WNYC has a look at the Espresso book machine, brainchild of publishing pioneer Jason Epstein. The Espresso takes a digital file, then prints, cuts, and binds it to produce a completed book on demand over the course of a few minutes start to finish. Of course, we’ve covered the Espresso plenty of times in the past, but it’s always interesting to see a look at the device from a new angle.
And the article does point out a couple of things I hadn’t known before, such as that sixty years ago, Jason Epstein invented the trade paperback format. Not all of his ideas have been so successful, however—he also started a books-by-mail catalog in the 1980s that fizzled, because it was about ten years ahead of its time. Later, Jeff Bezos made the same idea a hit with Amazon.com.
One thing I note from the article is that the Espresso seems to have made relatively little sales progress since the last time I looked at it. Even though Xerox entered a partnership to distribute and maintain the machines six months ago, there are still only around fifty such machines in operation—about the same as last time. (Ironically, one of those machines is at the University of Missouri in Columbia, the very place I visited a number of times a couple of years ago for treatment of my broken leg. If I had only known, I could have stopped in and had a book made!) They are still expecting to expand considerably over the next few years, however.
I do still believe that machines like the Espresso could be the future of print reading—if print sales fall far enough, it will be less economical for publishers to keep doing large print runs, and machines like the Espresso will be the way that those who want printed books can get them. But I wonder just how long it will take before they start taking off.
(I also wonder how many people who’ve never heard of the Espresso will assume from the article’s April 1 publication date that it’s some kind of a joke. Sigh, AFD.)