Print-on-Demand Machine Revolutionizes Access to Books
CREDIT: On Demand Books.
A new, compact printing press that assembles a paperback book, cover to cover, in minutes could shake up reading, writing and publishing practices around the world. Basically an automated box the size of a washer-dryer system, the Espresso Book Machine downloads text and rapidly assembles paperbacks, allowing diverse printed materials to be cheaply disseminated anywhere.
While it is currently most popular among self-publishers, the machine holds enormous promise, including a democratization of book distribution and access, said Thor Sigvaldason, co-founder and chief technology officer of the machine's company, New York-based On Demand Books.
"It makes a neighborhood bookstore or local library have all of the selection of an Amazon with instant or near instant short-term delivery,” Sigvaldason said. “A mom and pop bookstore will have all the access to these books and get it to people immediately … The spine is slightly warm when you take it off the press.”
There are already 70 Espresso Book Machines around the world, including every continent except South America and Antarctica, Sigvaldason said.
Resembling a big office copier, the EBM contains internal sensors, computers and robotic motors to turn, cut and glue pieces of a book in assembly. A 200-page book takes about two minutes to print and another "minute or two" to bind and trim, Sigvaldason said.
Each printed book includes a full-color cover.
"It's like the fax machine: the pieces of it existed for a long time, but to put it all together into a machine where you just load paper and push one button was the innovation," he said.
Seven million titles – 3.5 million books from Google Books and the rest from partnerships with major publishers and distributors – are immediately available for printing by all machines.
While mobile book-reading devices are becoming increasingly popular, "many people still want an analog, fit-in-pocket, get-on-a-plane-and-read-while-traveling book," Sigvaldason said.
There are discussions about setting prices for joint e-book and paperback sets, but such talks are still in their early days, he added.
"In a way it makes sense to bundle the two forms together: to get consumer to buy content and consume it in whatever format they want," Sigvaldason said.
The "on-demand" print option solves an age-old conundrum of book publishers: whether it's worth printing 1,000 copies of something just to keep it in print. And as with e-books, the EBM system can boost sales in times and geographic places out of step with market cycles and regions.
Local bookstores also benefit from the portable printing presses because it will allow them to offer the selection of large online retailers.
However, the machines' greatest impact may be felt by individuals. Right now, the EBMs are being used more for self-publishing than for any other service, especially in libraries.
And freedom from printing and shipping logistics means democratized access, something that many westerners may take for granted.
"There's an awful, awful, awful, awful amount of books or texts that are only available in North America and Western Europe," Sigvaldason said. "It goes both ways. It's both the guy in sub-Saharan Africa who's trying to get a hold of a recent textbook, but it's also the Chinese immigrants in Manhattan trying to get a hold of Chinese literature."