The Espresso Book Machine is a kiosk-style printing press that stood to revolutionize both book printing and book selling, at least at the beginning. These stand-alone machines were envisioned to virtually replace bookshops, meaning the customer of the future would enter a significantly smaller retail space that was completely void of any printed material, select the book from the machine’s screen, and wait only minutes as the machine spit out a fully bound and covered edition. The EBM was supposed to not only make almost any book available instantly to a reading consumer, but also would have served as an equalizer among bookstores, as stores of various sizes would no longer have to worry about stocking expensive inventory, insuring their products against damage or theft, and would never have to turn away a customer for not having a specific title.
Unfortunately, the reality of the EBM proved far too costly for most stores to even consider. The licensing fee alone was beyond the reach of many independent booksellers, and fears over keeping the machine up and running may have made many proprietors shy away.
In some locations, though, the EBMs that are in use are doing quite well, especially for niche markets like specific textbook or academic titles, out of print titles, and for customers who don’t want to wait for a book to arrive–again, especially if it’s a title that is needed for academic work.
But the EBM at the Brookwood Village Books-A-Million in Birmingham, Alabama, one of only two color-print capable EBMs in operation in a US bookstore, has found an additional client base for its machine: self-published authors who need a small print run.
While print-on-demand companies have revolutionized the self-publishing print industry by no longer requiring authors to purchase high-volume, expensive print runs from a vanity press, there are times when an author still only needs a handful of copies and prefers to work directly with an expert who can help. In this case, BAM’s Trevor Conatser walks authors and consumers through the process of creating or purchasing a book, and says they are always pleasantly surprised with the professional results.
“This is a very large, high volume store, and it’s in a good location, so it makes perfect sense. And self-pub is is entirely the biggest use for it. I’ve got a few niche customers that look for obscure academic texts like some archaeology books, but mostly self-published authors come in and want to produce a few of their titles.”
Conatser explained a lot of the other uses that make the powerhouse of a machine that comes in a fairly small setup so important to bookselling and reading.
“Hardware wise, other than the printer on the end, it’s almost exactly the same and it keeps production a little bit smoother,” he explained, highlighting the professional results that the machine–which is slightly larger than a Chevy Spark–is able to produce despite not being a full-sized printing house model. The quality of the finished product, especially with full color titles like children’s books, photography books, and more, was identical to books sold elsewhere in that same store.
With a comparable cost for a finished book, often what consumers would pay for an off-the-shelf purchase at the register, hopefully the EBM will make greater headway in terms of meeting the needs for both self-published authors and reading consumers. The technology is solid and certainly important in the current publishing climate, now it’s just a matter of placing EBMs in a broader market.