Every morning I check one of my favorite book business newsletters, Shelf Awareness, and one of my favorite features there is a "quotation of the day" that is often provocative. This morning’s quotation is an interesting one from William Gibson, whose latest novel, Zero History, was released yesterday:
"My dream scenario would be that you could go into a bookshop, examine copies of every book in print that they’re able to offer, then for a fee have them produce in a minute or two a beautiful finished copy in a dust jacket that you would pay for and take home. Book making machines exist and they’re remarkably sophisticated. You’d eliminate the waste and you’d get your book–and it would be a real book. You might even have the option of buying a deluxe edition. You could have it printed with an extra nice binding, low acid paper."
I love the idea too, and I am certainly a fan of the imaginative energy behind various print-on-demand technologies including the Espresso Book Machine, which is popping up in a growing number of well-capitalized bookstores but remains a pretty expensive technology for many others.
But here’s what’s a little funny about the quotation: it’s not a "futuristic dream scenario" at all. Amazon has been doing this with tens of thousands of "real books" for over three years. I know they are real books because they have sold thousands of copies of my books. The print quality and production values are better than copies that I used to have printed at a reputable printing company an hour from where I live, and the production costs are lower, and the price for customers is as low as on any comparable trade paperbacks.
It’s true that I can’t "go into" Amazon’s "bookshop," which means that I have the convenience of buying such books in seconds and waiting 24 to 48 hours for their delivery. It is also true that I can’t get a deluxe hardcover edition, which of course eliminates less than 1/10th of 1 percent of all book transactions.
If I don’t want to wait 24 to 48 hours, of course, I can download many of these books instantly and directly to my Kindle, BlackBerry, iPad, iPod Touch, Android, PC, or Mac.
Either way, I think that the future is probably here for most of us, Mr. Gibson. And I am liking it.
I love bookstores, too. And I loved the grand old publishing companies of the mid-20th century. And my collection of great 45 RPM records and LPs. And horses, too.