I caught a small snippet in Wired this month about the Espresso Book Machine, which allows books to be printed on demand. The article described it as an “ATM for books.”
You can see it in action on YouTube:
Apparently it will “print, bind, and trim a 300-page book in less than four minutes…” – not bad, but I’m not sure it’ll work for places like supermarkets, who wants to wait four minutes for their book? On the other hand, online shops can carry an almost infinite (assuming they have the relevant files) number of books without the storage space. It could also mean an end to large print runs that don’t sell out and so have to get returned. Imagine the drop in shipping costs alone (to distributors anyway).
It would also be useful at places like airports where you seem to get stuck with someone else’s ideas of interesting reading. Not to mention allowing a 'bookshop' to be located almost anywhere, how long before they convert this into a vending machine?
The benefits for smaller publishers and self-print authors is obvious, potentially cutting out the middle-man and allowing bigger profits for no cost increase.
In a similar vein, the article also linked to Kirtas Books, where you can ‘invest’ in an out-of-print/undigitized books and make a percentage of any further sales. This seems to mean that you pay some money towards the initial scanning costs and bump it up the to-do list and in return you make 5% of any future sales. Not sure you’ll be raking it in (as it suggests on the site), these things are out of print for a reason, but an interesting idea.