The Espresso Book Machine prints complete paperback books at rates up to one every sixty seconds – complete interior pages in black and white with full color, perfect bound covers. You can even see it in action.
At a million dollars apiece I doubt that you or I will be setting one up in the basement. The machines are intended for use by libraries and retailers, who can offer inexpensive but commercial quality books to you, on demand. Because there are already large collections of public domain digital books – more all the time – it’s possible that in the future no book will ever need to be unavailable. “Out of print” may become a meaningless phrase.
Machines are already in place at the library of Alexandria in Egypt (nice touch!) and in Washington DC, at the World Bank InfoShop. Another has just been installed at the New York Public Library’s Science, Industry and Business Library. More are headed to libraries in New Orleans, San Francisco, and other cities in the U.S. and Canada.
Libraries – like bookstores – have limited shelf space. And although it goes against my own idea of what a library should be, they commonly discard books that aren’t popular. A system like this one can ensure that books can be made available even if they’re not kept on the shelves.
On the commercial side, a bookstore could use these machines to produce public domain books on demand and even copyrighted books, under license, so that any book could potentially be available at any time. It’s a pretty exciting thing.
This reminds me of an idea I had about fifteen years ago – although that thought was about clothes, not books. If a retailer had a large selection of patterns available and a 3D scanner you could walk into a shop, have your body scanned, and pick the clothing style and material you wanted. Tailor-fit clothes could be then made for you at a nearby – or distant – workshop. No kind of clothing would ever have to be unavailable, and anything you bought would fit you perfectly. You could get a pair of custom fit khakis and a nineteenth century frock coat at the same place, at the same time. I’m still waiting for that one.
But when it comes to the books, anyway, I think this is a terrific development. The only snag I can foresee is that in the decades to come, any book that’s been published in electronic form with DRM may not be easily reproduced even after it falls into the public domain – because DRM, unlike copyright, is forever.