First, bookworms were able to buy digital books on electronic readers; now a New Zealand company will print out a single copy of that book and mail it to your front gate.

With technological developments like this, it's little wonder book stores such as Whitcoulls and Borders are in trouble.

Wellington company Printstop has installed a new state-of-the-art press that allows it to print a single copy of a book, if the words and pictures are supplied digitally.

For as little as $5 it can print out a black-and-white paperback - though the mark-up from online retailers such as Amazon is likely to more than double the final price.

The short-run printing service is popular with budding authors who are unable to secure the writer's dream of a big money deal with a mass-market publishing house. They can submit their text to websites such as lulu.com or blurb.com, where for a small fee someone will design it up in PDF or EPUB digital format. Then the file can be emailed to Printstop.

Chief executive Steve Messenger said a decrease in manufacturing costs meant it now cost almost the same price to print one book as it would to run off 1000.

A study by consulting firm Booz Allen showed US$100 million ($139 million) was spent in the United States every year sending back books from their point of sale to be shredded, he said. On-demand printing eliminated that.

"There's lots of reasons people love physical books but if they are to survive against the ebook, the price gap has to be smaller." Printstop general manager Symon Yendoll said the Truepress 520 printer could print 90,000 A4 impressions in one hour. That allows a book to be printed and ready for despatch within four hours.

Older systems using metal plates took up to four days to produce books.

Publishing Association president Adrian Keane said technology was providing consumers, retailers and publishers with compelling new opportunities.

"We're now in a transformational era in the industry," he said.

"There's now a plethora of products on the market where consumers can interact with content."

Maggie Tarver, chief executive of the New Zealand Society of Authors, said the digitisation of New Zealand books would make it easier for authors to become published and easier for readers to find them.

In Takapuna, Digital Publishing NZ has secured $100,000 from Copyright Licensing and Creative NZ to convert Kiwi titles into an electronic format. It aims to digitise a catalogue of up to 600 New Zealand books so they can be legally printed or downloaded to an e-reader, such as the Kobo.

Digital Publishing NZ plans to market the books online in a "virtual warehouse", using the brand Great New Zealand Ebooks.