US Report – Print books everywhere

Almost any product can be ordered on the internet with delivery in three to five days. We can download music and movies to listen and watch immediately. We can download brochures, manuals and non-copyrighted books to be read on the computer screen or printed on a desktop printer.

Until now, the trusty paperback book remained elusive. If the local bookstore is sold out, we have to order it, or wait for delivery from an internet “bookstore”. Why wait?

If New York-based On Demand Books has its way, we will no longer have to wait. The concept of on-demand books has been around for years, and a new print on-demand bookstore printer is finally here.

Jason Epstein, founder and chairman of On Demand Books, and editorial director of Random House for 40 years, finds 50,000 to 100,000 titles are going out of print every year. Coupled with the high cost of inventory, local bookstores are being forced to deal with raising prices that are driving many of them out of business. With the advent of the Espresso Book Machine (EBM), he predicts that this machine will revolutionise bookselling, if not the book industry itself.

“One thing I love about the EBM is that it can vastly increase the number and types of books we can offer our customers without taking up more retail floor space,” said Lucy Carson, print on demand coordinator, Northshire

Books, Manchester, Vermont. “We can print books from all over the world, in many languages, just by downloading them from various online archives of public-domain works (copyrighted works need approval). By printing only what we need, as we need them, we can reduce our carbon footprint while still giving great customer service and matching people up with what they want.”

According to Whitney Dorin, director of business development, a commercial model of the EBM 2.0 will be ready by the beginning of 2009. Connected to the internet, the front end is a Macintosh computer that accepts PDF files for the text and cover. The machine will be about four feet long and fits through a normal doorway.

Depending upon whether it has the number of printers, it will print a 300-page paperback book and bind it with a colour cover, indistinguishable from any book in the bookstore, in three to ten minutes.

Beta versions are already being used at Northshire Books in Vermont, Open Content Alliance in San Francisco, the University of Alberta campus bookstore in Canada, Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt, and the New Orleans Public Library.

“We’re ecstatic about this machine,” said Todd Anderson, director of the bookstore at the University of Alberta.

“We’ve sold 2,364 books that we wouldn’t have sold otherwise and we’re going gangbusters.”

The bookstore can now produce textbooks written by professors for their classes without the costs of long offset runs and typical textbook costs of up to $150 each. They’ve sold 440 copies of an 80-page poetry book at $19.95 on a “sell one-print one” model that doesn’t require inventory. Out of print books, library collections, special class generated anthologies, self-published books and multiple copies of government and research papers can now be printed and bound on site.

“This changes the industry,” said Anderson. “We’re a long way from sources of supply so we have to keep our inventory costs down. Writers and authors don’t have to follow the old model to market their books. We’re bringing books back to life that you can’t get anymore. And we’re licensed to print a McGraw Hill custom publishing imprint, so we can run their textbooks on our machine.”

While prices for the printer have yet to be determined, the machines are hand manufactured in St Louis, Missouri, using off-the-shelf Konica and Minolta printers and can hold up to six printers. Although the gluing and trimming process was initially a challenge, it is now integrated to work without human intervention and can produce books from 4.5 x 4.5 to 8.5 x 11 inches. On Demand services the machines and the printer companies service the printers.

“This is a proven technology that’s still in the development stages,” said Dorin. “Often book editions are years old; ours are five minutes old. This is great for self-publishers and local publishers, and we have a catalogue of public domain titles, plus a growing in-copyright catalogue. We will place machines in book stores, post offices and cafés so people can find books. There won’t be out-of-print books again, people will have access to uncommon
books, and it will enable greater diversity in book publishing. Books will no longer be restricted by what booksellers offer on their shelves.”

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