An ATM for books

The Espresso Book Machine in action
Guest post by George Angus

Imagine a book store that always has whatever book you are looking for in stock. Imagine that the title you are seeking could be in your hands at a traditional book cost in about 5 minutes. No ordering over the internet and paying for shipping. No days or weeks of waiting. Sound too good to be true? Well, the future is here, and it’s called the Espresso Book Machine from a company called On Demand Books.

Dubbed the “ATM for Books”, the Espresso Book Machine is about the size of a large copier and is a completely self contained unit that prints, binds with a full color cover and slides it out a slot, straight into your eager hands. Amazing.

There is talk that this could revolutionize the publishing industry and some are hailing the machine as the most important advance in publishing for more than half a century. You can check out an image gallery on The Guardian website.

Originally unveiled at the London Book Fair in April of this year, the Espresso Book Machine was put through its paces and performed quite impressively. Capable of printing more than 100 pages a minute and binding the book with a full color cover, folks said the end product was virtually indistinguishable from a store bought off the shelf book. Here’s how On Demand Books describes the machine:

“Library quality paperbacks at low cost, identical to factory made books, printed direct from digital files for the reader in minutes, serving a radically decentralized world-wide multilingual marketplace. In essence, an ATM for books.”

Wow. How’s that for cool?

So, what does this mean for writers? It could mean a lot. One of the unknowns that new writers face especially is the “return factor”. Essentially, with most publishers any book store can send back any unsold copies of your book – these go against whatever royalties or advances that have been paid out. Suppose the EBM took off like a rocket. It’s possible that you would have no more worries about distribution and returns. Someone wants the book, they print one off and everyone is happy.

I have to admit it is an intriguing concept.

As a writer or published author, what are your thoughts about this. Will it change publishing as we know it? How do you think this might change your writing process?

  1. Many thanks for the post George – a very intriguing concept indeed. My feeling is that this would simply become an on-demand version of the books section in your average supermarket, whereby your choice is limited to the bestsellers and celebrity nonsense. As a route to literary fiction, poetry and anything else that might not be topping the charts, I don’t know if it makes any difference.
    But that I guess depends on what’s available. If it can literally let you search millions of books and print any one of them in a few minutes, that sounds great. If it’s just another bestseller bookshop, then it will perpetuate the current market and that’s not too hot for upcoming writers like, ahem, you know who.

    I’d be interested to know what others think though. Like I say, it’s an interesting concept.

  2. Hook it up to the internet and any digital book could be printed just by entering an ISBN number.
    Amazon gained a massive foothold because you could order quite rare books that your local bookshop didn’t stock, not just because of price.

    Worldwide there is still similar problems, especially for University students who are sometimes issued required reading lists that are out of print, and only limited copies are available in Libraries.

    Whilst part of the solution are ebook readers, many prefer dead tree copies.

  3. I share the concern Iain. It would only come into itself if or when it served a vast range of books.
    It is however, very, very cool. Book nerd/geek toy of the century!

    On a (slightly) different note: how’s that novel of yours coming along?

  4. […] discernment of the forthcoming with the newborn Espresso Book Machine. Here is the original: Introducing the machine for books! | Write for Your Life Posted in Uncategorized | Tags: comes-from, espresso-book, future, george, guest-post, […]

  5. @Andy Yep, now that would be impressive. It could work very well in universities where many books are at a premium and students are on waiting lists.
    @Marc The novel is going well, thank you. I’m currently doing some final edits before my agent starts trying to sell it. It’s hopefully going to Frankfurt dahling. More (eventually) here: http://www.iainbroome.com

  6. Hi Iain,
    Thanks so much for having me over. I’ve been looking forward to it!

    According to the web site for On Demand, they are talking about millions of titles. Darn near anything that is in print. It could remain a novelty or it could really catch on. It will be interesting to see.

    Cheers

    George

  7. Andy,
    According to the FAQ, academic settings are the ideal place for an install and in fact there are already several that are placed in universities including Brigham Young, University of Michigan and the University of Melbourne.

    It’s also being placed in large public libraries!

    George

  8. This sounds potentially brilliant. Apart from the positives already mentioned, having worked in bookshops, I know how horrendously packed with overstocks the corridors can be!
    Let’s get it out there with ONE condition… It can only be an addition to bookshops and libraries rather than a replacement! I need to browse, read first pages and smell a bookshop. This would be suitable for where you need a specific title, but not for when you wander in wanting a new something exciting.

  9. It seems like the on-site version of Amazon – instead of ordering online and mailing the book to you – you go to a kiosk order the book and boom printed!
    Between this idea and ereaders, I wonder then what will happen to publishers. Will the role of agents and publishers turn into a purely marketing role?

  10. @thesophie Have to say, the more I’ve thought about this the better an idea it’s become. The academic angle is a definite goer I think, and you’re right, it has to be better and kinder to the environment than having stacks of unread books. Hmm.
    @Alex It does indeed seem like an on-site Amazon – good analogy. I still don’t think we’ll see any gigantic changes in the publisher/agent roles for a good while yet. While it might be easier now to self-publish (and self-print by the look of it), I’d still like someone who knows their onions to sort the wheat from the rather hefty pile of chaff for me.

  11. Brilliant idea. I like the sound of it. Although of course thesophie has a point about the attraction of doing things the traditional way – going to bookshops, browsing books, turning them over, smelling the binding. It will mean rewiring the pleasure points taken in that sense.

    1. @Jan Yes, I do think that the traditional route is still very much loved by most of us. I think it’s because the act of reading involves so much more than mere words on a page. It’s about where you are, how you do it and what it smells like too. Yuck!

  12. Hi,Well the ATM for books idea sounds really interesting to me. Traditional ways to seek information are charming, but in today’s fast world, people already lacks time.The ATM book idea can be a real technological advancement which is beneficial for students and book worms. Good work!

  13. […] course, I must also thank those people who kindly provided guest posts when I was even more up against it with my novel than I am now! Especially as Sophie Johnson’s post on story structure continues […]

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