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"When I first saw it, I knew it would be as important as Gutenberg."
July 9, 2001 5:37 PM   Subscribe

"When I first saw it, I knew it would be as important as Gutenberg." Hyperbole aside, PerfectBook -- a machine that spits out a complete book from a digital file within minutes -- sounds intriguing. What's more, "a distracted teenager could run it."
posted by mw (18 comments total)

 
First post!

Oh wait...actually, I love this book machine. I don't know if having cheap books available everywhere, to everyone, is going to make people any more intelligent, but being able to crank out a usable book in minutes from a file is awesome. I hope he can jump all the copyright and patent hurdles. It should drive the costs of books way down, just like CDs did for . . . oh crap.
posted by mecran01 at 5:49 PM on July 9, 2001


More importantly, it may herald the return of a backlist. Publishers currently destroy their old books to avoid having to pay taxes on inventory. Thus books go out of print rather quickly. It'd be great for writers to be able to keep their books in print indefinitely, to prepare new editions as often as necessary, and so forth.
posted by kindall at 6:15 PM on July 9, 2001


It's actually a variation on an old theme: in the 18th century, most books were sold in sheet form, then folded, cut and bound to suit the purchaser. With this, the "skinnable" bookshelf may make a comeback.
posted by holgate at 6:32 PM on July 9, 2001


Very cool concept. Can you imagine walking into a local bookstore, walking up to the book kiosk, and printing out a bound, customized copy of microserfs for yourself?

Well, maybe or maybe not. I can see this catching on in the airportesque scenario presented in the article, or by Borders or maybe even amazon. I'm also assuming that the machine will spit out the book in, say, a font and point size the user chooses. I can print all of microserfs in 24-point Comic Sans MS if I so desire, even the interstitial pages with their various type sizes.

What's that? Yes, you're right - this sounds a lot like separation of style from content. Can books be made generic and still be the same? I'm not sold. Unless, of course, this machine somehow or somewhere stores high quality scans of each page... then, it's another matter.

I would fear that arts such as typography and publishing could take a hit from this. But, I will fully admit that the convenience and the concept are very, very good.
posted by hijinx at 6:47 PM on July 9, 2001


Sounds like there's going to be an information age competition to either perfect electronic paper (picture) or bind books at home. I'm sure whoever makes either of these affordable first will win, but in the end I can only see this machine useful at Kinko's while everyone else just plugs their ebook into a USB slot and gets the whole thing in a few seconds.
posted by skallas at 6:57 PM on July 9, 2001


I had the idea for the bindery, the bookshop of the future, in the 1980s. I envisioned being able to order a book to your own specifications, font, font size, illustrations, cloth, leather, paper binding....

this is close.

some publishers, of course, would totally contol the look and feel of the books they put out. but what if you could choose various designer's layouts for the books you bought?

I don't know. I love the idea....
posted by rebeccablood at 7:25 PM on July 9, 2001


I'm also assuming that the machine will spit out the book in, say, a font and point size the user chooses.

I don't see any reason to assume that. I'd assume it takes PDFs, those being the standard format for publishing.
posted by kindall at 7:26 PM on July 9, 2001


Now if we can just find something besides trees to make them from. . .
posted by aflakete at 7:42 PM on July 9, 2001


kindall: I'd assume it takes PDFs, those being the standard format for publishing.

Oh yeah? Well... yeah! Curious: would 250 pages of text take up less space as PDFs, versus flat text?
posted by hijinx at 7:43 PM on July 9, 2001


Hmmm...reminds me an awful lot of Don Lancaster's book on demand ideas.

Rebecca, that sounds like a pretty nifty idea. Of course, it would raise all sorts of copyright problems, since you would essentially be creating a derivative of the work, wouldn't you?

I wonder if there would be some legal recourse for that sort of thing, however, since I definetly wouldn't mind designing a version of Helprin's Winter's Tale, for instance.
posted by Kikkoman at 10:17 PM on July 9, 2001


Forget PerfectBook--I want that quartz ultrasonic horn used to heat the glue! A few of the horn's effects as described here.

Vibrations of 200-500 kHz were transmitted through the oil bath into glass vessels or rods immersed in the bath, achieving a range of spectacular effects that included: ...intense searing of the skin by the vibrating glass rod and the burning of wood chips and the etching and drilling of glass pressed against the tips of vibrating glass rods...biological effects including rupturing of red blood cells, killing of cellular organisms, and harmful to lethal
effects on fish, frogs, and mice..."
SOLD!
posted by JDC8 at 11:39 PM on July 9, 2001


There's a company here in Florida already offering machines that do this: Instabook. It doesn't sound as capable of the one described in the article, but it has the disadvantage of existing already.
posted by rcade at 6:38 AM on July 10, 2001


If you've ever worked at a copy shop, this machine is a yawner. Those tank-sized thrumming machines at Kinko's have been dong printing chores similar to this for years, and many offices have them as well. Networking computers is not new, nor is the working from a digital file. The only new part is the built-in gluing and trimming which has traditionally been done by hand.

The only problem with the networked computers has been that people have preferred *not* to pop their disk in to the machine to print out the book, but rather, have it made from hard copy. Digital files require all kinds of pre-press work to make sure the final output is book-like. The margin of error is great (as is the maintenance on such machines). Now, if these files are promoted as a specific, open format, so that a huge library of pre-formatted digital files becomes available...

Also, this is not a stitch-binder, but a glue binder. You know when you get those booklets made at Kinko's that have a cardstock cover on two sides of the pages and glued at the seam? Usually with a black seam cover? That's perfect binding. This machine will not output books with the quality of hardcover or paperback books; instead, they'll be pretty much exactly the same quality of the books you can get made by hand. Faster, probably. Better, no. More expensive, I'm sure.
posted by Mo Nickels at 7:51 AM on July 10, 2001


Now, if these files are promoted as a specific, open format, so that a huge library of pre-formatted digital files becomes available...

There's certainly rich potential to draw from the work of the Text Encoding Initiative for academic or scholarly texts. I always considered myself especially fortunate to have the Bodleian's archive at close hand for my work, especially when the alternative is the nausea-inducing microfiche. Establish a decent archive of public-domain texts, with a DTD that can be parsed into an print format, and you'll change the way in which the market for scholarly reprints works. (I've still got several folders' worth of third-generation copies of 18th-century moral philosophy texts, none of which would ever make it into a modern scholarly edition, simply because the demand is so specialised. And small-run reprints aren't necessarily a good compromise.)

It's a way to challenge the textbook-ification of graduate studies: that is, the way in which the most recent anthology or the available scholarly editions dictate the range of study. It's also a brilliant way to offset the costs of re-setting and producing a new edition of, say, the standard university physical chemistry textbook every couple of years.

(This on-demand model, à la Dell Computer, is actually the way the print edition of the Oxford English Dictionary works these days. Order a copy, and it's printed from the latest digitised proofs, ensuring that the latest errata are included.)
posted by holgate at 8:14 AM on July 10, 2001


> some publishers, of course, would totally contol the look
> and feel of the books they put out. but what if you could
> choose various designer's layouts for the books you
> bought?

What's the point of "designing" low-end paperbacks? This machine only makes low-rent glued binding, not proper sewn-in-signatures binding. That's fine for disposable stuff that I'm going to scribble on with pen and highlighter anyway, and generally study until it falls apart and then discard (computer cram books, for example.)

For keepers, though, I want sewn binding. During a recent move I left a box of books outside and it got rained on, so I'm in the market for a new Gibbon, a new Life of Dr. Johnson, a new de Tocqueville and several other suchlike things. For these I'm not about to buy instabooks -- I want hardback, cloth-covered, sewn volumes just like the ones I stupidly damaged.

Note, this is not the same thing as hardback-vs-paperback. Dover has a very long list of books with soft covers but sewn bindings. Good Dover! The point is that the pages are sooner or later going to fall out of a glued book whereas they are not ever going to fall out of a sewn binding.

I guess if you're gonna download the latest Harlequin they might let you pick a picture of Fabio...
posted by jfuller at 8:33 AM on July 10, 2001


I want hardback, cloth-covered, sewn volumes just like the ones I stupidly damaged.

Second-hand book shops are your friends. The resilience of pre-WWII pocket hardbacks, especially the India-paper Oxford World's Classics, is quite something to behold. A few years ago I stopped buying Penguins (the markup is for the introduction alone, most of the time) and began picking up portable hardback editions.

But yes: I'd rather have a perfect-bound edition than a sheaf of copypaper, when it comes to taking notes and making pencil scribbles in the margin; but give me sewn signatures for real books ;)
posted by holgate at 8:48 AM on July 10, 2001


It would be nice to buy a cheap reading copy and then find a nice vintage addition for my library i think. Read it and then pay for an archival quality, hardback upgrade? I like that idea. I have books from the 1890's that i want to read again but don't want to handle very often.
posted by th3ph17 at 10:57 AM on July 10, 2001


With sites like this why get a cheapo copy when you get the real thing (usually). I buy most of my books hard-cover first-edition from these places and they are a joy to read, archive, show-off .. and dont cost much more and often less.
posted by stbalbach at 2:28 PM on July 10, 2001


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