Espresso Book Machine

When I first heard the name Espresso Book Machine, I thought it was affiliated with the coffee industry–a natural assumption for a barista to make–rather than the publishing industry.  I was quite surprised, then, when I clicked the corresponding link and saw this:rather than this:

or even this:

(This book is a classic, by the way)

No, the Espresso Book Machine (EBM) is actually manufactured by On Demand Books in partnership with Xerox to print library-quality, paperback books on the spot.  Developed by veteran publisher Jason Epstein, he described his invention as “an ATM for books.”   No more storage problems or gathering old books from the shelves to return to publishers; rather, a person can select a book from the machine’s digital catalogue and take it home, hot off the presses, in a matter of minutes.  While the printing does not take the same amount of time as it does to pull a shot of espresso as it claims, it’s still pretty darn quick–and if you factor in the walk to your nearest coffee shop and waiting in line, the two processes may end around the same time after all.

EMBs have been around since 2006 but are still far from commonplace.  This is largely due to the high cost of one of these machines, though leasing options are available.  Thus far a few have been placed in libraries and bookstores,  where there are enough positive reviews to justify the cost.  The notion of having a EBM on premise is an exciting one to me because it brings the printing process to life, thus stirring interest in the printed page.  Additionally, it ensures that customers can get a copy of the book they want without having to wait up to a week for their special order to arrive, and eliminates the shipping costs and materials in the process.  This last point is an important one.  I can’t count the number of times I was obligated to tell a bookstore customer that I was sorry, but we were out of the title they requested.  Some customers don’t mind waiting for a special order to arrive, but others get frustrated and ultimately take their business elsewhere.  An EBM would really help keep that business in local shops.

Though they cannot currently print all copyrighted material, there have been agreements made with some publishing houses, and out of print titles and unsigned authors are fair game; plus I can see it increasing backlist sales the same way e-books have.  On Demand Books also emphasizes the usefulness of EBMs in self-publishing, eliminating many of the cost barriers that authors encounter while trying to get their work printed and stocked to sell.

Honestly, I think they are nifty little machines and like the idea of keeping an active printing press in libraries and bookshops and that they give aspiring authors a leg up.  Here’s a little video of it in action.  Take a look and see what you think!

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