‘Print on demand’ has been around for a few years now, but I think the majority of people are still unaware of the possibilities it offers. In short, it is an online service that allows anyone to publish a book. What makes it much more interesting is the fact that customers do not have to order a bulk load of books all at once. The first print-on-demand book I ever came a across a few years ago was a fairly standard, black-and-white softback, with the look and feel of a school textbook. A quick Google search now tells me its possible to design and print your own hardback, full-colour publications online (see http://www.lulu.com/ or http://www.blurb.com for examples of these sites). You can order any number of these books, and you only pay for what you order. Its also possible for ‘customers’ of your book to order their copies directly from the internet, cutting out the need for you to fork out money on an initial print run and the risk that no one will buy your book. The possible benefits of this system for artists and arts organisations are huge. Having a full-colour, hardback catalogue of your work is a kind of Holy Grail for artists, and now artists can design, write and print it themselves for minimal cost. This obviously poses a wonderful opportunity for the arts community, but only if the quality of the product is high enough. Self-initiated projects seem not to carry the same level of ‘cachet’ as projects attached to larger organisations, so could artists self-published books become ubiquitous and be ignored? I would be interested to hear if anyone out there has used this print-on-demand service, and how they got on with it.

Last week the Guardian published this article (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/apr/24/espresso-book-machine-launches) about what has been called ‘an ATM for books’ or a huge printing machine that selects a book from its vast memory storage bank, prints it like a photocopier, and binds it for you to take away, all in less than 10 minutes. At the moment the machine has about 500,000 titles on file, and the makers hope to increase this to over 1 million. This could eliminate the need for booksellers to expend huge amounts of money on stock, storage space, and staff. It would allow access to thousands of out-of-print titles too. Pretty much all you would need would be the machine and someone to operate it. So the days of killing time browsing in Waterstones could be thing of the past…