Sunday, June 24, 2007

Espresso, Anyone?

This post, and the one that follows, are for Stephen Parrish, who emailed me to ask for my take on this subject.

On Friday, GalleyCat reported that the New York Public Library has installed the first Espresso Book Machine (EBM), which will be on display through September 7th.

According to the press release from On Demand Books, the company that produces the EBM, the Espresso Book Machine is a "patented automatic book making machine [which] will revolutionize publishing by printing and delivering physical books within minutes."

The Open Content Alliance (see my post of November 6, 2005 here) is making available digital copies of some of the 200,000 public domain titles in their database so that the EBM can print and offer free copies of books for visitors during the demon-
stration. A few writers like Chris Anderson, who wrote The Long Tail, have given permission for their in-copyright books to be printed, too.

Four other demonstration projects are planned for the New Orleans Public Library, the University of Alberta campus bookstore, the Open Content Alliance in San Francisco and the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vermont.

The press release indicated that "Beta versions of the EBM are already in operation at the World Bank Infoshop in Washington, DC and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (The Library of Alexandria, Egypt)."

Fourteen months ago, when the EBM was installed at the World Bank, the InfoShop reported:

The new fully automatic book machine, developed by On Demand Books LLC with initial funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, will revolutionize book sales by printing and binding a single copy of a book at the point of demand. The machine can produce 15–20 library- quality paperback books per hour, in any language, in quantities as few as one, without any human intervention.

On a global scale, this would eliminate the costs of shipping and warehousing, returning and pulping unsold books, while allowing simultaneous global availability of new books. Print jobs can be initiated from the machine itself or from any locally connected computer using nothing more than a web browser.

Last July, Newsweek reported that "the machine can print the text for a 300-page book, with a color paperback cover--and bind it--in just three minutes and for only a penny per page. It will retail for less than $100,000."

Let's talk about what the EBM means. Let's start not at the narrow end of the funnel, with writers, but at the broad end of the funnel with readers. And not just the readers in the U.S., or in other developed countries, but with readers in the third world.

According to the World Bank's Poverty and Growth blog, the print-on-demand technology of the EBM "offers the opportunity to deliver development knowledge and content to students, practitioners, media, and simply interested individuals in a way they could not be reached before." The prohibitive costs of printing, shipping and warehousing books for underdeveloped nations limits the amount of printed material that can be provided to poor areas of the globe.

EBM machines strategically placed on a regional basis around the third world would make available information in their own language to peoples who have never had access to books. That's powerful mojo.

In my next post, we'll talk about other consequences of the EBM.

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