Nicole and I attended the recent College Art Association conference in Washington D.C., where we had a table in the exhibit area displaying some of the awesome art books published by our clients and printed by us. More than once, a conference attendee approached our display, looked at the name displayed on the backdrop above my head (Bookmobile), and confusion ensued. Their eyes darted around looking for something they were not finding: namely, a truck. At that point Nicole or I would hastily explain “We are short-run book printers, and these are samples of our work!”
The expression on the face in front of us would instantly either 1) relax into total disinterest, whereupon the person would saunter off to find something more engaging, or, 2) light up with interest, whereupon we would be bombarded with questions about printing books. (I’ve made the most common questions into a mini-FAQ.)
So why Bookmobile?
The year was 1996, and we had just introduced our short-run digital book printing service. I was talking about the service with a long-time book design client and friend, Norton Stillman of Nodin Press, and his business partner from the wholesaler The Bookmen, Ned Waldman. They insisted that we needed a name for the printing service other than Stanton Publication Services, which was the name under which we provided book design and production management services (we still provide book design and production management services too).
A light bulb went on. But what to call this new thing, a short-run book printer using digital printing equipment? This being 1996, I knew that ideally the name should be available as an internet domain name. I made long lists of book-related domain names and looked them up on WHOis one by one. Even though it was still relatively early in internet history, there wasn’t a lot available. One that was available was Bookmobile. It had kind of a jaunty feel to it, and having been a kid who haunted libraries and remembered the bookmobile coming to Orono Elementary in 4th grade—the year I discovered The Boxcar Children and launched into what became a life of reading—it gave me a good feeling. The “mobile” part, also, if somewhat vaguely, connoted the flexibility and speed of digital book printing. So we registered the name, and the domain name, and ultimately filed for and received a service mark from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
With the rise of mobile devices and the kickoff of the eBook market with the Kindle’s 2007 launch, we jumped back into eBook services (we had prematurely provided them in 2001). Then, interestingly, people began to pronounce Bookmobile differently. Instead of Bookmobile, with emphasis on “book”, they started saying it Bookmobile, assuming that the name referred to books + mobile devices.
While we like to think we work hard on being clear about who we are and what we do, we still get phone calls asking when the bookmobile is going to arrive.
Need a printing quote, eBook conversion quote, or more information?
I’d be happy to answer questions—you can contact me via email. I welcome any feedback, including that pointing out my errors!
Don Leeper is founder and CEO of Bookmobile, which has provided design, printing, eBook, and distribution services for book publishers since 1982.