to the 2009 London Book Fair.  On Demand Books was heralding the new world of book printing via a partnership with Lightning Source and Wiley.  The only problem was every time I went by their booth on the show floor the machine was out of service with a service guy busily working to get it up and running.  I never did see it run during my day at the show, but I saw enough to understand that there still was some ways to go before this technology could run without significant service support.  I saw this as a potentially lethal problem since they were selling the idea of having these machines in third-world countries, where the idea of a bookstore with significant inventory was only a pipe dream.

The issue as I saw it was that this clever machine looked to be mostly standalone parts (laser printer, cover inkjet printer) tied together with a rather complicated perfect binding system.  I had a lot of questions.  Who is going service this thing?  Epson, who made the cover printer? Hardly.  Kyocera, whose printer was used in the model I saw at LBF?  Doubtful. What's the expected up time?  What sort of data line will be needed to stream content to the  system or will there be a server version available?  Lots of questions.

Well, I haven't gotten all of my answers but I can say that On Demand Books has gone a long way toward making this a viable, global product by announcing their partnership with Xerox earlier this month.  This is exactly the sort of move they needed, in my opinion, to begin to reach the promise of those early days of the company.

According to the press release,"Xerox and On Demand Books will jointly market and sell, on a worldwide basis, the Xerox 4112 Copier / Printer together with the Espresso Book Machine - a fully integrated solution that prints, binds and trims books with full colour covers on demand in retail locations and libraries."  So that gives ODB an already baked sales and service organization, which I think is key to its success.  Also, rather than pushing the Espresso as an opportunity to move into new global markets, they are targeting bookstores and libraries, which I think is a very smart move.

This is another in a series of recent good moves by the company, including the hiring of Lightning Source and Lulu veteran Andrew Pate as SVP of Biz Dev.  He knows the publishing and POD marketplaces well and was a savvy hire.

Neller says that there will be around 30 systems installed by the end of Q1/10, including one in my vicinity at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, WA.  One-third of the installations will be in university book stores, which looks like a sweet spot to me. The new partnership with Xerox can only help to make the installed base grow even more.

As Xerox's VP of Publishing John Conley said in an interview with Print CEO, "[The Espresso Book Machine] reinforces the theme of producing books at point of sale and gives you the largest bookstore in the world sitting in a 9′ by 12′ space.” Game changer?  May be.  But no doubt that the ODB folks have doubled down and are ready to see just how far they can take their invention into the print marketplace.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A print industry co-op that works--Dscoop

I blogged last fall about my opinions of Print 09 and on the future of trade shows in general.  My point then was that in the Internet age the real value of these kinds of events has really become the opportunity to interact with your colleagues and suppliers rather than doing research and purchase, as was the experience of the past.  With that in mind—and with the trade show season at hand—I’ve been asked of late which events in 2010 do I think are of value and worth the time and money to attend.

This year I’m planning to head to Birmingham for IPEX, Köln for Photokina, and NYC for PhotoPlus.  But the event I’m really looking forward to, and the one I think gives the most bang for the buck, is Dscoop5 next month in Dallas.

For those of you who are not familiar with Dscoop (Digital Solutions Cooperative), it is a co-op between HP and the users of its Indigo presses.  It evolved out of the old Indigo Customer Exchange (ICE) group and I feel it is one of the best investments of time an Indigo printer can make, whether you are a large installation like the facilities that print Blurb books worldwide or a smaller, one or two press shop.  It boasts membership by over 50% of Indigo installations.

First off, this is a co-op in the best sense of the word.  HP has made a strong commitment to the group and each year sends its most senior managers to the annual event.  David Leshem, an Indigo veteran from the earliest days of the company in the 90’s, has been a board member since it’s outset (he’s retiring from the position this year) and this year attendees can expect to hear presentations and rub shoulders with folks like Alon Bar-Shany, GM of Indigo Worldwide, Chris Morgan, new VP Graphics Solutions Global Business, and Jan Riecher, VP and GM Graphics Solutions Business – Americas.  For me, the trip to Dallas will be worthwhile just to renew these acquaintances. But there is much more to the Dscoop program.

With a goal of promoting more business and efficiencies for Indigo users large and small, Dscoop provides several tracks of conference sessions that are created to inspire, educate, and help attendees better understand the current POD marketplace and how to benefit from the current economy and continued evolution of the Indigo printing platform.

I attended my first Dscoop last year and the most impressive part of the trip was talking to the multitude of PSP’s (print service providers in HP lingo) and seeing how open and cooperative they really were as everyone, while at times competitive, were looking for ways to grow the opportunities for all.  Part of the three-day event is a very targeted trade show where you can meet the major players in the paper, supplies, and finishing market along with hands-on experience with the newest technology from HP Indigo.

For a guy that travels a lot I’m careful to only book events that I feel will give great return for Blurb and for me personally.  Dscoop is one of those events.  Find out more at

Monday, January 11, 2010

Motivation 3.0 – a review of "Drive" by Daniel Pink

With the start of the new year, if you are like us at Blurb, you are working off the holiday lethargy and beginning to nail down your company goals for 2010 in earnest.  Out of those corporate goals flow the personal objectives to see how each member of the team will participate toward making the year a success.  This dance has been going on for years and how a company tries motivate the rank and file to meet and exceed is something we are all familiar with.  But what if the basic tenets of what business has been doing for years are in fact incorrect?  What if the ways we have sought to excel actually do the exact opposite?

That’s the premise behind the new book by Daniel Pink, Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates usPink believes that business is lagging behind what science has had a handle on for the past 30 years— that our current business operating system, which is built around external, carrot-and-stick motivators, not only does not work but also actually causes harm to what we are trying to achieve.

Pink calls the new approach “Motivation 3.0” and has three basic elements of what motivates people: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Motivation 1.0 was about survival, as seen in the earliest human operating system.  It’s successor Motivation 2.0 reared its head in the early twentieth century and was built around external rewards, which worked fine for the routine tasks of the time.  But the twenty-first century is bringing new challenges that are not compatible with the 2.0 motivation techniques for the most part.

The basic problem with Motivation 2.0 is that “if-then” rewards often give less of what we are hoping to achieve and generally crush the stuff we want, like high performance, creativity, and good behavior.  Pink sites the work of several psychologists and groundbreaking work that started in the mid-1900’s that recognized a strong third drive beyond biological (hunger, thirst, sex) and response to rewards and punishment.  This third drive—intrinsic motivation—concerns itself less with the external rewards and puts more importance on the inherent satisfaction the activity brings.

Pink gives great real-world examples of Motivation 3.0 in action at places like Zappos, Atlassian, and Best Buy and details how its “three elements” fit into our desire to direct our own lives, get better and better at something that matters, and to do something that has a result bigger than ourselves.  It’s a wonderful read and even includes some discussion points that can be used as a personal review or to share with your colleagues.  I recommend it highly.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Apple Tablet -- what it means for print-on-demand

The big buzz of the new year is the supposed imminent launch of the oft-threatened Apple Tablet PC, or iSlate, or whatever. Bottom line is that if it's not ready this time it will be coming soon. So how does this new device change the game for POD?

First off, we have to realize the Apple Tablet is different than other e-Readers for one reason. It's Apple. And we all know they think differently. My friend Antonio suggested a recent post from John Siracusa at ARS Technica to make that point. Apple does not need to release some sort of "entirely new or totally amazing" tablet for it to be successful, but it will distinguish itself by the three factors that separates them from the pack. Those are 1) over 100 million credit-card bearing customers, 2) over 125,000 developers that have created over 100,000 iPhone apps, and 3) Apple's relationships with content owners that is unrivaled in the industry.

So what will the device likely be? It will certainly be color. It will be a touch-screen. And it will likely come in around the size of a Kindle, so somewhat smaller than a laptop but bigger than a phone. If this is correct, then it would not be surprising that Apple is looking to create a new paradigm for reading rich content digitally, which means bad news for an already floundering print magazine marketplace.

But what about POD? I believe the Tablet can be another shift toward it. Regardless of how great the color screen is on the device, the best books will always be ink on paper. But with rich color available on a digital reader, the marketing of these "books to keep" becomes easier and much more effective if you are a significant publisher or if you are hoping to sell a few books that you publish yourself. Add to that the ability to create hybrid media that includes audio and video of the back story about the book and you can see how this device can be a game changer.

My expectation is that the Tablet will be a bit expensive for the average consumer and that it's real impact on book publishing will not be felt in 2010 but in the coming years as the device evolves and the price comes down. But if you are in the print business now, don't forget about those 125,000 iPhone developers who already have the skill set to create new applications for a Tablet (assuming it will be built on the same core as OS and GUI as iPhone, which I think is a given). I'm sure they are thinking about your business.