“We believe this is a revolution...Content retrieval is now centralized and production is decentralized.”
September 17, 2009 10:29 PM   Subscribe

Google makes public domain books available for instant custom printing. Show up anywhere that has one of the book printing machines. Select one of the millions of public domain titles in Google Books digital library. Pay around the price of a mass market paperback. The machine then prints a copy of your desired book* in a few minutes, as demonstrated in this lovingly narrated video.

Yes, the machines have been available for a while. (Previously on the blue.) What hasn't been available until now is the Google Books digital library.

How exactly Google's support will affect the spread of these book printing machines remains to be seen, but it probably won't hurt their sales.

*Say the 1766 edition of Sam Johnson's Dictionary. Or one of James Maxwell's books, like Matter and Motion. Or the original Leibniz-Clarke correspondence. What I'm trying to say is you have some good options.
posted by voltairemodern (50 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Seems like kind of a waste when Kindle/iPhone is around.
posted by empath at 10:40 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


“Content retrieval is now centralized and production is decentralized.”

Decentralized? There seems to be only about a dozen of these machines in existence.
posted by Iridic at 10:50 PM on September 17, 2009


Seems like kind of a waste when Kindle/iPhone is around.

???

There's no DRM, there's no required device, once you buy it it's yours. Why would anyone prefer a kindle/iPhone version? Ugh.

(now if they were available in DjVu format)
posted by delmoi at 10:53 PM on September 17, 2009 [10 favorites]


empath: Seems like kind of a waste when Kindle/iPhone is around.

Kindle/iPhones don't enter into it. The number of people who have those things is miniscule, and the number of people willing to pony up a few hundred dollars one-time to read books will remain remarkably small.

What you mean is that this seems like kind of a waste when computers are around.
posted by koeselitz at 10:57 PM on September 17, 2009


What hasn't been available until now is the Google Books digital library.

Normally I don't complain about posts, but when it comes to Google Books, respectfully, this one seems just a bit thin. Of larger interest, perhaps, there are issues of antitrust law that come up when Google has as much control over distribution and pricing of published works. Secondly, Google's recent purchase of Recaptcha makes it easier for them to digitize books, which returns us to the first issue. I mention this — again, with respect — because there's a lot about this subject to make a post from.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:58 PM on September 17, 2009


There's no DRM, there's no required device, once you buy it it's yours. Why would anyone prefer a kindle/iPhone version? Ugh.

(now if they were available in DjVu format)


Did you miss that they're public domain? They're already available for free with no DRM for iphone or kindle.
posted by empath at 11:01 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Did you miss that they're public domain? They're already available for free with no DRM for iphone or kindle.

Are they downloadable for free? being in the public domain doesn't mean that a high-quality scan is available for free somewhere.
posted by delmoi at 11:08 PM on September 17, 2009


Yes, you can download them in epub format -- for example.
posted by empath at 11:17 PM on September 17, 2009


And saying a book doesn't have DRM is kind of meaningless isn't it? It's not like it's a simple task to run off a copy of a paperback and share with your friends. Or to make a back up copy.
posted by empath at 11:18 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


sounds like the kind of thing that might save the newspapers, actually...make it as small and nearly as fast as a newsbox, able to supply any newspaper from anywhere in the world without printing thousands that just go to waste...
posted by sexyrobot at 11:36 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


But again, why would you do that if you can just read the Times on your iphone? Cellphone/tablet/ebook technology is just going to get cheaper, better and faster. There's a limit to how cheap and fast you can make a book printer.
posted by empath at 11:39 PM on September 17, 2009


empath: As I'm sure you aware, many people feel the experience of reading a book is different in important ways from reading off a screen. I am unable to focus as wholly on anything on my computer simply because I have the opportunity to tab away at any moment. A book's limitations relative to a computer are as important to me as it's advantages (clarity, durability, scannability, aesthetic value, etc).
posted by phrontist at 11:40 PM on September 17, 2009 [6 favorites]


Google should use some of its megabucks to lobby for increased legal hemp production. That way, the paper use for this stuff can be from a much more quickly renewed resource (and better quality paper).
posted by Burhanistan at 11:47 PM on September 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


So all I have to do is haul one of these machines around with me everywhere I go and I have almost instant access to a vast library of books. Real books. Solid books! Suck that... Kindle.
posted by twoleftfeet at 11:55 PM on September 17, 2009


Yeah, I much prefer this to a Kindle or iPhone or whatever. I like to read, experience, and write in my books. Digital books just don't do it for me.
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:59 PM on September 17, 2009


Sounds good ... so long as no burly servicemen from Google plan to slip into my domicile at 2 a.m. to take back my illegal copy of 1984.

Imagine the possibilities ... reprints of Mad Magazine; first English (Google) translations of Tsiolkovsky.

Perfect binding though ... yeccccch, talk about a misnomer. I'll wait for archival paper and sewing in scores.
posted by Twang at 12:11 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ima let you finish your comments, but To Live and Die in LA had a better printing video.
posted by Tube at 12:12 AM on September 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


The list of locations looks like a music tour itinerary. East coast, east coast, east coast, token Midwest location, west coast, west coast, west coast. Except there's a lot of Canadian locations so this would be like a Rush tour.
posted by crapmatic at 12:28 AM on September 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


I just did a search for Maxwell's 'Matter and Motion' on Google Books, and there were no public domain copies of it. So that doesn't seem to be an option, or am I mistaken?
posted by LVdB at 1:58 AM on September 18, 2009


And saying a book doesn't have DRM is kind of meaningless isn't it? It's not like it's a simple task to run off a copy of a paperback and share with your friends. Or to make a back up copy.

No, but it is a simple task to lend or give it to someone else, or sell it second-hand.
posted by Electric Dragon at 2:16 AM on September 18, 2009


I remain unconvinced, mainly because the act of searching for books in Google Books is pretty frustrating. It seems that the bulk of the hits I get indicate that yes, Google has scanned the book, but no, you can't see more than a few lines of it. While I know that this isn't Google's fault, it does impact the usability of Google's product.*

One thing that is Google's fault, and will likely crop up more and more if people are actually paying for a product, is all the miss-scans, candybar bits, and errant fingers one can find in Google Books images. I doubt that libraries would be eager to help Google fix their errors by allowing them re-entry into the stacks to re-scan a book that Toby The Summer Intern left a Kit-Kat in.

Still, the technology is pretty cool. Were it not for economic tough times, my library would be lobbying pretty hard to get one of those Espresso machines. I'm surprised the Harvard Bookstore has one. Field trip across the river!

* A full set of now out-of-print copies of The Selected Letters of H.P. Lovecraft runs a minimum of $350 for five bedraggled paperback copies, with sets of bound volumes running ~$500. The Letters have been scanned, but you can't get much out of them due to copyright. It is almost worth my time to sit down with an Ariel machine and make some pdfs.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:54 AM on September 18, 2009


This week, while traveling, I realized Yet Another Reason Electronics Books Are Still Inferior: airplanes. You can't use any electronic devices from the moment the plane pulls away from the terminal until you've been at altitude for several minutes. Sometimes that time period is short, but very often it is loooooooong.
posted by DU at 4:57 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Re: Kindles On A Plane

That will be fixed via education. A Kindle that's just sitting there doesn't use any power except when you turn the page or when the wireless is on. Turn off the wireless and you're not at risk of interfering with anything plane-related. If the power-use of a page turn is sufficient to threaten a plane's operation, then it's a miracle we have not had a storm of 747s falling out of the sky due to digital watches.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:02 AM on September 18, 2009




This is awesome! As long as there's one in every bookstore that is. I can't stand waiting for 4+ weeks to order in some book from overseas. I don't see a problem with printing reading material on dead trees either. For one it's a renewable resource, Amazonian rain forest isn't being chopped down to print Dan Brown's latest, secondly the usage of wood for reading material is small compared to other usages (napkins, toilet paper, packaging, furniture, construction etc) and thirdly think of the savings in transport costs and energy usage in printing material at point of sale rather than having to transport it potentially inter-continentally from the printers to the point of sale.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 5:56 AM on September 18, 2009


This is pretty sweet. I'm predicting that with Google involved, there will be a less-developers-beta-crap version of the software (love the part in that YT video where you can see the array of big buttons, and when you click one, another one becomes "Cancel! STOP!")

Also, Google Books public-domain make me think that Google keeps doing this. There was OpenStreetMap, they made MapMaker.. there was Project Gutenberg, they made Google Books.. there was Wikipedia, they made Knol. Their versions are probably popular through the backdoor because they're integrated with their projects, but they never really measure up to their authoritative real-open-source-and-data brothers.
posted by tmcw at 6:07 AM on September 18, 2009


I must be missing something. Unless you live upstairs from one of these machines, it seems a lot easier to search Amazon or eBay and just buy the real book. What a waste of paper to print a new one.
posted by desjardins at 6:13 AM on September 18, 2009


OK, on non-preview I see L.P. Hatecraft's comment. I guess it's for impatient people.
posted by desjardins at 6:14 AM on September 18, 2009


Sick. I'm gonna go print me some books at the (already incredible) Harvard Bookstore when this is available.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:17 AM on September 18, 2009


Is it wrong that I got a little bit excited by watching that video? I'm tempted to buy a book just to see the thing in action.
posted by Solomon at 6:20 AM on September 18, 2009


The Kindle would be teh awesome in a world where an old IBM386 couldn't handle a novel's worth of plain vanilla text. As it is, it's a solution for a problem nobody really has.

Unpublishing 1984 was just the cherry on top.

If by cherry you mean grapefruit....

Wrapped in barbed wire....

Lovingly baked at 400°, lightly dusted with shards of glass and then shoved up your ass.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:50 AM on September 18, 2009


You can't use any electronic devices from the moment the plane pulls away from the terminal until you've been at altitude for several minutes.

I fly frequently, and no one has ever asked me to turn off my Sony or Kindle at any point.
posted by me & my monkey at 6:53 AM on September 18, 2009


The Kindle would be teh awesome in a world where an old IBM386 couldn't handle a novel's worth of plain vanilla text. As it is, it's a solution for a problem nobody really has.

Does this really need to be debated every time an ebook thread comes up? Here, for future reference, are the common reasons people who use ebook readers prefer them to other devices:

1. The screen is much more text-friendly. It doesn't hurt your eyes, it's not too bright, etc.
2. It's a better design for reading than, say, a laptop or a tablet.
3. Phenomenal battery life, compared to computers.
4. Smaller size. Even the largest Kindle is much smaller in your hand than a netbook.
posted by me & my monkey at 7:02 AM on September 18, 2009


Me & my monkey, you forgot:

5. Durability, as in does not require power source, only available light and a way to turn pages. Kindle does not use as much energy, but I doubt it would be as usable after I spilled a bowl of soup on it as a paperback is.

6. Lendability. Your buddy does not have a Kindle, but he can still borrow your paperback when you're done.

7. Not everyone has a computer or a goddamn iPhone. Large chunks of the world, in fact. Paper books are a much more stable way to store information in harsh climates with few electronic resources.
posted by emjaybee at 7:16 AM on September 18, 2009


Blazecock Pileon: Of larger interest, perhaps, there are issues of antitrust law that come up when Google has as much control over distribution and pricing of published works.

I'm not certain how this comes into play. As we are talking about public domain works, I really don't think that Google's on-demand printing services are going to bump out Penguin, who can make it's bread and butter on the seasonal education market by moving thousands of copies of Moby Dick, Pride and Prejudice, and Great Expectations in a single day.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:20 AM on September 18, 2009


I like the idea of single print runs so I hate to have to say this. I've worked at both copy shops and offset/web printing factories and have made many thousands of perfect bound books. First, the process the book printing machine uses for the printing the pages is toner rather than ink based. Toner is a fine powder composed mostly of a polymer and carbon. The toner image (printed words are an image in this sense) is transferred to the paper and basically ironed onto the surface of the paper resulting in limited penetration. This makes it subject to cracking and deterioration, most especially due to bending. Ink penetrates and doesn't deteriorate as much. Second, though the binding process is similar in producing perfect binds and modern paperbacks the results are not. Paper printed with toner retains an electrostatic charge that makes it difficult to jog to match the edges for a quality bind. The glue used industrially is heated to a higher temperature and must be of a different composition as it smells both different and worse. I'm not sure of all the reasons why, but I do know that the QC fail rate in perfect bound books is at least 100 times that of industrially bound books. And this is prior to use.
The binding technology may progress but I don't think they will ever be able to make a melted polymer (toner) perform as well as ink.
posted by vapidave at 7:20 AM on September 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


Hey, not to disrupt the Kindle vs. computer vs. actual book debate, but is there any information on how much it'll cost per page to print out a public domain book? The University of Alberta seems to be charging 7 Canadian cents per page. Any reports as to whether this'll be comparable in the US? If so, my language studies are about to get way cheaper, and this is amazing.
posted by oinopaponton at 7:26 AM on September 18, 2009


Christopher Caldwell of the FT thinks that, "If $125m is all it costs to facilitate a hugely beneficial cyber-library, then, as we said, who needs Google? If the government will not pay for it, some philanthropist could provide the seed money, as Andrew Carnegie did for hundreds of libraries across the US and Britain."

I think he is right. Double that, triple that and pay out all copyright holders immediately, make it public. You could argue that Google is also doing this, but as Caldwell points out, public monopolies are much better than unregulated monopolies.
posted by geoff. at 7:26 AM on September 18, 2009


Seems like kind of a waste when Kindle/iPhone is around.

???

There's no DRM, there's no required device, once you buy it it's yours.


Besides, leaving your Kindle/iPhone sitting out on the coffee table of your college dorm with a copy of Sartre's Being and Nothingness loaded up in it just doesn't create the same ambiance.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:39 AM on September 18, 2009


you forgot ...

... nothing.

I didn't write that everyone should stop using printed books, or that ebook readers are better in all respects than printed books. My response was aimed at the statement that you might as well just use a standard computer instead of an ebook reader.

Reading Is Fundamental, yeah?
posted by me & my monkey at 7:47 AM on September 18, 2009


Just to follow on to vapidave in agreement -- the books these machines produce should be thought of as disposable, not shelf-keepers. They won't last more than five or ten years if lightly used, and much less time if heavily used. The paper isn't acid-free, the toner will flake off and stick to the other pages, the glue will crack, the pages will fall out and there you go -- a ragged stack of brown, spotty photocopies. It's a good method for printing reports, class notes, tech manuals, reading lists and so on -- stuff that goes obsolete or you won't need in a few years. (Of course, my friend the professional high-end book binder says that most books, even hardcovers, you get in a bookstore these days are for shite anyway, and will be dead in twenty years.)

Oh, hey, book geekery self link -- I'm having my mid 1950s edition Joy of Cooking rebound with new book cloth and endpapers I made myself. Note this is not cheap; the machinery to make book cloth is over $5k and the book repair turns out to be about $150 in labour. It's not something to do casually, but for an heirloom treasure like this -- totally worth it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:57 AM on September 18, 2009


Show up anywhere that has one of the book printing machines nowhere.

FTFY
posted by spamguy at 8:16 AM on September 18, 2009


many people feel the experience of reading a book is different in important ways from reading off a screen

This.
posted by grubi at 8:26 AM on September 18, 2009


Lovingly baked at 400°, lightly dusted with shards of glass and then shoved up your ass.
All dames are alike. [03:35] They reach down your throat so they can grab your heart. They pull it out and they throw it on the floor, and they step on it with their high heels. They spit on it. They shove it in the oven and cook the shit out of it. Then they slice it into little pieces, slam it on a hunk of toast, and they serve it to you. And they expect you to say, "Thanks, honey, it's delicious."
posted by kirkaracha at 8:39 AM on September 18, 2009


PublicDomainReprints.Org.

No need for an Expresso, order from home and have it delivered to your door.

See also my FAQ on how to print the books yourself with custom covers and sizes (last question; specific to Internet Archive but works just as well with Google Books).
posted by stbalbach at 9:03 AM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


At any rate, I pity people who don't have unfettered access to high speed duplexing network printers that can spit out a 400 page book (on 100 sheets thanks to duplexing and 2 pages per sheet settings) in less than 5 minutes, with another 2 minutes to bind the sucker in the hole punch/comb binder machine.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:13 AM on September 18, 2009


This is so awesome; I've been struggling to get a 400pg 1830 book to print that I need to read for research. I would love to just have a copy in codex form. E-books just aren't yet as flexible a medium as the good old codex - they are too scroll-like, forcing you to move forward and back, rather than just being able to crack it open in the middle and skim.
posted by jb at 10:40 AM on September 18, 2009


empath> Yes, you can download them in epub format -- for example.

For some strange reason, Google is not letting me view that book in Canada, even though Canada's copyright term is actually shorter than that of the United States (not that it makes any difference for 19th C material). So no, I can't actually download it in epub.
posted by djfiander at 10:59 AM on September 18, 2009


many people feel the experience of reading a book is different in important ways from reading off a screen

This.


You velociraptors get the hell off my Jurassic Park.
posted by Sparx at 3:09 PM on September 18, 2009


And of course a lot of google's pdfs are either incomplete or feature the odd photograph of the scanner's hand as he or she turned the page in mid click. I understand there are sites dedicated to the most comedic of these. Me, I've been frustrated a bunch by some of this (inevitable?) slovenliness. (To their credit, google does ask you to note these little problems when you can and let them know. No guarantee when they're going to get back and fix them, though. So do I get a discount if a page or two is screwed?)

And as pointed out above, these will be frankly dispensible. I wait for the cranky bibliophile who prints on high quality paper and sews pages into good leather - there's a book for you. (I have read that Evelyn Waugh rebound in leather the entire opera of P.G> Wodehouse. Talk about Go To Hell!)
posted by IndigoJones at 5:12 PM on September 18, 2009


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