Giving new meaning to the publishing industry term “instant book,” two independent bookstores turned the release of the redacted 400-page investigative report by special counsel Robert Mueller into a print-on-demand feature within hours of its release on Thursday.
By Thursday evening, New York City’s Shakespeare & Co. and Cambridge, Mass.-based Harvard Book Store were using their in-house On Demand Books’ Espresso Book Machines to churn out copies every 10 minutes, Late in the day, the Harvard Book Store had sold three dozen copies at $18.95, with owner Jeff Mayersohn at the machine overseeing the printing.
Harvard Book Store general manager Alex Meriwether said sales were picking up as people finished work, social media attention gathered momentum, and customers saw copies on display at the front counter. “There’s been a lot of, ‘Hey wait a minute. This just came out, so how is this a book?’” said Meriwether.
At Shakespeare & Co., bookseller Rob DeNyse said the store had printed a handful of copies and placed one on hold for a customer. Copies were retailing for $10 apiece. “These days instant means instant,” said DeNyse. “People cannot wait. If they can’t get it now, they’ll go somewhere else.”
For print copies, however, the booksellers have a lock on the market and an opportunity to showcase the print-on-demand machines. To date, Shakespeare & Co.’s machine has largely been put to use printing self-published works for authors, and DeNyse said readers have often been unaware that it can also print millions of classics and out-of-print works.
The Mueller Report offers an opportunity to showcase the capabilities of the machine. “In that conversation [with customers] we can explain that this is the norm and not the exception,” said DeNyse. “With millions of titles we can give you something in minutes.”
Traditional publishers, including Skyhorse, Scribner, and Melville House are rushing their own versions of the book to press, and the two booksellers were split regarding whether or not they intend to stock those editions.
“It’s very interesting to think about publishing and what that was like, and now with this—I don’t know for this store if we would even carry the publishers’ version,” said DeNyse. He noted that Shakespeare might need to have some publishers' copies on hand, but said using the Expresso machine to print the report was proving convenient for customers and a good way to show off the Expresso's capabilities.
Meriwether said Harvard Book Store intends to stock the formally published versions. “My understanding is that there might be more in terms of some context and commentary,” said Meriwether, “whereas we’re just presenting the document as it’s released in print form.”
“It’s just fun to acknowledge the value of having a printing press,” said Meriwether, especially, he added, since, “this is a historic document.”