A while back some friends and I were talking about how bookstores ought to be run, and lo and behold here’s someone making almost all the suggestions we tossed around! The best idea, I think, is the print-on-demand machine inside the bookstore. But I don’t think Mr. Sanfilipo has taken it far enough.
Print on demand is great, and I’ve been happy with the few POD books I’ve ordered. But the chance to get one of them while I sipped my cappuccino probably wouldn’t draw me into a bookstore. Frankly, POD books are not heirlooms.
My heirloom books are from the early 1900s. They have sculptured covers, with full-color illustrations pasted onto them and more full-color illustrations inside the text. Their edges are gilded, and they may have ribbon bookmarks. Their endpapers show maps or landscapes, and have bookplates included. I’m never getting rid of these books, because they’re so beautiful.
Why shouldn’t the espresso bookstore offer this kind of quality? I dream of the day when POD is like buying a car. Do you want the deluxe cover, the heavier paper, the illuminated capitals? The version with X-rated etchings, or the full-color illustrations? Do you want it bound in a color that matches your decor, or formatted to the size of your shelves? Would you like a personal memento of the author or illustrator bound into the cover? Would you like a copy with your child’s illustrations bound into it, or with pictures that can be colored?
People didn’t stop liking beautiful books. Publishers just stopped making them — and abandoned one of the strongest selling points for printed material. The clever bookstore would bring that back. It would attract local artists and book designers with contests, and develop a stock of proprietary cover and spine designs, so that the reader who had begun a custom collection would come back to the same store over and over. It would have scanning on the premises, so we could bring in old favorites and have new copies made of them. At art fairs and galleries, the bookstore booth would be there with a catalog showing which of the exhibited images were available for insertion into your next POD.
The intelligent publisher would also provide a bank of proprietary styles and images for printers to choose from. Want another book with that particular spine, the holographic eye that opens and closes? That’s only available on books from this publisher. Want one illustrated by a particular artist? She’s on contract here, but you can have one of her pictures put on the cover of whatever book you choose.
Let’s face it, nobody is going to compete with ebooks on price. Readers are perfectly willing to drive print producers into bankruptcy; just look at what’s happening to newspapers! And even with e-books, many people will read nothing except what’s free. But people are willing to pay for luxury, if it’s really luxury. Look at the success Theodora Goss had with her two-sided book, ‘The Thorn and the Blossom.’ People are still looking for treasures, and the savvy bookstore will start providing them.