Rage Against the Book Machine
Book stores sometimes sell stuff that isn’t really book related. Book stores sell music. Book stores sell coffee and pastries. Book stores sell toys. I guess all of these items can be related to reading if you try (especially coffee), but now a book store will offer a non-book item that is truly book related… an Espresso Book Machine!
Books-A-Million is going to place a book machine in two of its stores. At first I thought a book machine would be redundant in a book store. It would be like a Redbox outside a video store; what was the point (except to put the video store out of business)? But the book machine isn’t a kiosk that sells books. It’s a machine that prints books.
Customers could print books that the store doesn’t carry. Customers could also print out their own self-published books. That sounds like a great idea (and it might be), but I foresee a couple potential problems (and maybe Books-A-Million foresees this too because they’re trying this in only two stores).
None of the articles I read about this topic (here’s one) made it clear if the book machine maker would provide a full-time employee (or several part-time employees) to run the machines, but they might want to. A self-serve book machine could be disastrous. If it’s anything like a copy machine (I’m guessing a book machine is more complicated), there could be two major problems:
1. Paper will always jam.
2. People can’t follow written instructions.
I have way too much first-hand knowledge about this. Almost everybody where I work has a college degree, but a shockingly high number of these college graduates can’t read instructions to copy front/back, collate, and staple packets. Most of my peers that CAN do this (it took me awhile too, so I’m not mocking them) can’t figure out the instructions that light up during a paper jam. Maybe most of them can follow basic instructions when they’re in a relaxed state of mind, but when there’s a line at the copy machine, and everybody has a deadline, and the copy machine jams, then tempers flare and minds get muddled, and curses are uttered, and nobody can figure out if the jam is in 1A, 1B, 1C, 4E, or 6D, or all of the above.
If college graduates can’t get make a stapled packet out of a copy machine, I’m not sure self-publishing authors will be able to get a book that satisfies them from a book machine. The cover will come out wrong. The line spacing will be messed up. The page breaks will be inconsistent. The dedication and the Table of Contents will end up on the same page. A lot of the mistakes will be the customer’s fault, but we’ll still blame the “f***ing machines.”
When in doubt, always blame the machine.
I respect that Books-A-Million is putting a book machine in only two stores. That’s the way changes should be made, incrementally. They have an idea, and instead of ramming this idea through all their stores, they’ll try it in a couple places and see how it works. If it’s successful, I’m sure they’ll add book machines in other locations. If the book machine is a disaster, then only two stores have been affected.
There have been too many times recently when a sweeping change has been forced on everybody without actually seeing if the change is good first. It happens with government a lot. It happens with my job… a lot (though my current boss seems to be more of an incremental changer rather than a sweeping changer, so things are looking up).
I’d like to see this book machine in action. And if there’s a book machine near me, I may go check it out. Copy machines (and maybe book machines) are a great source of free entertainment, as long as I’m not the one making the copies.