The Wonderful, Evil Print-On-Demand Book Machine Arrives in Manhattan

Are there organizations we love more than local bookstore McNally Jackson? Maybe NARAL, or the SLA. So when we question the introduction of a Espresso Book Machine there, we do it with love. The EBM, the brainchild of Jason Epstein (AKA Mr. Judith Miller, among many other achievements), carries, in its current incarnation, about 3 million titles — trade books and out-of-copyright books. That’s not bad! The New York City Public Library systems has more than 20 million books, but, you know, with them, you don’t get to keep the books forever. Google Books, a main supplier to the EBM, has about 15 million titles; those are not all completely available books, as they’re not all in the public domain. (And yes, according to Google, there are only 130 million books out there anyway, give or take.) So there are real benefits to having one of this machines around; this is why the Library of Alexandria (motto: only 2060 years since our last destruction!) has three of them, although most of us get our out-of-copyright books for free on our electronic devices now, you know, but I guess we can pretend that’s not happening. What’s most interesting is that the EBM is also an extremely regressive revolutionary implement.

While its nearly $100,000 price tag is reasonable — I mean, the thing prints books! In minutes! — and its $600 monthly “support and maintenance” fee is… semi-reasonable, what’s less reasonable is that for every book it prints, the Book Machine kicks back to its owners, OnDemandBooks, $1.50 a book or 10% of the cover price, “whichever is greater.” Aww, look! The book printing machine thinks it’s a distribution network! Sure, historically, printers charge per book too. But they didn’t make you buy the printing press first.

All this being said, it seems unlikely that McNally Jackson would be paying full retail price; OnDemand’s offices are literally around the corner, and this kind of attention is good for them. Plus, OnDemand realizes that McNally Jackson also services writers, and a real benefit of having a machine right there on the edge of NoLIta is a stream of people willing to pay for self-publishing. The future! As you see in the video above, bookstores are also slowly becoming publishers. The second book published, via their new EBM-only imprint, at Village Books, in Bellingham, Washington? Village Books’ Guide to Self-Publishing. At least it retails for just $7.95.