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Spring 2010 Books on Demand

With an Espresso Book Machine, more than 3 million book titles and self-published works can be printed on the spot. Despite a large upfront investment, this concept could level the competitive playing field for smaller retailers, making it worth the cost.

The Espresso Book Machine can print, bind and trim a paperback book at the point of purchase in less than five minutes—about the time it takes to get a fresh cup of cappuccino.

Dubbed an ATM machine for books, the EBM was created and is being marketed by On Demand Books, LLC in New York. It churns out books of up to 830 pages that are indistinguishable from the publishers’ versions.

The EBM, which was named one of the best inventions of 2007 by Time magazine, is expected to be in service in 40 locations soon, says Dane Neller, chief executive officer of On Demand Books. Most locations are in North America, the United Kingdom and Australia and are typically in university and public libraries and campus bookstores.

The mechanics

The EBM, which weighs 1,200 lbs., and its accompanying printer, which tips the scales at 600 to 800 lbs., are most often placed on the main floor of these locations to capture the attention of patrons.

Last September, On Demand Books announced an agreement with Google, which added more than 2 million public domain titles in Google’s digital files to EBM’s existing 1.6 million titles. Today they offer more than 3 million titles. Books are searchable by title, author, keyword, subject area, publisher and year of publication.

The major advantages of the EBM for the retailer, says Neller, are that it substantially reduces inventory, shipping and other supply-chain costs. “The machine allows a retailer to realize much greater sales per square foot,” Neller says. Thus small, independent book stores and specialty retailers can better compete with the larger chains. Further, a store won’t lose a sale when a desired book is out of stock or even out of print—as many out-of-print titles are on the menu.

Competitive advantage

In addition, the EBM can allow bookstores and other retailers to realize new revenue from custom and self-publishing. The EBM comes equipped with a Web-based interface that allows the operator to upload customer-created books—one file for the book, another for the cover—and print them. In addition to traditional books, the machine can print journals with personalized covers, technical manuals, coloring books, corporate reports and recipe books, among others.

The EBM’s proprietary software system, ExpressNet, connects to a network of content. ExpressJet tracks all jobs and remits royalty payments to the publisher or content owner.

According to On Demand Books, the EBM was designed to be operated by entry-level employees, who need only to be comfortable with a computer, have basic mechanical skills and be able to interact with customers. A single machine operating 12 hours per day, seven days a week can produce more than 60,000 books in a year with minimal supervision, according to the company.

The EBM, however, comes at a hefty price. According to On Demand’s Web site, the EBM costs $97,500, in addition to the accompanying printer, which ranges in price from $4,000 to $25,000. The cost of consumables—paper, cover stock, toner, ink and glue—is about a penny per printed page, or $4 for a 400-page book, according to On Demand. The pricing of books is up to the retailer. Neller states that many charge the publisher’s suggested retail price.

There are currently no EBMs in shopping malls but, says Neller, they could be the natural progression of the concept.

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Bernadette Starzee

Starzee, a Long Island, NY writer who covers business, sports and lifestyle topics, is a senior writer for SRR. She can be reached at .

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