Thursday, May 14, 2009

Make my Espresso…Digitized

Have you heard about the Espresso Book Machine?

It is billed as the biggest change in the literary world since the printing press and Blackwell’s Charing Cross Road branch in London actually has it. This gargantuan machine is not a sleek, sexy futuristic looking machine. In fact, it looks like a photo-copier on steroids but it can print and bind a book on demand in five minutes while customers wait.

This machine offers access to nearly a half a million books and it is hoped to have the number of book titles available to over a million by the end of summer. That is the shelf space equivalent of 50 bookstores rolled into one machine. The majority of the titles now available are ones that are out of copyright, but they are currently working diligently with publishers to increase the access of the in-copyright books and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

Imagine the impact this could potentially have on the bookselling community. Small independents could compete with industry giants which is a pretty compelling argument for this type of change in the industry. No more concern about stocking titles, worrying about press runs or titles being out of print.

This machine was the brainchild of American publisher Jason Epstein, and the Espresso was a star attraction at the London Book Fair this week where it was on display to interested publishers. It has been deemed a Time Magazine “invention of the year” as it is creating quite a buzz through the publishing community.

The quality of the books is remarkable. It prints over 100 pages a minute, clamping them into place then binding, guillotining and spitting out the final publication. The text was free of smudges, with crisp clear printing. The jacket, although initially a little tacky at the touch, was of excellent quality.

It is described as an ”ATM for books” by its US proprietor On Demand Books. While the machine comes with a hefty $175,000 price tag but booksellers believe they can make it back in a year. The Espresso machines are already established in the US, Canada and Australia, and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt, but the Charing Cross Road machine is the first in the UK.

Exciting? You bet! What are your thoughts on the potential for change this machine could make in the book selling business? Will the large publishing houses maintain their pinnacle status or be forced to evolve with this new print on demand environment?

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darkened_jade said...

I think you are right about magic needing to be believable and the, they all lived happily ever after ending, really only works for the young. We become far too cynical as we get older. We're willing to admit that magic can solve some problems, but only if it creates others and can't solve some. Still, fantasy will always have a place for as long as people wish for anything.

N A Sharpe said...

I love the world of fantasy...anything can happen. I like the possibilities :D


Alexis Grant said...

Wow... Glad you're keeping tabs on what's new out there, and passing that news to us!

N A Sharpe said...

Hi Alexis,

I am intrigued by this machine. I think it could radically change the face of publishing.

Thanks for stopping by

NA Sharpe

Karen Walker said...

How very interesting. Not sure how I feel about this machine. It's like ebooks and kindle - I'm leery of new things, but that's just old-fashioned me.


N A Sharpe said...

Hi Karen,

Typically, I do not adapt well to change. It must happen slowly, not wash over me all at once. I am still on the fence about electronic books - I can see a definite niche for them (particularly when traveling), but I love the smell and feel of a real, honest to goodness, book in my hands. I don't know - I can see where there is an argument for a machine like this being "green". I can see the advantage of bookstores not having to carry large inventories....hmmmm...okay the look, feel and smell of bookstores I'm NOT ready to give up, but smaller independent stores can compete with the giants in the industry. Arguably, the machine caries a hefty pricetag but carrying large inventories cannot be inexpensive either...

I don't know. Food for thought.

NA Sharpe

Anonymous said...

I have heard of this machine and I applaud its existence. POD is the way of the future, even for the BIGS - it is green, and makes absolute economic sense as well. As long as order fulfillment can be kept up, why print out hundreds of thousands of copies ahead of time - many of which wind up in the landfill?

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Hi Nancy,

Wow, this is fascinating. I had no idea that something like this was in the works. I wonder if this machine will end up being a blessing or a curse for the industry?


N A Sharpe said...

Hi Marvin and Elizabeth,

I had never heard of it before, although it sounds as though it is already in place in the US (??) and now in the UK.

I agree it sounds very promising, especially for the green issues. I think it is exciting and seems to be a proactive wave into the future, but I am also wondering what impact it will have on the big publishing houses and jobmarket. Hmmmm... Things to ponder.

NA Sharpe

Galen Kindley said...

Hi, Nancy. I've actually seen this machine in action. It's pretty slick. My publisher found a video about it and sent it to her authors for review. I looked for the email but, it's gone.

If you google for it, however, you may find it. If so, it might make an interesting addition to your next post as kind of an addendum.

As always a timely and interesting post on Just a Thought. Good job.

Best Regards, Galen

Patricia Stoltey said...

When I think of all the books that get chewed up by chopping and shredding machines each year, I have to say the POD concept makes so much more sense than large print runs for books that end up remaindered. I'd love to see one of these machines for real.


N A Sharpe said...

Hi Galen and Patricia,

Thanks for stopping by. I found the article about the machine yesterday as it has just made its UK debut.

It sounds amazing! It looks like POD publishing is definitely gaining momentum in the publishing world.


Enid Wilson said...

I heard about it from the local bookshop but I have never seen one in action. I think it's a great invention, though I hope it won't replace the friendly sales at bookshops.

In Quest of Theta Magic

N A Sharpe said...

Hi Enid,

I agree. I don't want to see bookshops go by the wayside, but I have to admit, this machine intrigues me.


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