The Espresso Book Machine
September 30, 2006 6:16 PM   Subscribe

The Espresso Book Machine. A photocopier-size machine that can print and bind a paperback in a few minutes. This is the first fully-automatic book printer designed for retail locations, it is envisioned to be a kiosk. Current beta tests in DC and New York Public Library, also in talks with the Internet Archive and others to support the growing world of online scanned books. Further out, Kinkos, Starbucks, etc.. could become major book sellers and the practice of overstocking (and discounted books) could be reduced. Machine will probably be about $100,000.
posted by stbalbach (36 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The current state of the art of print on demand is small runs at print shops such as detailed here at Cool Tools. Amazon already uses technology like this for many of its titles.
posted by stbalbach at 6:20 PM on September 30, 2006

How much are the prints going to cost?
posted by delmoi at 6:27 PM on September 30, 2006

Holy crap. My head spins with the thought of how this would change the publishing industry if it takes off.
posted by orange swan at 6:33 PM on September 30, 2006

Pretty impressive technology. I see some problems for large-scale usage though. First is the amount of waste. The video in the second link show an awful lot of paper going unused. On any kind of scale that would be crippling to the bottom line. Second is speed. That machine can't match the speed of one dedicated employee with a glue brush and a collater. Third would be print quality. I'm pretty sure my shop uses both printers used in the demo, and the quality simply doesn't match that of the work we have coming off our big presses.

That said, I'd love to have on in our shop, just to play with. Give it ten years and we'll see tabletop versions of this in bookstores.
posted by lekvar at 6:33 PM on September 30, 2006

lekvar I think the video is of the alpha system and the Beta system at the World Bank and NYPL is much different/improved but there are only like 3 or 4 in existence at the moment.
posted by stbalbach at 6:43 PM on September 30, 2006

That machine is quite bulky and slow, but if this takes off you can be sure that the technology will get much better. Price is a good question, I wonder if a book can be made for less than the 10 or so bucks I'd pay at Barnes and Noble.

That's an expensive machine. I used to be a Kinkoid, and the high-end copiers there cost upwards of $100,000.
posted by zardoz at 6:44 PM on September 30, 2006

This is bound to take off. How will it change the publishing industry and people's reading habits? Will this help quirky and specialty publishers, or just sell more Oprah Book Club selections?
posted by LarryC at 6:50 PM on September 30, 2006

What happened to reading books on our mobile phones? The botox can compensate for the squinting.
posted by Didaskalos at 6:53 PM on September 30, 2006

The video is oddly mezmerizing.
posted by donovan at 6:59 PM on September 30, 2006

yup--how much will each book cost? (how much cheaper, i mean?)
posted by amberglow at 7:09 PM on September 30, 2006

This may be the only hope to save the book. The costs of inventory and returns are huge issues in publishing. In the future, B&N stores won't have 500 copies each of the top 100 books, 5 copies each of 2,000 more, and single copies of the rest of their 20,000 book inventory, they will have single copies of 80,000 different books. Once you've browsed and decided which one(s) you want to buy, you'll wave it under a bar code scanner at the end of each aisle and by the time you finish your espresso drink and get to the front of the store your fresh, shiny, newly-printed books will be waiting for you.
posted by twsf at 7:14 PM on September 30, 2006

Screw going to a store. Once they are cheap enough I'll buy one for the home. eBook would no longer be such a joke.
posted by TwelveTwo at 7:19 PM on September 30, 2006

This is fucking awesome.

Maybe if publishers didn't have to risk money on a print run, they'd be more inclined to take risks.

Or maybe this machine -- or the more sophisticated devices that will inevitably follow -- will allow writers to bypass the publishing establishment altogether. If you could upload the text of your book to a website, and grant major bookstores publishing rights, why would you still need a publisher?
posted by jason's_planet at 7:50 PM on September 30, 2006

donovan: it's fun seeing wealth (in the form of a consumer good) being created before one's eyes.

One thing I found odd is that the note that the 4-color cover printer was requried to raster one job in parallel to printing an earlier job (sames as the 1-color 'book block' printer), since the cover printer isn't the 'long pole in the tent' and thus will be powered down for most of the operating cycle of this machine.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 8:17 PM on September 30, 2006

The problem with that is that they wouldn't get their cut then--and lulu and other online on-demand places already do it.
posted by amberglow at 8:17 PM on September 30, 2006

If you could upload the text of your book to a website

posted by Heywood Mogroot at 8:19 PM on September 30, 2006

I would love to see this in airports. Imagine if you could go into any airport in the world and print out a book you were interested in, in the language you speak.

(This post inspired by the dire English selection in the Cancun airport.)
posted by smackfu at 8:58 PM on September 30, 2006

zardoz writes "Price is a good question, I wonder if a book can be made for less than the 10 or so bucks I'd pay at Barnes and Noble. "

This isn't for those books. It's for the 20 years out of print book that is essentially now no longer available. There are dozens of books I'd pay double cover price for. Sure I could get some of them used, but for 20X cover.
posted by Mitheral at 9:41 PM on September 30, 2006

what makes you think they'll make those books available on the machines? Lots of them have had their rights reverted to the authors too, i think. Isn't it more likely that they'll soon do all first novels (and then only if they sell, do a regular printing) and textbooks and classics/evergreens/school perennials this way?
posted by amberglow at 10:01 PM on September 30, 2006

They have no contracts signed with any big publishers at all yet. What's to stop those publishers or the bookstores themselves from installing a Random House Machine, and a Doubleday Machine, and a Penguin Machine, etc. instead of letting these people do it? The publishers are very very worried about drm (like the record companies).
posted by amberglow at 10:05 PM on September 30, 2006

amberglow writes "Isn't it more likely that they'll soon do all first novels (and then only if they sell, do a regular printing) and textbooks and classics/evergreens/school perennials this way?"

It shouldn't be an either or situation. As long as the devices have a network connection they could download anything that's been licenced. Authors and publishers should be falling all over themselves to get their titles available, the revenue is essentially pure profit for the content producer.
posted by Mitheral at 10:28 PM on September 30, 2006

I hope you're right.
posted by amberglow at 10:32 PM on September 30, 2006

As a former child, I ask: How do the new books smell?
posted by longsleeves at 10:45 PM on September 30, 2006

The publishers aren't just worried about DRM issues. They're also worried about business model issues. For all they complain about the cost of inventory and schlepping paper to stores, and then taking returns back, that expensive distribution model is the only real barrier to entry that they still maintain. When B&N can "stock" every book from publishers big and small at no inventory cost to them, then the publishers' only value is in the marketing and publicity they do for only a fraction of the titles they release each year.

Far too many authors whose books are released by the major publishers find that the editing and design effort applied to their book was modest at best, and the publicity effort consisted of little more than a marketing intern (often incorrectly) addressing, stapling and mailing review copies to a standard list of media outlets. To oversimplify only somewhat, it is the ability to get a book into B&N that is the biggest leverage publishers have over authors.

Given that the vast majority of authors with a contract from a major publisher are CURRENTLY on their own to make sure their manuscript is polished to a high gloss and on their own to promote and publicize their book, the existence of POD (er, Print on Demand) machines in major bookstores (and soon many other outlets) just reinforces the argument I make politely but pointedly to the publishers I work with that they are slowly undermining the last reasons for their commercial existence.
posted by twsf at 11:35 PM on September 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

Publisher's don't just print books onto paper and bind them, they also provide editorial input/control. Witness the flood of dross coming out of publish on demand operations. People are still going to want well-sourced, well-written, well-edited books, and this won't change that.
posted by gene_machine at 3:31 AM on October 1, 2006

Maybe if publishers didn't have to risk money on a print run, they'd be more inclined to take risks.

If there was no need to risk money on a print run, why would anyone need a publisher in the first place?

Isn't it more likely that they'll soon do all first novels (and then only if they sell, do a regular printing) and textbooks and classics/evergreens/school perennials this way?

First novels seem like a complete loser to me. Would *you* buy a book by an unknown author, sight unseen, without first being able to read the blurbs and scan a few pages in the bookshop? I certainly wouldn't. And very few first time authors are going to be able to attract reviews from anyone other than their mother or their lover. Those that can tend to be the people who already have major publishing investment behind them in the first place.

And while things like design, binding and typography have all taken a back seat in recent years, for me at least, they still add some part of the pleasure of buying a new book that this machine is likely to remove completely.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:36 AM on October 1, 2006

gene_machine: you're right in a general sense but not in a specific one. Publishers certainly are filters/ sieves/ screens, just like literary agents are before them and retailers and book reviewers are after them in the food chain. But the amount (and quality) of publishers' editorial input beyond the selection process is vanishingly small for most of the books they release. Will readers still want and need trusted guides to help them select among the literally hundreds of thousands of new books each year? Yes. Will that guide be one of the existing major publishers, once POD removes the barriers to entry for others with astute editorial selection talents (currently literary agents, and perhaps others in the future)? For the reasons cited above, I'd bet not.
posted by twsf at 8:15 AM on October 1, 2006

God, I was a moron.

I had something much like that, but based on a plastic ring style binding back in 1984 (high school). I was always more concerned with the content rather than the presentation, so cost was a major factor in my equation. Called it BiblioFax.

I actually got as far as a meeting with someone at HBJ, but the whole age issue was a bit of a stopper. And, at the time, I didn't really grok the whole patent thing.

My bad...
posted by Samizdata at 9:13 AM on October 1, 2006

(P.S. The occasionally random book run at the local used/remaindered book stores have lead to some real treats, although a sad reminder of the truth of Sturgeon's Law...)
posted by Samizdata at 9:14 AM on October 1, 2006

The biggest impact won't be on the Barnes and Noble, Borders and Amazon distribution channels, which already can stock pretty much any book a reader is likely to want. Instead the HUGE impact will be on the discounter / mass merchant channel (CostCo, Wal-Mart / Sam's and Target) were the buyers currently cherry-pick the hell out of the list. Once CostCo can have stock one display copy of every title on the list, instead of 100 display copies of the 15 titles they've agreed to buy, that will have a big impact.

More generally, localized on-demand manufacturing is one of those twists in the future economy that people don't see coming. Books are a completely logical place to start, in part because their book publishing is only slightly more relevant to the bottom line of the conglomerates than their classical music labels. They just won't care enough to fight it hard.
posted by MattD at 9:18 AM on October 1, 2006

Well, you can't beat the demographics of books-on-demand, with the "least investment, least risk" philosophy behind publishing.
posted by Samizdata at 10:41 AM on October 1, 2006

twsf: having worked in publishing 9 years, I get your point that publishers don't do a lot of weeding & polishing these days. But there is still a PERCEIVED weeding & polishing that makes a big difference in the marketplace. If a self-published book is not professionally packaged such that it is indistinguishable from a "real" book, then I'm going to be skeptical. Even though I know the process, I'm going to be thinking, "Why couldn't they get this published?" So there will be some hurdles.
posted by rikschell at 11:15 AM on October 1, 2006

Amazon already does this for some titles (I've bought a few). Their endproduct is softbound, somewhere between a trade paper and a paperback in size (close to the size I associate with large print kids' books). Cost is between than of a hardback and paper ($13-$18ish). Low quality paper.

This is a great alternative for out of print, but still in copyright books.
posted by bonehead at 11:30 AM on October 1, 2006

The future is when someone makes a home-printer sized one, and you can print and bind books at home. That's a future I've been dreaming of for years now.
posted by reklaw at 12:48 PM on October 1, 2006

There are smaller ones (check your local copy place or PIPS-ish printer), but i don't see publishers allowing multiple people and places so much access to their content like that. It'd have to be like multiple VPNs running all on the same machine.
posted by amberglow at 1:39 PM on October 1, 2006

Sounds interesting but your DC/World Bank link is borked. I was looking forward to seeing this thing in person. No doubt I could try simply walking in to the World Bank and asking, but the, uh employees there are a little Euro-standoffish to the point of deterrence.
posted by exogenous at 8:19 PM on October 1, 2006

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