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Can this 'robot' help save publishing?

The $150,000 Espresso Book Machine can print a professional-looking paperback in about four minutes. More small presses are looking at it as an option to cut down on printing costs and better manage inventory.

The Espresso Book Machine can print and bind a 300-page book in around four minutes. On Demand Books

Back in 2007, Time Magazine named the Espresso Book Machine one of its inventions of the year. The Espresso, now on version 2.0, costs around $150,000 and is an on-demand printing press that features some nifty robotics. It can output a professional-looking paperback book in about four minutes (see the video below).

On Demand Books, founded in 1993, has been slowly making some headway with its product, even if the current machine costs a good deal more than Time said it would in its 2007 article. The blog Publishing Perspectives has an interesting piece on how the University of Texas Co-op--the most profitable independent college bookstore in the United States--has purchased an Espresso Book Machine and is aiming is to "revolutionize how the store does business and interacts with the local community." About 15 other university bookstores have bought the compact printing press, which looks like an elaborate copy machine.

Where the machine comes in most handy is for "narrow interest" titles or important out-of-print and low-demand backlist titles that it doesn't make economic sense for a small press to print. PDFs of those books are stored on a server and can be printed out on request for a much more affordable price. Many of these books are textbooks that would normally retail for well over $50.

The University of Texas Co-op is also looking into marketing its Espresso--dubbed B.O.B. (Burnt Orange Book machine) for the color of the Co-op's Forty Acres Press logo--to local authors for use in self-publishing ventures.

Chad Stith, who runs the newly founded Forty Acres Press, says that "recent history for booksellers has shown that you can't afford to put up enough inventory to have an enormous selection of books. The frontlist is just not selling enough to support much investment in a backlist. So this might be an answer to that. Now you can walk into a bookstore, search through a computer's catalog of books, and while you drink a cup of coffee, the book you want is printed on demand...a sort of book ATM."

Of course, those who argue that e-books are the real future, would suggest that the Espresso Book Machine, while impressively modern and forward thinking, is actually destined to become a relic before it has a chance to realize its potential. That said, for those looking for a more cost-effective alternative for printing and selling paper books--particularly the kind that only sell hundreds of copies--this "robot" may represent a much-needed lifeline.


Source: Publishing Perspectives