A lot of people think ebook will replace mass market, and they are using Dorchester's decision as an example. That's not feasible, IMO...not in the near future, but I've said why that is many times. A more even split between ebook and print is in the works, surely, but not the death of print...and not the death of mass market to ebook. I won't bore long term readers with a recitation of it again, but I will give an in-depth overview of my vision of the coming future (within the next two decades or a little more, I would estimate, but maybe as far out as four or five decades).
Yes, the offset printing has to disappear. It's not the mass market/pulp paper books that have to disappear. It's the process of making bulk orders and stripping for returns (or even allowing returns) that we have to lose. It's too much waste: paper, gas for shipping, investment that doesn't get a return... You can already do POD printing and choose pulp paper, which can reduce costs a bit. POD does NOT mean trade paperback. It does not mean certain sizes. I have POD-printed books that are 8.5X11 trade, and I have them in both pulp paper and perfect binding and in comic paper with saddle stitch binding. The possibilities are nearly endless. The term doesn't even mean paperback. There already exists an option for hard bound books (not the greatest hardbound but hard) in POD.
Now, imagine what I've been imagining for years. Big stores like Borders would have the following to replace the broken offset system:
3-6 POD machines in the store, hooked up to central databases like LSI and Booksurge and even CreateSpace that we already use. They could even be set up so that a couple do mass market paper books, some do hard bound, some do trade...
The system would be fully integrated. Customers could order books remotely to be printed AT the store and picked up there while they were out later in the day. Customers could order from home/work and have the books shipped to them. Customers could use in-store computers (like Borders already has) to find books by author, title, series, keyword, publication date, publisher...much like we do now. From that kiosk, customers could order books that are not on the shelves to be printed and waiting for them at the front. They could even prepay for them at the kiosk, if they want to cut down the wait.
There would be books on the shelves, but less. They'd have some classics, board books and such that POD can't do...yet, proven bestsellers, maybe a few copies of new releases, do-dads... The rest would be POD.
When a book is ordered from a kiosk or home computer, a print order is put in for it and delivered to the front desk with a picker matching them to the order slip and preparing them for pick-up. The kiosk can even give an estimated time for pick-up to the customer, who can then go browse and perhaps pick up another book or two while he/she waits. The order slip can tell the picker if the order is intended for a customer that is IN store or coming soon to the store from another location.
When a book is taken from the shelves and purchased, the computer will have one of two orders. Either it will automatically send an order to reprint and shelve to the printer. Or it will not, because it's an older book that is being allowed to leave the shelves.
Will it take some getting used to for readers? Yes, but it has distinct advantages.
1. Books will never be out of stock. NO book in the system will ever be out of stock. It just means a wait for the printer to spit it out. Imagine going to the store, any time of day, no matter how old the book is (as long as it's still in print somewhere), and being able to purchase a legal copy on the spot.
2. It puts NY conglomerate and indie on a MUCH more even playing field. I know NY doesn't want that, but readers do. Yes, only NY conglomerate will be taking up that shelf space most likely, but as readers become more adept at searching for (say) vampire or I/R or M/M in the computer system, they will find indie books.
3. Less waste. Not only in the physical wastes of printing books and investing in that printing that may not sell...but also in manpower. You will have a certain amount of trade-off: maintenance for the machines and pickers in the place of some of the stockers. But you'll need less people to run the store, and more will be able to interact with customers and introduce them to the system.
From a more industry-wide standpoint, you will lose people from the offset printing industry but GAIN people in the production and shipping of the machines. You won't lose an incredible amount of people from the shipping industry on the book side, since you still have to get the paper and cover stock and such to the POD sites. The only ones that will have considerably less work will be the trash men, and let's face it...they have enough work already. Hang on...I'm going to get back to this in a minute.
4. A fully integrated system for home and store. Borders is CLOSE now, but it's still awkward. I am SURE one of the books...or two on my daughter's last order were in the store. We asked for store delivery, but they were not picked from the store shelves. They were shipped to the store as if they weren't there, which is highly inefficient. And back to this...
5. Delivery could be streamlined. We'll assume every book is coming from a store site instead of a warehouse, with this system. People can pick up books on site, but if they want delivery, that can be streamlined into only using a delivery service like UPS or USPS for remote locations and depending on an in-house delivery man for local deliveries, which the computer could figure out, based on store locations and customer address. Less time to get books AND the store can make it worth their while and still have next day delivery.
Say the system has three dozen orders that are within a twenty-mile radius of store 123 on a particular day. You send out a single delivery man with a list separated by cities the orders are from. You charge each customer either a flat-rate delivery fee ($5 per order maybe) or by the number of miles from the store they are and you've more than covered your truck, driver, and gas/maintenance.
Yes, I think ebooks will play a big role, but I really believe a lot of people out there are still tied to paper. Those people will demand paper, but who says it has to be the old offset system delivering it? It doesn't. And if the new system is more advantageous to them, why would readers complain? They won't. The people that will complain will be the book stores that have to implement it. They can't play the returns game. They have to actually PAY for what they sell. And they have to make the initial investment to get it running.