What if you could buy a fresh copy of an out-of-print or out-of-stock book as easily as you can take money out of an ATM?
That's the idea behind the Espresso Book Machine, which the former editorial director of Random House, Jason Epstein, and the former CEO of Dean & DeLuca, Dane Neller — who are partners in a venture called On Demand Books — showed off at Book-Expo America at the Javits Center this weekend. The Espresso Book Machine prints and binds paperback books from digital files in a matter of minutes; it is intended for use in bookstores, libraries, and other retail outlets.
Mr. Epstein, who in the 1950s founded Anchor Books, which started the trend of producing quality paperbacks from publishers' backlists, started thinking in the 1990s about the necessary next step. With the number of independent bookstores dwindling, and chain bookstores focused on titles with a high turnover rate, how could readers get access to backlist and out-of-print books?
He envisioned a solution — a book-making machine — and it turned out such a machine had already been invented, by a man named Jeff Marsh. Mr. Epstein, along with Mr. Neller and a technology expert, Thor Sigvaldason, formed On Demand Books to develop and market Mr. Marsh's invention. Mr. Neller has said that it will retail for less than $100,000. According to On Demand Books's Web site, Espresso Book Machines are currently installed at the InfoShop at the World Bank in Washington and at the Library of Alexandria in Egypt.
It remains to be seen whether the company can assemble a sufficiently large base of content to make the machines desirable. When the technology is finished, content will be available through the On Demand Books Network. The company currently has access to over 200,000 out-of-copyright books through the Open Content Alliance, 2,200 World Bank titles, and Arabic-language books from the Library of Alexandria.
The model on display at BEA, Espresso Book Machine Model 1.5, is also quite large: over eight feet long and five feet wide. A smaller model, five feet by four feet, is on the way.