By Heather Killen
A bookseller in Middleton may have found a way take the bite out of e-books while bringing rare, local interest books back into circulation.
Jonathan Archibald says he has lost some sleep over the growing popularity of electronic readers, but he is hopeful he has a way to turn other new technology to his advantage.
The owner of Blue Griffin Books expects within the next five years he will see the new, paperless book industry cut into his general fiction sales and have a negative effect the number of incoming new titles he can resell in his store.
However, Archibald gets a steady stream of requests for out-of-print local histories, genealogies and other special interest publications. While it is possible to find these volumes, the price was usually too high for him to make the sale.
Now he has found a way to bring these rare books back into the market through an affordable print-on-demand system. The business is catering to a specialized market of historians, genealogists and even local authors.
“Our answer to e-books is to print more books,” he said. “This is an opportunity to diversify away from just used books and give us something fairly unique to offer.”
Archibald finds rare, copyright-free publications - such as histories and genealogies online - downloads the electronic files and then converts them into bound, printed copies. Scaled down printing equipment has enabled him to open a mini-publishing house in his home office and produce quality, bound copies of the original works.
Archibald began researching the print-on-demand systems about two years ago. At first costing, the equipment needed to produce small-batch print runs ran about $100,000. The next generation came in around $20,000 – lower, but still a substantial risk investment for a small business owner.
Then he decided to break down the components and create his own print-on-demand system. Archibald introduced the system in May and is slowly building up a client base for the special interest volumes.
Archibald says he enjoys the publishing process and is happy to be able to bring back some of the now seldom heard stories of the local communities.
His catalogue includes hard-to-find histories of Annapolis, Yarmouth, Queens, and Barrington counties. A two-volume history of Kings County will be available in the fall. Genealogists who prefer to work from books rather than the internet can also order printed editions of various family histories.
He also has a number of books written from the front lines of the First and Second World Wars including: Letters of a Canadian Stretcher Bearer, Flying With the Squadron, Carry-on Letters in Wartime and The Irish on the Somme.
He carries century-old volumes such as: Place Names of Nova Scotia, Ogden on Fly-tying; Knots, Ties and Splices. There is a declassified Harley Davidson motorcycle repair manual, old army manuals for jeeps, tanks and even muskets: A Companion to the New Rifle Musket is a must-read for historical re-enactors.
Stephen Ash, a retired Wolfville business professor, has a special interest in military history and collects pre-1920 chronicles. For collectors who prefer paper rather than pixels, he said Archibald’s reprints are affordable alternatives to the originals.
“First editions tend to be ferociously expensive and it limits what you can do,” Ash said. “This provides a great benefit to serious collectors and allows them to get their hands on quality reprints.”
From a small business point of view, Ash aid he thinks that Archibald’s sideline is a good way for an independent bookseller to supplement his income during challenging economic times, give him a means to remain competitive against the larger chains, while offering a valuable service to the community.
“Local people can benefit from this service,” he said. “It’s valuable to those with an interest in culture, history and geography.”
Paradise author David Whitman has self-published numerous books on local history and agrees being able to order small quantities of books is an advantage not only to local historians, but also emerging writers.
“We do a lot of research for our books,” he said. “If we need a certain book, it’s nice to have a permanent copy for our records, but the cost is a factor.”
First time authors who opt to make their name through the growing world of self-publishing find printers’ minimum orders often fall between 500 and 1,000 books at a time.
Being able to print smaller batches is a real advantage: it can provide potential publishers with polished version of the manuscript or just provide a few keepsake copies of the work for friends and family.
Blue Griffin Books offers a list of 22 titles and can produce special order books within a week.