Last week the Charing Cross branch of Blackwell unveiled its latest investment, the Espresso Book Machine. The printer prints and binds books in about five minutes as customers wait, promising to end the frustration getting hold of out of print books. The Espresso offers almost half a million titles at the moment – with more planned – and has been described by its US proprietor On Demand Books as an “ATM for books” with the potential to be the “biggest change since Gutenberg.” Around 1436 James Gutenberg started work on his legendary printing press with moveable type.
The machine prints over a 100 pages a minute, binds and guillotines the title literally hot off the press. Blackwell hopes to increase the number of titles available on the Espresso to a million by the end of the summer – the equivalent of over 23 miles of shelf space. Most titles currently available are out-of-copyright works but Blackwell is working with publishers to extend the repertoire to in-copyright books as well.
The Espresso is a Time magazine “invention of the year” and should give smaller, independent booksellers the chance to compete with long-tail distribution systems like that of Amazon.
“This could change bookselling fundamentally,” said Blackwell chief executive Andrew Hutchings. “It’s giving the chance for smaller locations, independent booksellers, to have the opportunity to truly compete with big stock-holding shops and Amazon… I like to think of it as the revitalisation of the local bookshop industry. If you could walk into a local bookshop and have access to one million titles, that’s pretty compelling.”
The machine cost Blackwell around $175,000 but the company expects to make this back within a year. The price of Espresso-printed books is expected to stabilise around that for traditionally printed books.
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