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Blackwell Add Digital Printing to London Book Fair Agenda
Short run service fills a gap in Charing Cross Road
William Pollard (will789)     Print Article 
Published 2009-04-27 09:51 (KST)   
Blackwell Bookshops have launched a service for instant book printing, starting with a shop in Charing Cross Road, still the main location for bookselling in the UK despite some recent closures. The Espresso 2 equipment supplied by On Demand Books has been tested at the shop, then moved to Earl's Court for the London Book Fair, then returned to the shop for a continuing service to launch on April 27.

Espresso at Blackwell Charing Cross Road
©2009 William Pollard


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Currently 400,000 titles are available as PDF files to be printed on demand, usually for the same price as normal stock from publishers if available. The emphasis will be on rare and out of print titles. At the London Book Fair it was announced that the Lightning Source catalogue will be available through On Demand Books. Lighting Source currently supply short runs for a number of publishers. Blackwell expect more than a million titles to be available later this year. The Oxford Poetry Book, originally published by Blackwell in 1915, is one of many titles from the Internet Archive.

The Espresso can also be used for short runs of original work for individual authors. Lilou Mace has a video on YouTube showing how her book was produced during the event. This gives a better idea of the impact of the machinery than the more technical video from Books On Demand. Based on conversations near the stand the Espresso could be used for run lengths as long as 50 or 100. If there is much demand for this, a single machine may not be enough for Charing Cross Road. The shop is about half an hour's walk away from the main buildings of London University but closer to Soho where there could be a demand for promotional material.

Shop window detail
©2009 William Pollard
Shop window detail
©2009 William Pollard
Blackwell are based in Oxford, where the next Espresso equipment will be installed. Oxford, London and Cambridge have long been strong UK locations for printing and publishing since it was once illegal to operate a printing press anywhere else. At the London Book Fair, Cambridge University Press emphasised that they are both printers and publishers. However there are commercial problems with the litho operation and discussions with the trade unions about the scale of future employment. Digital printing is arguably better suited for short runs and Charing Cross Road may show a future for UK printing and publishing.

This year the London Book Fair covered most of the ground floor available in Earl's Court. Previously it just used Earl's Court 1 including the upstairs. Earl's Court 2 included the Digital Zone and other technical services. The new layout allowed easy access to the upstairs conference area, usually a problem for events nased in Earl's Court 2. In general the new layout was effective, offering adequate space though with a sense of scale. However there was some space still available in Earl's Court 2, possibly enough for most of the stands from Total Print Expo, to be held in that location in October. Total Print Expo has origins as a digital printing show and many of the issues discussed there are also releveant for the printing companies present at the London Book Fair.

Andrew Tribute recently wrote in Printweek about the growing scope for digital book printing. He notes that many print runs are now between 2,000 and 5,000. He suggests the new wave of inkjet presses announced at drupa will soon be competitive within this range. The Espresso is obviously not competition with Heidelberg at the moment but some of the workflow issues may be comparable. At the 2008 Total Print Expo, Heidelberg claimed that Anicolor technology made litho competitive for runs of below 50.

The Espresso may complement the other announcements at the London Book Fair about the Sony Reader and EPUB format. Most digital texts can be found as PDF or a PDF can easily be created. It is interesting to me that the Sony Reader is currently associated with general publishing rather than academic and also the city centre branches of Waterstones rather than the university campus. The printing press first arrived in Europe through universities but it seems that the consumer electronics industry currently defines the location for technology innovation. The EPUB standards will soon be updated with features required by academic publishers such as better footnotes and tables. It will be interesting to see how well university libraries support the new capabilities.

In London it is Tottenham Court Road that has been seen as the technology leader. Charing Cross Road is on the other side of Oxford Street and there have recently been several closures of bookshops including Murder One. Perhaps short run digital printing will expand to fill the space, alongside Internet cafes.

Espresso at London Book Fair
©2009 William Pollard
Another source of work for the Espresso could be services such as Scribd for sharing documents to read online or download as PDF. Some documents are too long for comfortable reading from a screen. Many are public domain and can be combined to make a suitable length for a binding. Unfortunately it seems unlikely that UK publishers will be fully involved. As reported in the Bookseller Daily for April 22 though missing from the Web site, Tim Hely Hutchinson from Hachette UK said at a meeting about digital copyright "While I agree that suing readers is not the way forward, I intend to take action against Web sites which are making a business out of piracy." and John Makinson from Penguin compared the efforts of the video industry to work on copyright infringement with YouTube. Scribd did have a stand at the London Book Fair so it is possible there will be more examples of publishers encouraging promotional extracts as has happened in the USA.

Scribd also has problems in other directions. On a blog for the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Jeffrey Tucker reproduces a letter from Scribd about removing a document "because our text matching system determined that it was very similar to a work that has been marked as copyrighted and not permitted on Scribd." Except that the copyright is held by the Ludwig von Moses Institute, something they knew when it was posted to Scribd.

Tucker comments:
I guess this means that the Mises Institute will no longer use Scribd. Who needs this nonsense? And now everyone who ever linked this, embedded it, or sent it to friends is made to look like an idiot, and all the time getting this on the Scribd in the first place is completely wasted.

Oh what a lovely world the copyright police are creating for us! How much better off we are having our own "intellectual property" rammed down our own throats!
There are many issues still to resolve.

Related stories in the drupa 2008 blog - http://drupa2008.blogspot.com
©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter William Pollard

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