How Harvard Book Store combines the best of digital bookselling with the best of physical bookselling


Phil Johnson writes in Forbes about the unlikely (and quite wonderful) success of the Harvard Book Store, an absolutely terrific independent bookstore that was bought by Jeff Mayersohn, a high-tech entrepreneur who was determined to exploit the advantages of a great physical location along with print-on-demand, instant gratification.

Essentially, Jeff installed a printing press to close the inventory gap with Amazon. The Espresso Book Machine sits in the middle of Harvard Book Store like a hi-tech visitor to an earlier era. A compact digital press, it can print nearly five million titles including Google Books that are in the public domain, as well as out of print titles. We’re talking beautiful, perfect bound paperbacks indistinguishable from books produced by major publishing houses. The Espresso Book Machine can be also used for custom publishing, a growing source of revenue, and customers can order books in the store and on-line.

You can walk into the store, request an out-of-print, or hard-to-find title, and a bookseller can print that book for you in approximately four minutes. Ben Franklin would be impressed.

But you don’t even have to go into the store to get a book. If you live in Cambridge and neighboring communities, you can order online and get any book delivered the same day by an eco-friendly Metroped “pedal-truck,” or a bicycle, as I like to call them. Beat that Amazon.

Marketers know that success comes from a complex formula, and Jeff’s strategy includes many moving parts. Harvard Book Store pays fanatical attention to customer service with an unrivaled staff of passionate and educated booksellers. They have spent years building a local brand. They bring people together with over 300 public events a year. They’re exceptional retailers with a frequent buyer program. They understand technology, and you can expect them to continually adapt.

I was so impressed by Harvard Book Store -- especially the shelves they'd dedicated to rare and odd treasures from the unplumbably vast Google public domain repository as a sample of the kind of thing you could have made to order in minutes.

The Man Who Took on Amazon and Saved a Bookstore (via Making Light)

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