Espresso \While Amazon continues to act as if its Kindle e-book reader is a wonderful, best-selling thing, all of the other blog posts and articles I’ve seen about it seem to feel otherwise – that it, and e-book readers in general, are just not cutting the mustard.

Here’s “What If You Ran Your Bookstore Like a Library,” a Library Journal piece by librarian and mystery author Barbara Fister that I think expresses the quandary the book industry faces over e-books (and over its own future, really) very well.

Fister looks back on the days 10 years ago in which the library press was filled with articles encouraging library directors to take some tips from bookstore managers and package and sell books the way bookstore owners did. (You’ve heard it all, I’m sure – display those books covers out, and use easy-to-grasp subjects, such as “Cookbooks” and “History,” instead of Dewey Decimal numbers.)

But now, she says, things have turned 180 degrees; bookstores have closed all over the country in huge numbers over the past decade, while library visits and library circulation numbers continue to be healthy (even if the role of librarians has grown a bit iffier).

Fister feels that the publishing industry has become its own worst enemy, and points at the restrictions placed on e-books as one reason why. Here’s what she says about the Kindle (which at one point she describes as “clunky”):

I read the reviews and commentary and realized why I’d never buy one: it’s an expensive if lightweight box to carry a bunch of books that are rented at only a small savings over the cost of discounted print books. I say “rented” because the buyer can’t share them and can’t sell them. They can only shop at one bookstore, and it works only if the buyer happens to be in the parts of the United States that have the right sort of Sprint coverage. (Amazon to Montana: drop dead.)

I agree, and I would add that if you want to get young people – who are used to unrestricted access to music and video – interested in books, devices with all the Kindle’s restrictions are not the way to do it.

Fister points to Print on Demand (POD) technology as something that will make a difference in both bookstores and libraries. If we can get publishers to agree to give us the right to print out copies of midlist or backlist books with inexpensive paperback bindings and sell them at a reasonable cost at a local bookstore (or a local big-box store, for that matter), or – ahem – at a library, demand for books just might pick up again.

The POD device pictured here is called the Espresso, and it spent part of this past summer at the Science, Industry, & Business Library of New York Public Library. I heard a lot about it, but I never made it over to see it at work. I was told that it was “extremely cool,” and a few of the people who went to see it could definitely picture it in the library of the future. Instead of Interlibrary Loans, how about the opportunity to have Espresso-ready files of books that could be downloaded and printed, so that anyone who wanted a long-out-of-print book (ahem; such as these if you’re answering a demand for children’s books) could buy a copy for $10 or so?

The technology’s there and ready, folks. It’s only the publishers and copyright holders who aren’t.

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