I'm fascinated by tools and experiences that let us "DIY". Whether it's using blogging tools to easily put content online, or cooking things from scratch, I like the fact that many things that seem hard or specialized are in fact things that anyone can do. With the Espresso Book Printing Machine, publishing a printed copy of a book has just joined that list.
Oscar's Art Books in Vancouver is one of only a handful of places in Canada that has an "EBM". The Espresso is made by a company called On Demand Books. They're looking to sell the machines to bookstores, universities, and other places where "like minded" people gather.
…agreements made with Ingram Book Company, Google, and other aggregators expanded the catalog of books that can be printed to nearly 800,000 in-copyright titles from 8,000 publishers and millions of public-domain titlesThird Place Books - Hot Off the Press
One of the use cases aside from self-publishing is to get "just in time" books. Out of stock? No problem, it takes about an hour to print up a book. This starts to put independents on the same footing as chain bookstores or other distributors that have vast warehouses filled with books. As the quote above states, there are 800K copyrighted titles plus the vast array of public domain books (never mind other printed material like Wikipedia, open source documentation, and so on).
I asked Oscar's Books what the pricing would be. At the low end, this starts at $99, which includes setup on the machine and your first copy. After that, your book is on file in the network - not just on the local machine. All the EBMs are connected into a network, so someone can print your book anywhere one of the machines is. Printing costs 7¢ per page, and the minimum book size is 100 pages. Doing the math, that's about $8 / book if you were to print 100 copies. For higher prices, your book will get an official ISBN and they'll help you register it for copyright etc. etc. All in all, a very cheap price considering you could sell the book for $20 or more and keep more than 50% of the profit.
We've seen independent book stores in Vancouver close - the EBMs are one possible way that they can transition to a world of bits. The "big bookstores" continue to service people looking for best sellers, but their large footprint and warehouses actually start to work against them: they just add to their costs. Or maybe bookstores and independent cafes continue to transition to being "third places" - gathering spots where people meet and discuss.
Along with low cost 3D printers like the Makerbot, I'm excited about the continuing move of bits coming to the real world.