Sunday, July 29, 2012

Espresso Book Machine, Part 2

     The article about the espresso Book machine I mentioned in my previous post has been published. In case you missed it online or only saw the abridged print version, here's the  complete article, with photos provided by the Michigan State University library:

The Espresso Book Machine:  An ATM for books and more
By Stephen Bitsoli; @SBitsoli

     The EBM consists of three machines together. A Xerox high speed copier prints the interiors and an Epson color printer prints the covers. In the middle is robotic machinery which attaches the cover to the book interior and trims the sides.

     Electronic book sales may have surpassed print, but e-books have an advantage: they’re instantly available at the click of a mouse.
     Now print books can be just as swiftly available, thanks to On Demand Books’ Espresso Book Machine.
     That’s the theory, and it may be that quick and easy someday. For now, even if you’re near an Espresso Book Machine, you’ll probably need to wait at least a day because of the number of requests put in before you.
     Most of those requests aren’t for existing or out-of-print books.
There are currently Espresso Book Machines at three locations in Michigan: the Michigan State University Library in East Lansing, the University of Michigan library in Ann Arbor and Schuler Books, an independent bookstore in Grand Rapids.
     The EBM consists of three machines together. A Xerox high speed copier prints the interiors and an Epson color printer prints the covers. In the middle is robotic machinery which attaches the cover to the book interior and trims the sides.
     According to the website,, “The Espresso Book Machine (the ‘EBM’) is an ATM for books. Once you select your title and hit the buy button, the EBM will print, bind and trim your book with a full-color cover within minutes at the bookstore or library of your choosing. The book is indistinguishable from paperback books sold at bookstores. And the EBM is a green machine since it only prints what is sold thereby eliminating shipping, returns and the pulping of unwanted books.”
     The first machine was installed briefly at the World Bank’s bookstore. Through a partnership with Xerox, the company now has machines in about 70 bookstores and libraries across the world including London; Tokyo; Amsterdam; Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; Melbourne, Australia; and Alexandria, Egypt.
     Thor Sigvaldason, chief technology officer of New York-based On Demand Books, said the technology can help book retailers twofold.
“It can, potentially, give them a huge virtual inventory so they can have as many books as Amazon, all in a little bookstore,” he said. “It turns independent bookstores into places to get books published. It’s a new thing for the bookstore to do: not just sell books, but actually create books.”

     Schuler’s Book & Music in Grand Rapids (2660 28th St. SE; or 616-942-2561) is the only bookstore in Michigan that currently has an EBM, which it acquired in 2009.
     “It’s another service we wanted to offer our customers, to make the store more attractive,” said Pierre Camy, who is in charge of the EBM operations at Schuler’s.
It has, but not in the way Schuler’s anticipated. “We thought we would print a lot of print-on-demand books” and out-of-print titles from Google Books, Camy said, so they contacted colleges and universities to let them know the service was available.
     In that sense, Schuler’s experience with the EBM has been disappointing. “Ninety-five percent (of the requests) is (for) self-publishing,” such as family histories and poetry collections. Still, “We print probably 3,000 books a year,” Camy said, which is about the break-even point for the machine.
     On Schuler’s website, there’s a frequently asked questions page for the EBM, informing customers what the cost will be and what they need to bring to the store. For instance, Schuler’s needs PDFs of both the text and the cover. If the customers don’t have the software or programs to create a PDF, Schuler’s will help them get it into a compatible format or direct them to someone who can.
     Probably the most unusual request Schuler’s has received is for a single copy of a self-published book. “It’s expensive,” Camy said, “but worth it to them. We’ve done that a couple of times.”

     Michigan State University received its EBM 2.0 in June 2011, and it was up and running in August, said Ruth Ann Jones, communications coordinator for the MSU libraries. Jones also expected that printing out-of-print books would take up a lot of the EBM’s time — there are 7 million titles available in On Demand Book’s catalog — but said, “We’re not getting many requests for books from the catalog.”
     That wasn’t the primary reason MSU’s library wanted the machine though, Jones said. “We thought it might offer opportunities for collaboration” within the university community when they “applied for funding from (the college’s) technology fund to bring cutting-edge technology to campus.”
 One such collaboration has emerged through the School of Planning, Design and Construction, Jones said: printing a professional portfolio for students and graduates to take on job interviews.
Other uses include printing copies of books only available in the university’s collection in digital form, such as its 175 historic American cookbooks, or making a print copy for situations where a laptop or other e-reader is not practical. One example she mentioned involved a student on an archaeological dig who needed a copy of a relevant dissertation where there wasn’t a reliable power source.
     Self-publishing is also in high demand at MSU. “Geneaologists are very happy” with the EBM, Jones said, because it allows them to provide perfect-bound copies of family trees and documents for every member of their families.
     MSU is also getting requests from authors who want copies of their books to help them sell a book to a publisher, and playwrights who want a better way to show their scripts to prospective producers.

     The University of Michigan is already on its second EBM.
Mary Morris, a public information specialist at the U-M library, said the university “initially acquired a machine in 2008, but this year we got version 2,” which she said is “faster, better” and “can bind larger books.”
     “We thought it was a good service for the campus community, the local community,” said Terri Geitgey, manager of library print services for University of Michigan
As with MSU. Morris said “It’s mostly used by the university community,” but “it’s open to anybody.”
     “We probably see six to 10 requests a week for public domain titles,” Geitgey said, as well as “printing classroom creative writing anthologies” and advance copies of university press titles, plus “some self-publishing. It’s pretty varied.”
     Morris recalled a creative writing class from Ohio came en masse to print their novels, plus their personally designed covers.
     Geitgey said the resulting books  are “perfect-bound, (with) four-color covers,” though currently only with black-and-white interiors. “The quality is really good. They’re virtually indistinguishable” from publisher-printed books, though “the paper may be thinner.” It’s the same paper the university uses in the photocopiers.
     The cost varies by page count, Morris said, but the average job is between 100 and 300 pages for $25.
     The charge, Morris said, only recoups the university’s operating costs, not the initial outlay for the EBM. “We’re not using it as a money-making machine.”
     UM’s Espresso Book Machine is located on the first floor of the university’s Shapiro Library. If you’d like to see the machine in operation, Morris said it’s usually printing between 10 a.m. and noon.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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