Booksellers Roll With the Caravan

By Carmen Comment

The Washington Post’s Bob Thompson has a lengthy feature on the Caravan Project, a print-on-demand tool created by Peter Osnos and supplied to select bookstores by Ingram which enables customers to order digital version of select titles, including academic treatises, audiobooks, large-print formats and regular hardcovers. “The trick for you,” Kent Freeman, who works with the Caravan Project, told booksellers, “is to answer a simple question: “How does the physical bookstore provide digital content to the consumer?”

At the moment, Caravan’s reach is tiny: only 23 books are on offer. But most who have seen it in action have high hopes. “[Osnos] trying to do nothing short of change the way the entire industry publishes their books,” says Mark LaFramboise, the head book buyer at Politics and Prose. If it works, “it would be huge.” “This could be a pilot for what all publishers end up doing eventually,” agrees Tom Dwyer, director of merchandising at Borders. Right now, Dwyer adds, bigger publishers are mainly focused on “digitizing all their content.” But when it comes to distribution, he says, he’s sure they’re “planning something in this direction.”

Other publishing types aren’t as sure of Caravan’s importance in publishing. “Peter is a trusted figure in the community,” says another big-company executive, declining to be quoted by name. But “my two cents is that this is not likely to be at all significant.” And Osnos himself hopes the Caravan Project will be irrelevant in a few years’ time. Why? Because at that point, “we’re going to say: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, now you know how to do it.’ Publishers should know how to do the books in all the formats. Booksellers should know how to sell them. And we go away.”