Print on Demand: Make That a Double

As if you needed another reason to avoid the bookstore, you can now buy your book from an Espresso Book Machine, which prints and binds (albeit without flashy cover imagery, photos, etc.) your book of choice in just a few minutes. There are about five of them in the U.S., reports Publishers Weekly, and they were recently launched in the U.K. as well. At around $43 for a 300-page book and no wait time for out-of-stock or rare titles, will “book espresso” take off? And if so, what does the future look like for publishers, Kindle sales, or jacket designers? [%comments]


I get the feeling that the price will have to come way down before these can make any real impact. Note that the $43 price point is only for out of copyright books. By comparison, public domain books generally go for $5-$8 in hard copy, and on the Kindle prices typically range between free and $2 for such titles. After buying a handful of titles on this thing, even the up front $360 cost of the Kindle could start to look thrifty by comparison. Also, such a device suffers from, what I see as the biggest hurdle to ebooks as well, a limited library. The only real market demand I can see this fulfilling is out of print titles, but then ebooks can fill that demand just as easily, and likely for a fraction of the cost.


This is kind of like developing a portable record player in 2009 and selling it for $800. Sure it's something new, but why would you buy one when you could have an iPod for much less?


Like the other commentators, I just don't quite get this as a business model. The price point makes the Espresso books significantly more expensive than one bought from a retailer. The only advantage the Espresso offers is speed -- you can get it now rather than driving to Borders (30 minutes?) or ordering from Amazon (3 days?). For out of print books, can't you usually find them on eBay (3 days?)?Most books take days to read, at least for the likes of me, so waiting a few days doesn't seem like a big deal. And if it's a book I'd want NOW -- can't think of an example, but maybe a new Harry Potter book? -- is one I'd want an authentic copy of.

Now, if the Espresso offered on-demand magazines, I could see the point. But it apparently doesn't, and magazine layouts are likely beyond its technical capabilities.


rumor has it that the construction quality is none too good, for your money...

Eric M. Jones

I am currently reading the complete Googlized digital copies of Popular Mechanics (Jan 1905-) and Popular Science (May 1872-). Amazing wealth of information.

I can see wanting to have them on paper (I do have many of them), but I restrain myself. I recently discovered that the Internet has no OFF switch so they will probably always be there when I want them.

But I like the Espresso printing services. I just can't see it as a profitable business model compared to Kindles, etc.


Or you could go to the library and copy a 300 page novel for about $30. This invention is the antithesis of what is needed.


The one-off book-printing niche may be quite narrow: the Espresso Book Machine is competing with order-aggregators like Amazon who can maintain a central stock (or run their own contract-printing operation of a month's orders stacks up) for the 'long tail' of demand, in which there is insufficient demand to justify printing and distribution to a network of bricks-and-mortar shops.

Nevertheless, out-of-print academic texts are offered for sale at over $500, and small-run specialist publications are scarcely any cheaper. So there is definitely a niche somewhere.

It seems obvious that University bookshops will install these machines - among other considerations, all too many lecturers insist on their own textbooks being a required text, no matter how obscure or unpopular the book may be.

It is fair to ask why institutions of higher education wouldn't cut out the middleman altogether - Blackwells (who have installed the first of these machines in their Charing Cross Road branch in London) might find they have no market, even in their on-campus bookshops.

Another correspondent has pointed out that magazine publications might be out of reach of this specific machine - glossy magazines, anyway - but academic journal reprints are another matter - although the online back-catalogues available from the publishers are exhaustive (if unaffordable to those who are not affiliated to an institution).



The only advantage over the Kindle that I see is that you can write in them. Not being able to write in it is one of the reasons I am unsure about the Kindle. I write in virtually all my books, whether reading them for pleasure or scholarly pursuits. But as #5 points out, you can photocopy a book for less. I know of unethical copy shops that will even do that for you.


Here I thought this was going to be a post about the Federal Reserve....


I think the publishers of Vogue Knitting are also marketing a "print on demand" book of patterns compiled by the purchaser. Neat idea, but not sure that it's one I'd pay a huge premium for, given the nature of the subject matter and how I use patterns. PDFs are great because it doesn't matter if your daughter uses one as a coloring book. That kind of replaceability is lost when your PDFs are all bound up into a lovely, well-printed book.

Dan Lufkin

Grant, you can write in your Kindle with the greatest of ease. True, you have to use a elf-scale keyboard, but you can make notes and clip items out of books and store them in a special place and, if you want to, transfer them to your computer and print them out.

The Kindle 2 will also display e-books from Project Gutenberg, Mobipocket and other sources (copyright restrictions may apply). There are probably close to a million volumes out there and it's easy to track them down on the Web. To impress a friend I located and downloaded everything H.P. Lovecraft ever wrote. It took less than two minutes and didn't cost a cent.

BTW, there used to be print-on-demand book shops in Stockholm. Delivery took 20 minutes and cost about the same as a trade book.

John Lewis

I agree with Nile, on the other hand if the service is flexible enough there may be a large enough number of narcisists who want to publish themselves. After all a certain higher quality blogger/commentator, second rate proffesors, aspiring entrepreneurial authors of various type all spend a lot of time reflecting on posts that are here today and gone tommorow. In some sense having a book is a tangible record. It is all about the desire for recognition, and if you can't have this you can fake it.

But this isn't all bad, lame or sad. If it were not for those who take the time to really think and put foward quality posts blogging would cease to exist.

In other words blogging is both the work of the original poster and the work of those who comment upon the topic.

If those who commented wanted to dig through web archives to find their own personal reactions to a host of issues at any given point and time and then print these into a book, it may act as an incentive to put more thought into comments.

If you guys are like me and oftentimes wonder about the opportunity costs of commenting so frequently on blogs then actually forcing yourself to go back and print out your garbage into a permanent book might not be a bad idea.

In this sense then the market for this product is actually quite large, or at least as large as the number of serious commentators on blogs. It simply has to be marketed or conceived as time management. As writing so that your ideas could be willed/legistlated as a universal(As Kant might have it) . In this sense $43 dollars is a paltry sum to spend given the time commitment, serving as a check against idle keyboard antics.

If Freakonomics acknowledges the dual characteristic of the blog format(both posters and commentators add value) Then it should create a similar service/indulgence to incentivize commentators. It could pick a commentator who has contributed the most valuable information and agree to print a certain number of pages of his comments into a book format. It could also encourage those not picked to pay the $43 as an incentive towards spreading information, wisdom and clear thinking.

I have digressed but the general issue seems to go beyond the particular case and reach towards the question of if traditional print media is dead or dying. If Google is to replace the NYT or the Wall Street Journal it will have to find a way to encourage more serious content that contains sustained arguments.

Again blog comments don't have to reach a par with the likes of a George Will, they just have to provide a substitute that is worth reading and provides a value(and maybe a little ego massage in the form of print recognition)

After all we post because we don't want to free-ride, but we aren't so altruistic as to offer up the greatest value and sustained effort without some form of recognition.