The Espresso print-on-demand system (POD) continues to get plenty of buzz, including this recent post from the Wired Blog Network. I don't agree with blogger Rob Beschizza's notion that your local big box bookstore will be reduced to nothing more than "a coffee house and a vending machine" though.
While success of the Espresso (or any other mainstream POD solution) would likely have a significant effect on the brick-and-mortar world, as I said in this post last December, I think they should welcome it with open arms. Why? Because a system like this would take away one of the key benefits enjoyed by Amazon and every other e-tailer: a seemingly infinite list of "available titles". The brick-and-mortars have lost plenty of market share due to only offering a fraction of the number of titles available at Amazon, BN.com, etc. What's the last thing you want the brick-and-mortar clerk to say when you ask them about a particular book? I've always cringed when I hear "we don't have that book in stock, but I can order it for you...we'll have it in about a week." How many sales have the brick-and-mortar stores lost because of that situation?
Let's also not forget the characteristics of the in-person book-buying experience. Look around the next time you're in a big box bookstore. Besides the usual browsing there are loads of people sitting around flipping through what they've found on the shelf while sipping on a cup of overpriced coffee. This isn't going to change! Sure, the boxes themselves might get a bit smaller (and I emphasize "might"), but it's not the possible square footage reduction and cost savings this will drive as much as it is the increased sales of titles previously not available. Plus, think of the extra browsing time you'll have while you wait for your POD title to print...the bookstores will absolutely love this aspect of POD since more browsing time often leads to more products being purchased.
No, POD won't be the brick-and-mortar killer it's often assumed to be. Instead of having to wait till tomorrow for the book to arrive from Amazon you'll be able to get it the same day at your local store. The instant gratification it enables should only help your local bookstore in the long run.