Espresso Book Machine: The Printing Press 5.0

I made a visit to the University of Michigan’s Espresso Book Machine, located in the Shapiro Undergraduate Library on campus. One of the first locations to get a machine in 2008, U of M recently upgraded to a new model that will better serve their hundreds of customers.

In about six minutes I saw a book printed (at the rate of 110 pages per minute), bound, and trimmed to perfection. Terri Geitgey, Manager of Library Print Services at the University, gave me more insight as to how the EBM is used at U of M.

IP: What do you believe to be the two greatest benefits of having the machine?

TG: There are many benefits to having the machine, but probably two of the most important are immediacy and flexibility. Even if some prep time is needed to make files for a book, we can still normally fill an order much faster than the customer ordering it online and waiting to have it shipped. This is especially important when students need a book for class, or there is some sort of deadline involved. The ability to do custom projects of all kinds is also important, whether that’s customizing a public domain title, or printing a class anthology or other classroom output, or helping a customer with a self-publishing project. As long as the work meets the page count and trim size parameters, and there are no rights issues, we can print it.

IP: Do many students/faculty/unaffiliated consumers make use of the EBM technology? Do you think they are aware of its potential?

TG: The majority of our customers are students and faculty, although there is some use by non-UM affiliates as well. Promotion and outreach--making more people aware of the machine and its potential--is a high-priority for us, and will be a major area of focus in the coming weeks. With the installation of a new, upgraded version of the machine over the holidays, we feel we’re in a great position to help realize that potential.

IP: Have you printed much self-published work by members of the U of M community or Ann Arbor residents?

TG: We’ve done about half-a-dozen self-publishing projects, for both U of M folks and local residents, but we expect those numbers to increase as we formalize our self-publishing service and announce it more widely. We’re also considering adding a shipping option, which would enable even non-local customers to take advantage of the self-publishing opportunities that the machine affords. 

IP: What are your plans for the future of the EBM? Will it ever operate as a type of University bookstore?

TG: We don’t have plans to operate as a University bookstore, although the EBM may play a role in offering a print choice for e-textbooks, when permissible. We do want to focus on expanding use of the machine by faculty and students, whether by printing public domain or CC-licensed texts for classroom use, helping a faculty member print self-authored texts for a course, or helping students print writing portfolios, anthologies, or other classroom output.

 

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Tech Desk

From the Tech Desk

An Inside Look at the Print Book of the Future

What began as a series of lectures by publishing legend Jason Epstein in 1999 is now a technology that is taking the book industry by storm. Espresso Book Machine (EBM for short) is a digital-to-print technology that allows you to get a perfectly printed and bound book in only a matter of minutes. Say goodbye to sold-out shelves or out-of-print books: EBM can choose from millions of books at the touch of a button. I spoke with CEO and co-founder Dane Neller of On Demand Books (EBM’s parent company) to learn more about what EBM technology has to offer.

“We felt that the publishing world was in the middle of a revolution,” Neller said of the decision to start On Demand Books. “It still is. We knew that the old ways of distributing, selling, and producing books would be radically transformed once the digital revolution fully hit the book industry. What was lacking in 2005 was the ability for the production, distribution, and sale of a book to happen at once on location. That’s what the Espresso Book Machine does.”

The first Espresso Book Machine made its appearance in April of 2006, and since then more than 50 machines have found homes across the globe. From universities to bookstores to libraries, people everywhere have access to the technology (see the sidebar for my own trip to an EBM location). But how does the machine work?

“EBM is essentially two products: software and a machine,” Neller explained. “The machine is a high speed printer with a finishing unit that prints, trims, and binds a book in minutes. It truly operates like an espresso: producing quantities of one at a very low cost and with almost no human intermediary.”

The machine gets its content from EspressNet, a digital catalog which Neller likens to the iTunes Store. “This is a software product that catalogues, transmits, encrypts, and records transactions to track to royalties for publishers and authors,” he told me.

Due to the efficiency of the technology and the millions of titles available on EspressNet, EBM has benefits for everyone from publishers to consumers. “Publishers can save on infrastructure cost, retailers can sell without over-stocking, and reader will never find a book out of stock,” Neller enthused. “EBM makes the supply chain nearly perfect.”

Self-publishing is another option through EBM. Traditionally, authors have brought their manuscripts to a location for printing, but as of February the transfer can be done remotely through the On Demand Books website. And printing is not all the EBM teams offers. “In many cases authors want more services such as help finding a cover template or different design layouts, in which case they work with operator on site. We mainly provide production services, but editorial and other publishing services are available too,” Neller said.

Not only is Espresso Book Machine a wonderful outlet for aspiring authors, but it has also formed partnerships throughout the book and digital industries. Several big name companies have gotten involved with EBM over the past few years, including Lightning Source, Inc., McGraw Hill, Random House, Google, and more.

“These companies are content providers,” Neller said. “Google provides public domain while Lightning Source is an aggregator for content from major publishers such as Random House and Simon & Schuster. We also work directly with publishers. It us took about 18 months to get relationships going, and the more machines we get out there the more exposure we get. Now we are known in the industry and people are familiar with out product.”

Of course, there have been some bumps along the way, as EBM technology can pose a threat to the traditional-minded publisher. “The major resistance we see is that many publishers are nervous about providing us with their faster moving titles because it can disrupt their supply chain,” Neller explained. “This resistance is surprising to me because we offer such an efficient solution, but it often takes time to get used to new ideas.”

And as the industry gets used to this new option, EBM is busy finding its niche.

“We believe that soon these machines will be ubiquitous throughout the world,” Neller said, “and we are a big part of this digital age. Our sales channel goes right to the consumer and allows for content never to go out of print. We know the print market is and will continue to be a large portion of content.”

It is clear from EBM and On Demand Books’ mission that they are standing behind the print book. They just have a slightly different approach. So what future does On Demand Books see for the publishing world?

“I don’t think the future will be a choice between print or eBooks,” Neller mused. “I think what will happen is the consumer will have choices; they’ll be able to buy the content and then consume it in any form they want, whether that is print, eBook, or even audio. The trend will be toward multiple formats, not a singular format, with a digital form that can be expressed in other ways. That’s the revolution.”

To learn more about Espresso Book Machine technology and On Demand Books, visit http://ondemandbooks.com or check this map for an EBM location near you.

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Jillian Bergsma is a writer and contributing editor for Independent Publisher. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in English. She welcomes any questions or comments on her articles at jbergsma (at) bookpublishing.com.


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