On demand at the APSBG

<p>Digitisation and the economic downturn are top of the agenda at this year's&nbsp; Academic, Professional &amp; Specialist Booksellers Group (APSBG) conference.</p>
<p>As with last week's IPG conference, the two are interlinked by the need to find new revenue streams and remain competitive. In essence, it is all about change, or evolution, to ensure survival. Although people are feeling the need to batten down the hatches, there is also a sense that publishers and retailers alike should be working to innovate. But, as it was with IPG attendees, this is often met with a degree of cynicism.<br />
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One of the most interesting talks so far has been the one given by Lightning Source's David Taylor about print on demand, and the Espresso machine, which is to be launched in Blackwell's flagship store on a pilot basis just before the London Book Fair. The Espresso has been talked about long before I joined the industry, but this was the first time I had seen a copy of a book produced by the machine.<br />
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The idea of being able to get a freshly printed book, made while you wait, is extremely attractive&mdash;even if there is a fairly limited scope of books. Once again, the onus is on the publisher to make their titles p.o.d.-ready. But it's easy to understand the reticence&mdash;the remuneration model will be top of the agenda for publishers considering this form of digitisation, and until that is fixed only the bravest firms will sign up.<br />
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The book itself is not great&mdash;the paper is quite rough and the cover is flimsy with a design that looks as though it came straight from the set of '80s film &quot;Ferris Bueller's Day Off&quot;. Even Taylor acknowledged the quality of the cover was not perfect. &ldquo;I don't think they have completely solved that,&rdquo; he said in yesterday's talk. Afterwards, the general feeling was that the cover would detract, but probably not put people off, using Espresso to get reference books where perhaps the aesthetics of the cover are less important. People were critical of its flimsiness, and even its smell, but they were still impressed.<br />
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Perhaps it's the machine itself that wins critics over. Those fascinated by gadgets, even ones the size of a washing machine, can now even see it work on YouTube&mdash;<a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OIq0VqF0MnA&amp;feature=related">this link takes you to the official OnDemand video,</a> and this <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Pt4T-AJKJM">one to a review by US blogger fonerbooks.com</a>.<br />
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Print on demand is not the only form of digitisation to be discussed; e-books have of course been high on the agenda. David Kohn, head of e-commerce at Waterstone's, admitted the 30,000 devices sold so far were &ldquo;probably 25,000 more than we thought we'd sell&rdquo; and the 100,000 downloads &ldquo;about 10 times what we thought it would be&rdquo;.<br />
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At the IPG Conference, there was a buzz after the speakers talked about their e-books, with people fascinated to test out the Kindle 2. But for academic publishers, the devices available &mdash;and even those not yet out in the UK&mdash;are simply not right for the type of books or journals being produced. If you are aiming your product at a student who is reading while working on their laptop, having an additional books-only device does not make much sense, people said afterwards. But it's clear some form of change is expected, if not actively sought for. And change has also featured in the more personal side of the conference.</p>
<p>After 31 years of organising, corralling and sshhing, John Parke will be retiring from the Booksellers Association in the summer. Last night's dinner saw heartfelt speeches from BA president Tim Godfray,&nbsp; APSBG chairman David Prescott and Parke himself.<br />
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