Tuesday, September 30, 2008

ARW's astonishing Espresso adventure

I really fail to appreciate the logic and strategy behind ARW's huge investment in the Espresso POD machine. They intend to roll-out this technology to around 50 of their 200 or so stores across Australia and New Zeala nd.

You have to wonder how much thought went into this. Frankly, while superficially fashionable, this is yesterday's solution to tomorrow's problem.

POD machines in every bookstore - Jason Epstein's vision as articulated in his memoirs of a decade ago - was always a dud of an idea. Investments in printing machines are for printers and possibly publishers, not for barely profitable, main street, high rent paying bookstores. The concept of print on demand is fine, and an everyday reality in the industry now, but it's a specialised business.

Ebook readers are the future - the Kindle, the Iliad, the Sony, and others to come. They'll be a dime a dozen in five or so years, like iPods and mobile phones are now. If you want your book printed buy the paper version or print it yourself.

ARW would be better advised to spend their limited capital on refurbishing their tired-looking stores and - here's a novel idea - buying much more stock of already printed books! That would really be good for business. Doing the basics well will never go out of fashion.


Steve Carey said...

You may well be right. However, I can see at least two benefits to A&R's experiment. One is cynical, which is to show all (and their good friend Sundry) that they're doing something and have a cunning plan. Whether it's the right something and the right cunning plan doesn't much matter in these fast-moving times. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a strategy! Better do something than nothing. The second reason is a good one: they are learning, getting an understanding of what customers want and how they'll behave presented with such a choice. If it works they can proceed with their rollout and if it doesn't, they won't - not such a big risk. (As a parallel, Dymocks haven't as far as I'm aware expanded their ebook offering beyond their Sydney flagship store. I don't wait with bated breath.) It is far better to be in the game and doing something than doing nothing.

Couldn't agree with you more about their tired stores, though. "Where books come to life"? Where books go to die, more like.

Peter Donoughue said...

Good points Steve. But sometimes it's better to get the right strategy from the start. It takes a fair while to initiate, assess, pull back and then re-start. And if your competitors are now a long way ahead of you, that's disastrous.
My money's on Dymocks.

Steve Carey said...

Just back from Sydney, and my point was even better than I thought, which is saying something. The much-vaunted George St Dymocks ereader offering has now shrunk to a miserable three monitors (one of which was non-functioning) built flush into the wall (and thus occupying precisely no floorspace whatever), with keyboards jauntily stacked on top in a very non-futuristic way. No sign of ereaders for sale at all any more. A cricket chirruped in the background. A ball of tumbleweed rolled across the foreground.

I am not anticipating a flourish of trumpets to announce a 'national rollout'. Sufficient to the day is the 'exciting' strategic groundbreaking leading-edge announcement thereof. Next!

1) It was a dud idea in the first place
2) Dymocks have no more idea than the rest of us
3) They came, they saw, they waited for customers, they quietly called it off.

However, it would be just as big a mistake to conclude that it's all a lot of nonsense. Publishing, particularly in Australia, is drastically ill-prepared for massive change. That tumbleweed isn't moving by itself...

Peter Donoughue said...

Interesting, Steve! I love the tumbleweeds imagery!

I remember decades back in the 70's when barcodes were coming in. Some publishers were resisting, for god's sake! The expense, etc..!

Surely it won't be long before an ebook version will have to be available with every printed version so customers can be asked at the checkout what version they wanted (in other words what eReader they owned) so it could be downloaded then and there for no additional charge. And if they just wanted the ebook version alone, they could get it at a discounted price.

Until things are as natural and quotidian as that a lot of people will be at loose ends and wasting money.

Amazon are on the right track, but they've made the huge mistake of going all proprietory. In a few years all readers will accept all versions hopefully, or just the universal ePub version. That will be the revolution.