We’ve featured several stories about the web-connected print-on-demand Espresso Book Machine (EBM), which can access millions of digital books and create print versions in minutes. Most of those stories, however, are light on actual user reviews, so I was happy to stumble across this detailed summary of “the good, the bad, and the sexy” qualities of the EBM from librarian Rick Anderson at The Scholarly Kitchen. His library at the University of Utah has had an EBM for two years now, and he’s put together an insightful list of what works and what still needs work.

You should read the full post for details, but here are three general categories I found interesting:

  • Technical issues – The EBM is great when the glue has been pre-heated, all the parts work correctly, and you’ve got a customer who actually wants one of the 3,000,000 mostly very old public domain titles available. Anderson writes, “We knew this going in, but it’s still been a bit disappointing that more current content hasn’t been added more quickly to the database. (On the other hand, one of the great strengths of the EspressNet book database is its depth: shortly after installing our EBM, we were able to find and print an obscure 300-year-old German text for a faculty member who had been trying, unsuccessfully, to find a printed copy of the book for years.)”
  • Content, search, and bad metadata – Publishers seem slow to add content, and the search interface for finding books is clunky. Worst of all, though, is “the abominable quality of its metadata, much of which comes from Google Books. At this point in time, searchers cannot assume that their results are accurate, which is hugely frustrating. Inflexible search is a problem, but bad metadata in a 3,000,000-title database is an enormous problem, one that can’t be solved without significant expense.”
  • Customers are unpredictable – You can never predict what people will want, and so far Anderson’s library has found that its biggest revenue generator is a blank, bound journal, with a printed cover using images from the library’s digital collections. Other promising services: self-publishing and small print runs for a scientific society’s annual proceedings. ” The lesson we’ve learned here is that just as expected opportunities may fail to materialize, unexpected ones will almost surely crop up if you’re watching for them.”

The Good, the Bad, and the Sexy: Our Espresso Book Machine Experience [The Scholarly Kitchen]

(Photo: TheCreativePenn)


  1. I truly believe that this is an idea whose time came about five years ago. If they could have come out with a semi-affordable device then, before the Sony, Kindle and Nook, the Expresso machine would have created huge interest. As it is, we’ve got an expensive machine to make blank notebooks with.

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