Publishing: But Can It Make Julienne Fries?
July 31, 2006 issue - Imagine if there were a magic machine that could print entire books in mere minutes. You could go to a bookstore or coffee shop, choose a book online from millions of digital titles and then—poof!—out would come a fully bound book. You could get rare and out-of-print titles, in any language, and for less because the inventory isn't stored on site.
That machine exists—it's called the Espresso Book Machine—and it's currently being tested at the World Bank bookstore in Washington, D.C. (The New York Public Library and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, in Egypt, are each getting one in the fall.) Former Random House editorial director Jason Epstein, a legend in the industry, and former Dean & DeLuca CEO Dane Neller are backing the venture. "We're on the verge of something really powerful here," says Epstein.
The current model of the machine can print the text for a 300-page book, with a color paperback cover—and bind it—in just three minutes and for only a penny per page. It will retail for less than $100,000. If publishers digitize their catalogs and booksellers get onboard (big ifs), the machine could revolutionize the current warehouse-distribution model. "I think that this may, indeed, someday come to fruition," says Jane Friedman, CEO of HarperCollins. "But there's a lot that still has to be worked out."