Oct 15 2008 4:03pm

Would You Like Some Coffee With Your Espresso?

The University of Michigan Shapiro Library recently added an On Demand Books Espresso Book Machine [EBM] to its services. The EBM will offer printed and bound reprints of out-of-copyright books from [the University’s] digitized collection of nearly 2 million books, as well as thousands of books from the Open Content Alliance and other digital sources. The University gives some more information about why they bought the EBM here.

As a standalone unit, I think this is really cool. Working in libraries, you run into issues all the time with older material that is in the public domain, but the material is not something you’d want to loan due to its age and fragility or even its scarcity.

At my place of work, there are a few volumes we have in our collection that aren’t held anywhere else. We get constant requests for them, but we don’t lend them out. A machine like this would let a lot of colleges and Universities provide material through either interlibrary loan (ILL) or direct purchase.

Michigan is charging $6 for books up to 150 pages and $10 for books 151-440 pages (larger than 440 and the machine has to split the book into two volumes). At that price, it’s worth the purchase for an out-of-print, hard-to-find volume.

Beyond that, I see potential future uses for the machine at Michigan as very useful in an academic setting:

  • Printing and binding of theses and dissertations
  • Reprints of faculty-authored-out-of-print books
  • Printing and binding of new materials written by faculty and students

I particularly like the last point. You could generate a book of short stories from a creative writing class. You could bind up class presentations from design students. As long as you can create a digital file for input to the EBM, you can print it. There are all sorts of options for what you could do with material that was created at the University that might not be something a publisher would want.

Can you imagine only having to spend $10 for the professor’s book for a class instead of $50 or $80? Of course, that’s only if the book has gone out-of-print to begin with. And as they point out, course packets contain copyrighted material and therefore cannot be printed by the EBM. Other FAQ here.

And of course, your institution needs a spare $100,000 or so to be able to buy an EBM. It’s not surprising that many of the institutions that already have one are sizeable. While I totally want one for myself, it will be a while before I have that $100K saved up.

I can’t think of an application of this outside an academic setting, as other ‘more traditional’ print-on-demand services would most likely fit the bill better than sinking so much capital into an EBM. Perhaps a large corporation could use this to bind up annual reports or research.

Here is the Espresso in action:

Now, of course there are many other print-on-demand services and machines out there. I’ve only touched on the Espresso Book Machine in this post, but I encourage people post comments on their experiences. Anyone in Michigan able to see this machine in action? I was excited to see that the University of Alberta has one (since I’m going to Calgary in a few weeks), but it’s in Edmonton, not Calgary.

Anyone willing to get a book for me? Perhaps the literary New York title? I’ll reimburse you.

[Images from On Demand Books, used with permission.]

Jamie Grove
1. jamiegrove
I love the screen shot at :44 button says "CANCEL! STOP!" fills my mind with images of some poor fellow who got his tie caught in the machine.

I heart POD. :)
Pablo Defendini
2. pablodefendini
I can think of one use, once the machines become slightly more affordable: POD for mass market paperbacks at supermarkets and airports, at least. Eventually, once price decreases, and print quality increases, I can totally see B&N packin' one of these babies.

I will now go and hide from the angry mob that seems to be gathering, pitchforks in hand, outside my office at a publisher.
eric orchard
3. orchard
I have an image of myself printing off my minicomics and chapbooks on this thing-starting my own cottage industry, though that might be overkill. Can it handle images well?
4. Giant
Imagine if this could be applicable to all the worlds books. Digitize, collected into a database, and then reprinted on an Espresso book making machine. We could literally bring third-world countries modern medicine, science, mathematics, etc. through education because we could have this machine make the books for the low cost of electricity, paper, and ink. Unlike the Librareome Prjoect in V.V.'S Rainbow's End, we wouldn't have to destroy the print media, we could reproduce it at will anywhere, anyplace, in the world that had internet access, electricity and one of these machines. Great organized, free (low cost) media. Goodness...
Dave Bell
5. DaveBell
This is a bit more than just Print-On-Demand, because there is the infrastructure behind it. Think of all those digitised books.

But the copyright issues aren't going to go away just because it's a University Library.
Sol Foster
6. colomon
I'm in Ann Arbor. I'm excited by the technology, but haven't actually gotten around to going to check it out in person yet.

I don't know if non-students will have easy access to it, but if it turns out I have access, I'd be happy to print and mail a book.
7. Jim O.
By day, I work at the U-M Library. (By night I work on stuff you can find in places like the's "Stories" link up there on the left.)

So...if Literary New York is indeed the one, give me a shout via direct email and I'll get a copy out to you!
John Klima
8. john_klima
@2 I think you're on the right track. Have the machine EDI interfaced with Bookscan to track sales and you're all set, right?

@5 Absolutely, all the grunt work has been done, now we just let the machine chug away.

@6 I would take you up on it, but I think @7 has you beat! Thanks for the offers!
Chris Meadows
9. Robotech_Master
I wrote an article about the Espresso for TeleRead a while ago. Nice to see they're continuing to expand.
Sammy Jay
10. Malebolge
This machine is incredibly sexy. That's all I'd like to add.
11. Peter_abc
I come from Melbourne, Australia.
Recently (a few months ago) one of the major bookstores here put in one of those machines.
You can now go to the store, print out your book and purchase it immediately. Since most stores only carry books for about 12 months, this makes many more available without any increase in necessary shelf space.
Apparently they only have something like 50 books currently available, but they are expecting to up that to several thousand once the concept has proven itself. I have not heard of any issues with copyright - presumably that is all sorted out with the publishers before a book is made available.
12. jessnevins
Unfortunately, I just see a lot more opportunities for librarians to have to take care of paper jams....
Fred Kiesche
13. FredKiesche
If it is only out of copyright works...then I've been doing this (so to speak) since 1992 or so (whenever I got my Apple Newton and started downloading stuff from Project Gutenberg).

I'd rather carry around a PDA or eBook reader stuff with (currently) some 2,000 texts than lug around a paper book. It's fun being able to start a book at the spur of a moment, swap over to another to look something up, etc.

It's gotten to the point where I've almost stopped buying paperbacks.

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