by Jay Gabler
, TC Daily Planet
• 11/23/08 •
In his 2001 Book Business: Publishing Past, Present, and Future
, publishing veteran Jason Epstein dismissed the idea that digital reading devices would be the way of the future. Instead, Epstein guessed, new technology would allow cheap and efficient publishing on demand—so your neighborhood bookstore could instantly produce a copy, in hardcover or softcover, of any book ever published. The supply-and-demand problem that plagues the book industry—one of the few where retailers can return unsold stock to suppliers for a full refund, no questions asked—would disappear, and readers would have (almost) all the convenience of a digital download while still enjoying the pleasure of holding a real book.
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Increasingly, it's looking like the future will have room for both technologies. Amazon's Kindle
device has been more successful than any of its predecessors, and even if readers have been slow to embrace books on screens, they're moving in droves towards reading their news that way. (You, of course, are at this moment a case in point.) Meanwhile, on-demand printing technology is also making strides. The University of Minnesota Press
has just launched a new program called Minnesota Archive Editions: digital printing technology will enable the publisher "to return into print virtually every book published since its founding in 1925." Can print-on-demand vending machines be far behind?
Above: A book vending machine in Barcelona. Photo by Evan Austin, Creative Commons.