Is this the future of the book?
The “Espresso Book Machine” is like a kiosk version of the Freedom Toaster for books, including
those in public domain, and according to the London Times and others, books in the Open Content Alliance collection. Watch the QuickTime movie of the machine in action!
On Demand Books, LLC
Somehow I missed this when it came out in 2006. Engadget had a good post with this picture of the New York Public Library demonstration unit earlier this year. The Espresso can pump out 15-20 paperbacks an hour, according to the company’s materials.
The On Demand press release even directly mentions the Open Content Alliance:
Library users will have the opportunity to print free copies of such public domain classics as â€œThe Adventures of Tom Sawyerâ€ by Mark Twain, â€œMoby Dickâ€ by Herman Melville, â€œA Christmas Carolâ€ by Charles Dickens and â€œSongs of Innocenceâ€ by William Blake, as well as appropriately themed in-copyright titles as Chris Andersonâ€™s â€œThe Long Tailâ€ and Jason Epsteinâ€™s own â€œBook Business.â€ The public domain titles were provided by the Open Content Alliance (â€œOCAâ€), a non-profit organization with a database of over 200,000 titles. The OCA and ODB are working closely to offer this digital content free of charge to libraries across the country. Both organizations have received partial funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
The cynic in me wants to interject that the OCA content is free to all, not just libraries, and not just because of the Espresso Book Machine. On Demand is clearly not giving the machines to libraries.
I’ve been completely underwhelmed by the handheld “digital readers”, like Sony’s PRS-505, and, well with reading books on handhelds in general. Sure, they are neat, but I have enough expensive, powered gizmos to lug around. I also just plain LIKE books. In my humble opinion, ayone attracted to the eReader type of device will likely carry a laptop or iPod with them anyway, and both can display PDFs and other formats. Palm, you say? iPaq? Do they still sell those things?
No, this is different. What a cool idea. It’s like a cross between the Shuttleworth Foundation’s Freedom Toaster for software, and Open Content…with a little Lulu.com thrown in
Sadly, according the to Publisher’s Weekly, they retail for about $100,000 each. Ugh. So much for this taking off in anything other than a commercial environment.
There have been other attempts to use Print on Demand (POD) outside the current web-based approach. The On Demand Machine Corporation had an enormous device the size of a small moving van back in 2004, and they won a $15 million verdict against Amazon and others. Doesn’t seem to have caught on, and little information about an active marketing plan for them is available. Rumors placed the price at over $1,000,000 per unit. Google Answers has some links to other efforts to move POD out on the street.
Calling Mark Shuttleworth…
Mr. Shuttleworth, some guy from Alaska is holding on Line 1 Seriously, though, wouldn’t it be hot to offer Open Content in print form for the price of materials.
This is what the Shuttleworth Freedom Toaster does with software, and I don’t know how practical it would be from a low cost engineering standpoint. The idea is intriguing to me, though, and I wonder if this has been discussed much in the blogosphere.
On Demand is apparently taking some steps toward Open Content with the Espresso, but their royalty structure, and approach has prompted Peter Hirtle of Library Law Blog to wonder how “open” the arrangement with OCA members really is..and how fair.
The Times article made me wonder if the libraries participating in the OCA would also receive royalties from commercial use of public domain works that they have digitized from their collections. It doesn’t seem fair that everyone associated with the production of printed public domain books (On Demand Books, the maker of the printer; the bookseller where it is located; and for all I know the OCA itself) might make money on the arrangement, but the library that provides the content that drives the system only gets to pay to have it digitized in the first place.
How is the Espresso Being Positioned?
According to today’s London Times article, this is how things are shaping up for a roll out in Britain:
â€œRetailers will only need to stock bestsellers and perhaps hold a selection of titles for browsing purposes. Nothing will ever go out of print,â€ enthuses Neller. The cost of the machines producing a book is currently a penny for every two pages, plus the royalties where copyright or other legal rights apply, and the retailerâ€™s commission. On Demand says that prices will soon tumble…
At current Espresso pricing – which is “projected to tumble” – an average, say 350-page book would cost $1.75 instead of $7.99 for the paperback I just bought. Even a hefty 1174-page novel like Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon would only cost $5.87, rather than the $8.99 going rate.
On Demand is also working with the Open Content Alliance (OCA), a nonprofit collaboration of cultural, technology and government bodies from all over the world that is building an online archive of multilingual digitised texts that are available, without charge, to everybody.
The OCA has already digitised 200,000 books ranging from Moby Dick by Herman Melville to Songs of Innocence by William Blake â€“ and it is â€œscanning them in at a prodigious rateâ€, according to Neller. These titles are available to be printed by the Espresso alongside those On Demand has secured deals for from publishers. Last week the OCA announced it had signed up several US academic institutions to its project as they preferred its more open approach over the commercial restrictions that would be imposed by signing up for the free book digitisation services offered by Google or Microsoft.
So where do the royalties go? If only the distribution partners are getting the compensation, as Hirtle suggests, what would the potential be for distributing nearly free books from Open Content if the royalties were waived? That would seem more in the spirit of Open Content, and would complement and serve to publicize the trade books the Espresso could print.
Too idealistic? OK…how about an effort to fund something like a Freedom Toaster for books?Book buy online order viagra
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