We’ve been spoiled by the fact that our computing technology has been able to perform a trick that the print-distribution industry has not: it has become small enough, and powerful enough, to let individual users shape and distribute their own digital production. We all know how disruptive that change has been to our culture and ways of doing business, but for all the seemingly ubiquitous changes, the core of the book business — producing and transporting heavy paper objects for possible sale — has not really changed.
The Espresso Book Machine 2.0 from On Demand Books, printing Jason Epstein’s Book Business: Publishing Past, Present, and Future in 7 minutes.
The Espresso Book Machine takes a PDF file and produces a high-quality printed book in just a few minutes. The book is indistinguishable from ones produced on room-sized presses in modern industrial distribution chains. These books, however, don’t require printing factories, warehouses, or shipping–only a digital file and a machine that anyone can operate. They don’t require shelf space to display, or a return policy in case they don’t sell. This brings the cost of access down not only for already-published work, but for potentially publishable work as well. The Espresso Book Machine brings the flexibility and ubiquity of digital media to the old medium of printed paper books, extending the transformation that Gutenberg’s press began, and putting the final say on publishing a book firmly in the hands of the authors and readers.
Todd Anderson, the University of Alberta’s bookstore manager… says orders come from multiple sources: Some professors order out-of-print textbooks to keep costs low for students. Others order classics, scanned with their own handwritten notes in the margins. Some customers want bound copies of book sections, like the first 10 chapters of a 20-chapter book. Hobbyists make custom books for gifts. A science-fiction writer used it to self-publish his first novel.
“I get calls on this every day,” says Mr. Anderson, who adds that revenue is streaming in. “It’s a symbol for change.”
— New Machines Reproduce Custom Books on Demand
Clay Shirky notes in Here Comes Everybody that the “technological story” of internet-enabled self-publishing is
…like literacy, wherein a particular capability moves from a group of professionals to become embedded in society itself, ubiquitously, available to a majority of citizens….
Communications tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring…. It’s when a technology becomes normal, then ubiquitous, and finally so pervasive as to be invisible, that the really profound changes happen.
So what will happen when everybody has one of these? How will we decide what gets published, what gets read, what gets recommended? What will happen when your Scout troop, public library, church, airport, specialty bookstore, homeschool co-op, public transportation system, or hunting club makes one of these available to it’s members and customers? When people like Kyle & Brady Baldwin of My Own Book can show up with their literacy team and a Book Machine in a neighborhood where books are scarce?