Amazon, BarnesandNoble.com Reap Benefits of On-Demand Printing

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The book selections of Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com are increasing by the hundreds every week because of on-demand printing agreements with Lightning Source Inc., a distributor of proprietary publishing content and a provider of on-demand printing and fulfillment services.


Neither book retailer would release sales figures or other financial statistics that would substantiate the benefits of on-demand printing. However, the firms stated that the online book industry was just scratching the surface of potential sales for out-of-print and specialized books because of emerging digital print technologies available from companies such as Lightning Source.


Lightning Source, La Vergne, TN, has the rights to more than 9,000 out-of-print book titles that it digitally stores and prints for the two online book retailers as well as several thousand smaller vendors.


When a customer purchases an out-of-print title at BarnesandNoble.com or Amazon.com, Lightning Source prints a paperback version of the book -- one at a time, as each is ordered -- and then ships it to the appropriate warehouse owned or contracted by the retail Web sites. Amazon, Seattle, and BarnesandNoble.com, New York, handle customer fulfillment from that point.


Steve Riggio, vice chairman at BarnesandNoble.com, said on-demand printing is cost-effective because it cuts down on warehousing costs. He added that the system showcases the direct response potential of Internet marketing and technology.


"There's virtually no cost of inventory," Riggio said. "And the physical specimens of these books are just like ordinary high-quality paperbacks. The customers aren't even aware that they are processed through print-on-demand."


Steve Kessel, director of marketing at Amazon.com Books, said the service appeals to consumers who are used to extensive searching for out-of-print books. He added that on-demand printing allowed publishers to sell back-catalog product without investing money in large pressruns.


"We weren't able to sell these books before, and it's obviously a great service for our customers," he said. "They'll be able to get books that they can't find in bookstores, and the books are delivered to them in a short amount of time."


Ed Marino, President/CEO Lightning Source, said his firm is printing more than 80,000 books each month. He said more than 40 percent of his company's business comes from sales through Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com. Marino declined to provide more specific sales figures.


"The printing we've done because of their sales is certainly outstanding," he said. "We certainly feel fortunate to have agreements with two big players."


Most marketers familiar with the on-demand book industry acknowledge that emerging technology will soon allow customers to order an out-of-print book online and pick it up at a physical store that same day.


Riggio said BarnesandNoble.com will build on-demand printing presses in the back rooms of its store locations as early as this year. This will allow in-store customers to order an out-of-print book and get one off the press before leaving the location.


Borders Books Group, Ann Arbor, MI, has yet to unveil such a service. Amazon, according to Kessel, has no plans to build bricks-and-mortar stores or to offer printing services for offline consumers.


Riggio said in-store printing is an example of his company's commitment to on-demand printing, which he said will eventually bring hundreds of thousands of book titles back from out-of-print status. He added that it also allows booksellers to offer titles that only a small cultural niche would otherwise be interested in purchasing.


"It changes the way [businesses] look at old, old books," Riggio said. "While most publishers see a book that will only sell a couple hundred copies as a liability, we see it as an opportunity."
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