emBooks: You can take it with you (proposal for microbook publishing-on-demand)


Scout Books. Portlandy portable reading for off-screen time!

You can take it with you.

I’ve been working on an idea for customized / print-on-demand microbook publishing, to make pocket-sized booklets for notebooks, short reads, chapters of books, essays, voter guides, instruction books, etc. Or, perhaps even the condensed books that O’Reilly Media’s Joe Wikert proposes, which publishers would price higher than a traditional “full-length” book in order to provide the service of intelligently condensing the content. (“sell the value proposition that “shorter saves time so it’s OK to charge more for it.”).

Imagine a platform to which you could upload text or other content, have that be placed into a booklet template (approx. 3.5″ x 5.25″, up to 64 pages), and then order one or any number of copies (cardstock cover, center-stitched). This size is close to mobile phones (thus emBook), Moleskine and many other pocket notebooks, Scout Books booklets, metric B7 (88×125mm = 3.46″ × 4.92″) and to the USPS’s 3.5×5″ minimum mailing size.

The system would convert the content to an PDF containing cover + 8 interior pages, 8.5×11″, double-sided. [It may be possible to do this even in OpenOffice, I am investigating this].

The pages are laser-printed, folded in signature once, center-stitched then folded again, then trimmed on three sides to make a 64-page book approx 3.5″ x 5.25.”
It would be done at one or more high-volume POD vendor facilities. Orders would be queued, printed consecutively, bound and mailed from there.

An outer wrapper sheet would be printed, with the exposed face showing the customer’s delivery address and pre-printed postage. The back side of that, and the other sheet half (which after binding & trimming would be at the booklet’s center) might be used for a re-order form, reply postcards, mini-catalog of other available products, a forwarding wrapper to send the book on to another recipient or donate it, etc.

Back-of-the-envelope production cost estimate: below $2/booklet + postage. The model would be to create a highly automated, self-service process, all customer interaction via the Web, all fulfillment by commodity 3rd-party POD service. Then sell at the mobile app / low-end eBook price range of $5 retail. Obviously, do it at large scale, no returns, very low-touch service.

Potentially, one service option could be to offer the PDF file back to customers for them to print it themselves. It isn’t too hard for a reasonably crafty person to print, bind, and trim these, could be a good solo or group or micro-entrepreneur DIY project.

Custom / print-on-demand publishing is a huge space, and I’ve done just a little bit of research, but so far the 2 most comparable enterprises I’ve find are:
1) Scout Books – 32-page 3.5×5″ kraft-covered notebooks or custom content (but printed offset in runs, not 1-off POD). ScoutBooks.com, Portland

2) Moleskine’s custom photobooks and MSK (My Moleskine) service.
They do full-color photobooks, the MSK service to let you print your own custom pages to add to notebook; and apparently they are exploring POD services.

moleskine_msk.jpgPossibly, Moleskine, alone or in connection to its partnership with Evernote, has designs on this space and ability to gain a strong position. So far, though, I don’t think so, because of these differentiators:
1) they are a branded, high-end consumer good. By contrast, I’m thinking of a platform for commodity POD production and DIY projects. Given their product line, I expect they would set a price point significantly higher than I thinking of, and not be open to arbitrary 3rd-party content publishing.

2) Part of my interest is, potentially, to curate and crowd-curate publishing content, e.g. essays on net culture, classic essays, alternate scholarly publishing, literary works. (I’d love to see a Classic Internet Essays series, e.g.) I don’t think Moleskine is going there. (Scout Books, possibly, though; then there are many other mini-book publishing efforts out there, like Penguin Shorts)



Perhaps done as part of Palo Alto’s “Digital City” (“City as Platform”) program with CIO Jonathan Reichental. Could be done as a city program, or by utility companies, realtors, or local businesses, universities, military bases, churches, large employers, etc.

For new households in a city, or possibly for all households, auto-generate and mail a customized emBook which contains a variety of relevant community information, derived automatically from whatever is known about the addressee.

General municipal info:

  • info on and perhaps statement by city officials – mayor, council, etc.
  • elections info
  • services info – utilities, trash/recycling, elections, assistance programs, job programs, translators, libraries, how to get help and report issues
  • history, overview, key landmarks & buildings and historical sites
  • city open data – budget, capital programs, crime, accident data, etc.

Information customized based on address:

  • your govt. representatives – city, county, state, federal – and how to contact them, their ratings according to various watchdog scorecards, etc.
  • your local library, police precinct, schools, emergency shelters/procedures
  • yours and local home values, assessments, property records
  • aerial photo? streetview photo?

Potential detachable mail-in postcards:

  • prefilled voter registration card(s)
  • library-card signup form/info
  • school enrollment info
  • govt services: job programs, assistance programs, translators
  • transit pass signup
  • survey / feedback form

Hypothetically, it could also include

  • who are your neighbors?
  • non-public data or city notices specific to you, e.g. property assessment, lien, permit renewal

Yes, there’s a good bit of data to hook together, but the means and interest to hook it up efficiently is growing rapidly, and you’d be solving the problem once to scale it up nationally or internationally.


work with http://www.historypin.com/ for streamlined or user-generated production of booklets about particular areas or tours as featured on the Historypin platform.  (or, Historypin could help or be used in the City Kits described above).


Aldine octavo (pocket) edition, 1502

Product a Bible edition as a collection of emBook booklets. (loosely one booklet per Bible book). Booklets can be ordered individually or as a set.
pocket Bible: just like Aldus Manutius in the 15th C.!  Of making many small Bibles there is no end!








APPLICATION #4:  Custom Personal Notebook
You choose the paper ruling (blank, line type, grid, dot-grid, etc.). Then:

  • Print your name, contact info, photo, any often-referenced material inside cover.
  • Calendar highlights – e.g. birthdays, anniversaries. [potentially, pull in automatically from e.g. Gmail calendar].
  • Any other content you want to add: material you reference often, or are learning; devotional materials.



Comments welcomed; will be approved before posting (sorry, spam issues). Please feel free to also send comments to tmccormick (at) gmail.com, or comment / follow at @tmccormick on Twitter/App.net.

One thought on “emBooks: You can take it with you (proposal for microbook publishing-on-demand)

  1. Pingback: Another Design is Possible: 10 Contrarian Design Patterns & Projects | Tim McCormick

Leave a Reply