Print This Book!
If bookshops are dying, McNally Jackson, for one, isn’t going quietly. While places like this independent Manhattan store have long been home to activities other than just selling books—some have bars, gift shops, art galleries, performance spaces and, of course, cafés—for the last year the independent Manhattan store has been a book printer, too. In an act that recalls Michael Corleone’s motto “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer,” McNally Jackson has installed an On Demand Books Machine next to the window, fully visible from the street outside the store.
The Espresso—its name suggests both its location in the store, lodged between the magazine racks and the café, and perhaps its stimulating effect—is a self-publishing machine. It prints books, about one every five minutes. It’s a combination of a fancy high-speed Xerox copier—which spits out the black-and-white pages—attached to a groovy-looking five-foot-square clear perspex box, inside which the cover is produced by an ink-jet printer, collated with the inside pages, glued, folded and trimmed. You can literally see a book’s gestation and birth from the start to when it plops out and slides down a chute on one side of the machine.
“We can do any trim size from 4.5 by 5 to 8 by 10.5 inches,” says Erin Curler, McNally Jackson’s director of print on demand and self-publishing. “Between those extremes, it can do any size from a big magazine-sized and inspired book like the ReadyMade 100 [see below] to Carole Sabas’s The Paris of Fashions Insiders” (the New York version has just come out to coincide with Fashion Week).
Picking the right package
Though the printing process may take only a few minutes, the whole process of self-publishing can take much longer, depending on the author’s know-how and how much help he or she needs in preparing artwork for the book. McNally Jackson offers five different packages. The $19 and $49 versions buy one-time small print runs, good for art projects, children’s creations, gifts, catalogues, exhibition guides or special giveaways. The most popular package, for $149, includes some basic design support, sales from the store and a page on McNally Jackson’s website, as well as a spot on the server so that the customer can reprint as needed. “The author only has to leave us with one copy,” Curler says, “and if that one sells, we just print another.”
Besides independent authors self-publishing, McNally Jackson also prints books that are in the public domain and out of copyright. Most of the public-domain content comes through Google Books. If a work is available for free download from Google, it can usually be printed in the store, which has a deal with Google so that all formatting is done automatically and with a template cover. Customers can also select copyrighted titles that have been made available by their publishers; HarperCollins, for instance, has just made the majority of its backlist available for on-demand; if, say, McNally Jackson had sold out of Barbara Kingsolver’s 2007 book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, it could print it in the store and have it ready within a day. And more and more publishers are signing on, Curler says.
Getting into print
Customers can’t actually walk in off the street with their novels on a memory stick and print them immediately. Work on the Espresso is tightly scheduled; the machine runs from noon to 6 p.m. every day, including weekends, and from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesdays. When prospective authors call or email, McNally Jackson sends all the information about formatting so that decisions can be made about cost, size of print run and how elaborate the design should be.
It’s a big range. On a shelf next to the Espresso is a varied array of recently printed books. Here is a selection from what was on display when I visited:
• Nobody Is Here, a photography book by Jaeyu Lee, 6 by 9 inches (“our popular size”), with full-bleed black-and-white pictures (no text).
• Likewise, a novel by Ellen Pall, a critically acclaimed writer who, Curler says, “for one reason or another decided she didn’t want to do this project with a traditional publisher. We did all the design on that one.”
• A more traditional self-published project by a local author, J.J. Anselmo, about growing up in the city, The Newsstand: Coming of Age in the 60s on the Tough Streets of New York’s Little Italy.
• A serious critical work, Michael Lydon’s Real Writing: Word Models of the Modern World. “It’s really a wonderful work of literary criticism, from a very accomplished writer,” says Curler. The book’s spine reads “Printed by Franklin Street Press,” which is Lydon’s own company.
• Deborah Emin, who used to work in publishing, is another author with her own imprint, Sullivan Street Press; the backs of her book jackets give her address, including her apartment number. For her second book, a four-part series titled ReadyMade 100: 100 Projects to Make Right Now (Get To It!), published in collaboration with ReadyMade magazine, which has now gone out of business. The 8 by 10.5 inch book (McNally Jackson’s biggest size) costs $15, with photographs, diagrams and how-to instructions. It’s full of information—not ready made at all, just waiting to get made.—LUCY SISMAN
And some helpful further reading here.