Join 3,556 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Hot off the presses, books printed, while you wait.
March 7, 2008 10:16 AM   Subscribe

Would you like a latte while I print that up for you? The Espresso Book Machine (previously) that was in the New York Public Library has just moved to the Northshire Bookstore in Vermont. The beta versions of this portable book-making machine are pumping out paperbacks around a book a minute at the Open Content Alliance, The Library of Alexandria, The New Orleans Public Library, and the University of Alberta. The mass produced commercial version of the machine is scheduled to roll off the assembly line within the year and will be priced between $50,000 and $20,000. Combined with one of these, publishing as we know it may never be the same.

NPR's On the Media about the machine

The Sunday Times on the EBM


One of Time's Inventions of the Year
posted by Toekneesan (36 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
If this idea breaks through, the EBM could change the book market. The direct-to-consumer model of the EBM eliminates shipping, warehousing, returns and pulping of unsold books, and allows simultaneous global availability[2] of millions of new and backlist titles. These characteristics may in the future lower prices to consumers and libraries, and allow greater royalties and profits to authors and publishers.

Who could doubt it, after seeing how CD prices have plummeted, and artists' profits soared, with the advent of Napster?
posted by DU at 10:26 AM on March 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


I wonder what the actual cost of a book is from the EPM. Factor in the cost of the paper, the ink, the machine maintenance fee, the cost of the machine (averaged over expected lifetime) - I bet it's not too much cheaper than a mass market paperback. It's advantage is not cheap books, but available books. To which I would say, Public Domain Reprints already does it without the need for a fancy machine. It's certainly going to make a difference in some venues like local libraries.
posted by stbalbach at 10:35 AM on March 7, 2008


Book costs are about a penny a page. A 300 page book costs $3. That's cost, not price. The $20K investment in the EBM will need to be paid for somehow.
posted by Toekneesan at 10:38 AM on March 7, 2008


When I was growing up, it was always my dream to to be a writer. In my mind, the badges of success would be an ISBN number and a copy in the Library of Congress.

Self-publishing--based more on wealth than talent--has tarnished these goals for me.
posted by JeremiahBritt at 10:40 AM on March 7, 2008


Crap. I presented something like that to HBJ (contacts) when I was in high school with the ungainly name of Bibliofax. I did a poor man's patent on it. I wish I hadn't gotten depressed after the original lack of interest and chucked the materials.
posted by Samizdata at 10:43 AM on March 7, 2008


In my mind, the badges of success would be an ISBN number and a copy in the Library of Congress.

Sorry, but I think those are poor badges of success. Hell, Dan Brown can get them.
posted by brundlefly at 10:43 AM on March 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


Sorry, but I think those are poor badges of success. Hell, Dan Brown can get them.

I was 12. I also wanted to have a house with an underground lair, as well as a talking dog.
posted by JeremiahBritt at 10:47 AM on March 7, 2008 [9 favorites]


It's advantage is not cheap books, but available books.

This is true in the way that you mean, but also in another way. I witness the 'pulping' (removal of cover and tossing into the compactor) of thousands of books every week, and if a machine like that can bring the practice to an end it's already at a huge advantage.
posted by carsonb at 10:58 AM on March 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


Self-publishing--based more on wealth than talent

So "real publishing" based more on one's pool of well-connected and wealthy friends than talent (a la Lynn Cheney's children's book offering) is more to your taste?
posted by saulgoodman at 10:59 AM on March 7, 2008


I prefer the hot girl-on-girl action in her earlier work.
posted by Toekneesan at 11:03 AM on March 7, 2008


When I was growing up, it was always my dream to to be a writer. In my mind, the badges of success would be an ISBN number and a copy in the Library of Congress.

Oh, and anyone can have both of those things for a fee of $500 bucks anyway, so why equate a publisher's "official stamp of approval" with success?

Plenty of major literary works were self-published. Ferlinghetti's "A Cony Island of the Mind" was originally published by his own imprint ("City Lights"); Whitman's "Leaves of Grass" and all of Blake's works were self-published.

If you aspire to be a writer, focus on being a better writer and just do the work, then if you believe in your work, try to get it out into the world by any means necessary. Don't look to some imaginary authority on all things worthy to bestow a magical certificate of authenticity on your work. Strive to make the work assert its own relevance. Then if everyone ignores it anyway, don't sweat it. It wouldn't be the first time.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:10 AM on March 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


wow, Toekneesan--that looks HOT!
posted by saulgoodman at 11:11 AM on March 7, 2008


On one hand, it would be nice if something like this lead to a decrease in things like pulping and huge sums of remainders that don't sell.

The thing is, I'm not sure who (aside from the big chains) has the money to buy this in the current market.
posted by drezdn at 11:40 AM on March 7, 2008


Combined with one of these [mystery link], publishing as we know it may never be the same.

I hate mystery links. Why should I have to click on the link to reveal the noun in question?
posted by chips ahoy at 11:45 AM on March 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


Is the machine in Vermont the same machine as in NYPL or is it a second piece of machinery? The FPP says the former, Wikipedia implies the latter, and the linked articles are inconclusive.
posted by Skorgu at 11:51 AM on March 7, 2008


I was 12. I also wanted to have a house with an underground lair, as well as a talking dog.

You stopped wanting those?
posted by brundlefly at 11:54 AM on March 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


I should have made a better distinction between vanity publishing and self-publishing. I am aware that some great works were self published.

The main reason the "imaginary authority" was vested with such power to me growing up was, even with the networking and hand-shaking and selling yourself and compromise, it was still a goal. It was shallowly validating to have someone whose profession it is to judge pick something I wrote as worthwhile of publication. Write for yourself, I know, but to have a work of passion chosen from hundreds of other works, from other eager, inexperienced writers...

Part of my disillusionment is because of Atlanta Nights. When I was in college I managed to get a very rough nonfiction essay published in one of the university's journals, something which made me both proud and embarrassed. After college, working as a reporter, I received an email offering to publish a book of my poetry based on some poem that I had online at the time. I was flattered, wanted to know more. After a few emails, I discovered they wanted a couple grand to publish my book, and a little digging revealed them to be one of the PublishAmerica-type vanity companies. It was disheartening.

I was more discouraged by the compliments and acceptance by a scam publisher than I ever could have been with a simple rejection from a "reputable" publishing company.
posted by JeremiahBritt at 12:04 PM on March 7, 2008


Video [.mov] of the alpha Espresso Book Machine producing a book.*
posted by ericb at 12:07 PM on March 7, 2008


love the vampire weekend name-check in the 3rd link!
posted by [son] QUAALUDE at 12:12 PM on March 7, 2008


I would still like an underground lair, but a talking dog would not be good. The only thing worse than a companion that licks his own balls would be a companion that kept telling me how great it was.
posted by DU at 12:13 PM on March 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


You stopped wanting those?

Well, when you stop and think on it a bit, talking dogs would get old pretty fast. This got the core reason why pretty much right. "Sausage! Sausage! PLEASE! Sausages!" You'd also get a lot of, "You gonna eat that? I could eat that for you. You're not eating it right now, are you sure you're gonna eat that? Seriously, gonna eat that? I'd like to eat that. Please? Please? How about that?" and "Hey! Hey hey hey hey! Where are you going? Are you getting me food? Oh! Would you like this ball? This one right here? I think you'd like to put the phone down and throw this for me, wouldn't you?"
posted by Drastic at 12:18 PM on March 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


After college, working as a reporter, I received an email offering to publish a book of my poetry based on some poem that I had online at the time. I was flattered, wanted to know more. After a few emails, I discovered they wanted a couple grand to publish my book, and a little digging revealed them to be one of the PublishAmerica-type vanity companies. It was disheartening.

Oh yeah, I definitely agree and have had similar experiences. There's no end of shady operators looking to bank off of aspiring writers' naivety and desire for recognition. But the illusion that established publishers are somehow arbiters of quality--well, in the heyday of literary publishing that may have been slightly more true, but the bottom line rules the day now in determining what floats to the top of the editorial slush-piles, and it's harder and harder to ignore how much this is the case. Commercial potential, more than ever, is the chief criterion publishing gate-keepers apply when considering a literary or pseudo-literary work (and that's understandable given how lean the market has become). So a pop singer like Jewel has no trouble getting a collection of poetry out of a major publishing house, while obscure but more relevant literary writers find themselves ignored into oblivion. Maybe if larger publishers were to embrace on-demand publishing, we could have the best of both worlds: lower risk for publishers who want to release works by less commercially viable authors without sacrificing the publisher's traditional gate-keeping functions.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:31 PM on March 7, 2008


I hope this exposes out of print and back catalog books more. There are so many books that were never properly marketed or appreciated the first time around. I suspect the Dan Browns and Steven Kings of the world will still have their new books published the old fashioned way no matter how successful the book machine becomes.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:04 PM on March 7, 2008


I want a really good recommendation engine tied to something like Itunes so I can buy an obscure but highly recommended book for $2.00 at a coffeeshop. That would be great.

Our department has a combo copy machine and scanner that will email pdf files to you. I have already cut the bindings off of one book with a jigsaw and scanned it in. Then I paid two bucks to have it rebound with spiral binding. Now I have it on my laptop too.
posted by mecran01 at 1:17 PM on March 7, 2008


I am going to publish and print the entire volume of my comments here at MetaFilter (why not? I own them). The bizarre lack-of-context will captivate America's imagination and translate into a best-seller.

This will be the last comment in the first edition.
posted by Eideteker at 1:28 PM on March 7, 2008


Here is some video I shot of the Open Content Alliance's EBM printing a book.
posted by rajbot at 1:39 PM on March 7, 2008


"Print is dead." ~Egon
posted by sswiller at 2:08 PM on March 7, 2008


"Sausage! Sausage! PLEASE! Sausages!"

Howling at Moon: "MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOON!"
-Gary Larson
posted by brundlefly at 2:36 PM on March 7, 2008


Thanks for posting that video, rajbot. It's fun to watch it do its thing, but the noise it makes is the clincher. I want one.
posted by brundlefly at 2:41 PM on March 7, 2008


Well, I always figured something like this, once properly commercialized and affordable due to economics of scale, would be a good antidote to publishing's seemingly inescapable "least investment, least loss" strategy.

Also, I thought being able to sample a book would be a nice thing to do before purchasing, especially without requiring a print run to look at. Lord knows, Amazon has sold me many a book that way before.
posted by Samizdata at 3:23 PM on March 7, 2008


I think these things are awesome. Flat out, unadulterated cool.

More times than I'd like to remember, I've found myself scouring the racks in some crummy airport or train station or tourist-trap-town bookstore, looking for something to read. Or going into the local bookstore and never finding what I'm looking for, and ending up having to order it. Just putting a printer at each of these locations strikes me as miles more efficient, not to mention better for me as a consumer. I've read a lot of crap books just because they were the least-bad option available at the time; more selection is always better.

I also wonder if there aren't some environmental benefits as well: even without getting into the whole "pulping" business (which I find sad, although on the scale of waste I could still think of a lot more repugnant things), separating a book's content and physical media and only reattaching them at the last minute avoids a lot of logistical and shipping hassle.

As for self-publishing and vanity publishing, I just can't get myself worked up about it. Bring 'em on. Railing against vanity press always struck me as sort of stuffy and un-egalitarian. The only problem with 'vanity presses' is that they're expensive. Fix that, and suddenly your 'vanity press' becomes your 'citizen media.' Ultimately, I'd like to see the barrier to entry dropped as low as possible, so that works are judged on their merits rather than by their medium or mode of publication. (Although I wouldn't be against the maintainers of e-book indexes putting up some safeguards against spam books -- ones consisting solely of web search results or other filler dressed up to fool customers into buying them.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:12 PM on March 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Just to clarify some terms. Pulping is usually done by the publisher, not the retailer, and actually involves recycling. Stripping, where the covers are removed, sent back to the publisher for credit toward future purchases, require the retailer to destroy the book. Because of the bindings, municipal waste facilities can't really process them so they get thrown away. Not donated, not recycled, thrown away. In some ways this is much more efficient than shipping them back to receive credit. But the number of books this happens to in America alone has to be in the hundreds of thousands annually. Landfilled. And it's a blight on the industry. This practice is usually limited to mass market books, those pocket paperbacks.

I think this machine and many other Print on Demand technologies can help end those kinds of practices. Why should a bookstore always have to carry all 300 of Mr. King's publications all the time? Why not save that shelf space for a new writer? This technology can facilitate that. Then there's the 300,000 public domain title list. Publishers could license their content so suddenly all 1,800 books my little publisher has put out in its 50 year history are on the same digital shelf as Mr. King's Ĺ“uvre, as is the catalog of any one. And available in every library, bookstore, warehouse club, office, grocery, where one of these turns up. I think this is a good thing. It will help eliminate a lot of shipping and waste.

Sorry about the mystery link. It's a scanner. A high volume, high res, built in OCR, book scanner for the consumer. With one of those and a high volume paperback printer, one might see a whole knew age of non-authentic books beginning. A liberation from rights, with an ominous set of potential unintended consequences.
posted by Toekneesan at 5:43 AM on March 8, 2008


The only problem with 'vanity presses' is that they're expensive. Fix that, and suddenly your 'vanity press' becomes your 'citizen media.'

Is $299 too much for print-ready content?

How about free? (kindle only)
posted by b1tr0t at 6:36 AM on March 8, 2008


Blast from the past to see the term 'integrated book making machine'.

My first summer job was working at a Doubleday & Co. site where they were building an Integrated Book Making Machine. This was 1971, and the machine was in a former Air Force clean room and was about 150' long, 75' wide and at least 30' tall. It could print out up to a 1024-page book at a rate of around 50-60 per minute. This was using standard offset printing, so it took some time to set up the plates.

I also helped set up a book printing system in 2001 at the GAO in DC that was supposed to be for on-demand printing of their blue-binder reports. The idea was that you would order a GAO publication and the machine would print out a pdf and bind it, however many copies you wanted. Did not stick around to see if it ever got into full production, but in test it could print out a 48 page report at about 20-30 booklet a minute. This group of machines was only about 40' feet long, 5' wide and 6' tall. Setup time was however long it took to load a pdf.

These things keep getting smaller and smaller. And cheaper and cheaper.
posted by MtDewd at 11:59 AM on March 8, 2008


Here is some video I shot of the Open Content Alliance's EBM printing a book.

Thank you, rajbot, this was amazing! I liked the book-creation process but what I really loved was the uproarious laughter I erupted into upon seeing the finished book unceremoniously dumped on the floor at the end of the process. I hadn't expected that.

Hopefully they will add a little tray or something so that books have a bit more of a gentle path to the welcoming hand of the reader.
posted by marble at 3:08 AM on March 9, 2008


A story this morning in Shelf Awareness (a book trade publication) about the EBM in Alberta.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:25 AM on March 10, 2008


« Older Buster Martin...  |  Hannah Poling is a nine year o... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments