A fearless prediction by Earl Staggs
When I visualize the brick and mortar bookstores of the future, I see something entirely different from what they are now. First, I see stores about one quarter of their current size. Inside, I see only one copy of each book, and it’s only for browsing purposes. When a browser decides to buy the book, she steps over to the counter and places her order. Once that’s done, she returns to browsing or slips into the coffee shop for twenty minutes.
While she’s gone, the store clerk punches some numbers into a computer. On the other end, the publisher's computer downloads a digital manuscript to the store’s print on demand equipment, and the book is printed and bound. In a short while, the customer returns to the counter, collects her book, and goes on her merry way.
Compare that to what’s involved in getting that book into a customer’s hands today. To begin with, the publisher has to produce a large print run of the book. Those books must then be shipped direct to bookstores or to distributing warehouses first, then transported again to stores. Once in the stores, they must be inventoried and shelved. Printing, stocking, shipping and shelving costs money, all of which goes into the cost of the book. Later on, those books not sold will be returned to the publisher for credit, adding even more to the book’s cost.
The difference between bookstores of today and bookstores of tomorrow, as I see it, is the installation of print on demand technology in the store. There will be no more large print runs since each book is printed only after it’s been purchased by a customer. There are no transportation costs and no stocking or shelving costs to speak of. There will also be no returns, a major problem being wrestled with in the publishing business today. Middlemen such as distributors and warehouse facilities will become extinct.
Initially, the books will be soft cover, but somewhere down the line, someone will come up with a way to produce hard covers in the store to satisfy that demand.
I see this change as inevitable and pure common sense. Placing print on demand equipment in bookstores will be the salvation of the convoluted, cumbersome and cost-heavy publishing and bookselling industry we have today. Since print on demand (or “POD”) has become almost a derogatory term, I call it In Store Digital Printing.
Once the revolution happens and In Store Digital Printing becomes a common reality, the cost of a book will be cut in half. This will certainly stimulate the purchasing of books. Publishers will be able to buy and publish more books from promising writers and have money left over for promotion and advertising. To “publish” a book will only mean converting it to a digital file and having it ready when an order comes in from a bookstore. For writers, this will mean more opportunities to become published.
I first predicted this change about five years ago. As with any major advance in technology or radical change in the way things are done, my opinion was met with resistance. There are always naysayers.
Take for example, the guy who said, "Television? Who'd want to sit at home and watch a tiny little screen when they can watch a huge screen at a real theater."
Or the one who cried, “Home Computer? Why? I already have an adding machine and a typewriter."
Then there was the one who said, “Cell Phone? What idiot would carry a telephone around in his pocket when there's a pay phone on every corner?"
While I’m still holding to my prediction of In Store Digital Printing, you don’t necessarily have to agree with me. After all, I’m the guy who said, "Pizza? A round, flat crust with tomato soup on it? It’ll never catch on."