Friday, January 29, 2010

The Espresso Machine—In-store Book Printing

by Sally Hanan

“Up close and personal it is as if the Gutenberg Press met with Willy Wonka, and the chocolatier come out on top.” ~ Felicity Wood, editorial assistant at The Bookseller.

The Espresso machine is like an ATM for books because it prints books while you wait. The exact number of minutes it takes to print a book depends on the number of pages being printed and the size of the book, but in one machine,
pages are printed,
a cover is printed,
the spine is glued,
the pages are evenly chopped,
and a finished book slides out of the chute.

Version 2.0 will print a book of 300 pages in about four minutes. The older version is three times slower.

Books can be printed from the Public Domain list, as can books from a PDF file. Publishers that work with Lightening Source have made their titles available. Writers and content owners can also print their own books on it.

The cost to the store owner for one book is about $2, but we have yet to see what price the retailers settle at for having the machine in their store. If the retailer charges double his cost to make a book, then I assume that he will charge the public about $7 per book. Add on the royalties for the publisher and the writer, and you shoot up the price even more. This would end up costing more than the basic price of a paperback, so who benefits, then?

Writers might. Writers can send their files electronically to the Espresso machine and have them printed while on their way to pick it up. As long as retailers settle at $8 a book, it ends up cheaper for writers to print their books on an Espresso than print the book with print-on-demand companies. Most print-on-demand book companies end up charging the writer over $10 just to print one, and that’s before shipping costs are added. As long as retailers make the use of the Espresso machine cost effective, a writer can price a book to be more competitive with bookstore prices and still receive some sort of royalty.

Another beauty of printing on the Espresso is that writers and publishers can see exactly where their content has been ordered and produced, and the system tracks all the data needed to divvy up royalties, production costs, network fees, etc.

All of this is only good news to writers if stores and libraries are smart about their pricing system. In England there is a set fee of $17 a book, plus 4c for every page, although a popular book costs the same as its cover price. Rare books could cost about $25. Not so smart. . . .

Libraries and bookstores will be the main outlets for this machine. As I write, the Espresso machines are available in the following places in the US:

Internet Archive, San Francisco
New Orleans Public Library
University of Michigan Library
Northshire Bookstore, Vermont
Brigham Young University Bookstore, Provo, Utah
University of Arizona Bookstore, Tucson, AZ
University of Missouri Bookstore, Columbia, MO
The InfoShop, The World Bank (exhibition, 2006), Washington, District of Columbia

New York Public Library, SIBL (exhibition, 2007), New York, New York
Click here to find the location of Espressos in other countries. Click here for more information about the Espresso machine.

Sally Hanan is a starving writer in the sunny land of Texas.

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