Espresso Book Machine Dispenses Books On Demand

Prior to Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in 1440, books had to be printed by hand (usually by members of religious orders) severely limiting the number of editions that were printed. Today, all a reader needs to do to print a copy of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” is press a button. This new technology is the result of an invention called the Espresso Book Machine, which is slowly beginning to sneak into libraries and bookstores around the world.

Operating in a manner similar to an ATM, a person can walk up to the Espresso machine, find the book they are looking for and have it printed and vended in minutes. The Espresso produces (literally prints, aligns, mills, glues and binds) fifteen to twenty library-quality paperback books per hour. It can print in any language, accommodate right-to-left texts, and features a page limit of 550 (though type size can be adjusted to fit more words per page). The printed books have full-color laminated covers, and the machine can even print two books simultaneously.

The company behind the Espresso is On Demand Books, LLC, founded by legendary book editor Jason Epstein and Dane Neller, and they plan on increasing the number of these low-cost, automatic book machines you’ll see in the coming year. Currently available to libraries and retailers, there seems to be a growing interest in the machines. An Espresso machine made waves this past summer when it was placed temporarily in the New York Public Library’s Science, Industry and Business Library, and machines also have been purchased by the University of Alberta and the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vermont (though no exact costs for the machines are available). According to On Demand, they are currently in talks with national book retailers and hotel chains about ordering mass quantities of the machines.

On Demand is also continuing to develop the network of books that can be accessed and printed through The Espresso Book Machine. For the time being, most of the books offered are ones in the public domain – i.e., “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”, “Moby Dick”, “A Christmas Carol”. But On Demand hopes to eventually include every book ever printed – a task they believe is feasible and even appealing to most publishers. As On Demand sees it, the greater difficulty (as is usually the case with a new invention) is getting people to warm to the idea of purchasing a book from a new source.

Certainly, the technology seems to be in line with current trends. The internet has become a growing source for downloadable, printable books, with some authors (including Steven King) initially offering publications exclusively on line. And redbox DVD machines, somewhat similar in function to the Espresso, have begun popping up across the country. These machines offer people the convenience of renting movies quickly and easily at locations such as grocery and convenience stores for the price of only a dollar. But unlike redbox, The Espresso Book Machine offers people a quality product (maybe even a literary classic) that is theirs to keep forever. If the machine has a downside, it’s that – despite its name association – you can’t get a coffee from it.