Digital print extends books' shelf-life

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The Independent Culture

THOUSANDS OF books long out of print are to become available once more thanks to new digital printing technology which looks likely to herald a new internet bookselling war, writes Louise Jury.

THOUSANDS OF books long out of print are to become available once more thanks to new digital printing technology which looks likely to herald a new internet bookselling war, writes Louise Jury.

Bertelsmann, the world's third largest media company, last week signed a deal with Xerox, which has developed a new way of printing books, in effect, on demand.

The German firm intends to use the technology, based on digital scanning, to re-produce its own massive back catalogue of out-of-print volumes.

It hopes that the major expansion of titles it will be able to offer will enable it to take on and beat Amazon, the current market leader in selling books on the internet. Bertelsmann's own online service, BOL, was a relative late-comer to e-commerce.

Edwin Eichler, a Bertelsmann board member, said: "The web is changing the way books and other media products are sold to an increasingly global market. Our decision to embrace digital on-demand printing is driven by the growth of the internet."

The technology is also expected to fuel growth of short-run review copies, special editions and books targeted at niche and special interest groups.

In future, all books published by Bertelsmann will be stored digitally, even if the initial large print run is carried out on conventional offset presses. The cost of buying a copy will remain roughly the same, but it will be economic for publishers to re-print in much smaller numbers than at present by using the Xerox technology. And old books can be scanned and stored until required.

A thousand titles are digitised already and the number is being increased daily. Mr Eichler said Random House, the British publishing house now owned by Bertelsmann, has around 50,000 titles out of print as well as the 70,000 available.

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