InstaBook, a company that aims to turn bookstores across the U.S. into on-demand publishers, launched its plan by placing a machine in a New Jersey bookstore last month. The move is an attempt to challenge the chains on two of their biggest assets: their ability to carry a wide range of books and their publishing programs.
The store, Bookends in Ridgewood, N.J., has installed an InstaBook machine, which allows for on-demand printing of trade paperbacks, and held an open house earlier this month to introduce the machine and its enterprise, dubbed Books by Bookends.
InstaBook has some 10,000 titles available for printing, many of which are public-domain classics. Some see InstaBook as a means to turn a bookseller into a bookseller-publisher—à la Barnes & Noble, but with POD immediacy. The gathering at Bookends showed the vitality of another major market, which Bookends' co-owner Walter Boyer described this way: "We have the potential solution for all aspiring or current authors. We are not going to replace Random House, but we are an affordable alternative. We are definitely becoming a publisher."
Boyer imagines a range of possibilities that would take vertical integration in the book world to a new level. "The writer can use us as a print shop—or we can help them launch the book," he explained. "We can be a kind of agent or coagent to publishers. We can sell copies of books here and send them anywhere in the country. We can play the part of a distributor." Books by Bookends will also be able to recommend designers; assign ISBNs; get copyrights; steer authors to its Web site designer, who can set up Web sites for authors' books; and list titles on InstaBook's Digital Bookstore online retailing site and other online venues. The store is also offering copyediting, editing, consulting and public relations services.
Bookends will charge $150 for the first 10 "basic" books and more for books longer than 250 pages. The charge decreases to $100 for the next 10 copies, and $75 for every 10 copies thereafter. Books can be customized at a higher price, with color, various typefaces and fonts, graphics and photographs. "If the authors have materials on a disk, we can print it in 10 minutes," Boyer said. Authors need to submit manuscripts in MS Word; Books by Bookends also will share Open Office formatting software and templates with customers for a $10 fee to cover staff costs. Staff also will format texts for a $30 fee.
Bookends's InstaBook machine is located in the store's renovated basement space, which is used for author appearances and meetings. Approximately the size of a large photocopier, the machine is tucked into a corner. The 10,000 titles digitally stored on the machine allow Bookends effectively to "double our inventory without adding inventory," Boyer said. The store will price the trade paperbacks between $8.50 and $12.50 and can customize covers.
InstaBook founder Victor Celorio charges stores $500 per month for a machine, though Boyer's store is being used as a kind of showroom for the machine; Boyer said he and his partners, Celorio and publishing consultant Tim Harper, are hoping that hundreds of independent booksellers sign up.