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An Espresso Book Machine is a hit with both the Northshire Bookstore and its many fans in little Manchester Center, Vermont.

Such a gizmo can get a 300-page book into a waiting shopper’s hands in minutes. Bookstores can use Espressos to help local writers break into print—not just conjure up classics and forgotten midlist books from central databases.

The Northshire machine is still an experiment, but as I noted several weeks ago, the early results are encouraging. For example, a local rabbi has printed more than 300 copies of his novel.

“Lurch”: More details on the “hulking jumble”

imageNow D.C. Denison of the Boston Globe is out with an upbeat, well-observed piece on on “Lurch,” the nickname of this "hulking jumble of machinery.”

“The size of a small meat freezer,” Lurch is “often groaning and shuddering in a corner behind the sales counter.” Lurch is just a start at version 1.5. Newer machines, like the 2.0 model in the photo, will be coming, and Northshire hopes to upgrade.

“If Northshire can make money printing books downloaded from massive online catalogs,” D.C. notes, “it will show how small brick-and-mortar bookshops might be able to match the overwhelming variety of products offered by a giant online retailer like Amazon.com.”

How Lurch’s cousin would fit in at Politics and Prose

image Coincidentally the Washington Post has just profiled a local bookstore called Politics and Prose, and I can see it and similar stores benefiting just like Northshire.

P&P is a venerable local institution that prides itself on its pickiness. Might the store print books for any writers, but exercise its editorial judgment as far as which homegrown works it featured? Washington teems with specialists whose literary output may be valuable yet enjoy only limited demand. Perfect for Lurch’s cousins.

Economics: Better and better

image I don’t know what the exact economics are of Lurch-type machines, but paper books for now cost more if printed on the spot. Meanwhile here are some publisher-related numbers from Northshire, new versions of whose machine cost $79K-$95K and rent for $1,250-$1,650 a month.

“Self-publishers pay a $49 setup fee and a per-page rate that ranges from 5 to 9 cents, depending on the length,” D.C. writes. “Northshire provides an a la carte menu of editorial and design services from a network of providers. Copy editing costs 1 cent per word; book design services, $40 an hour.”

But back to the math of the machine itself. Along with print quality, the economies will almost surely get better—causing Espressos to be a fixture at many a business, just as copiers became. In fact, many of these businesses might be copy shops rather than bookstores.

The best way bookstores can fight back is through the a community-type strategy (photo shows a book-related event at P & P, topic of an earlier TeleBlog post). By way of book clubs and classes, P & P already uses such a strategy, and from afar, it appears that Northshire does, too.

Used and marketed well, one of Lurch’s cousins could piggyback on P & P’s existing community-oriented efforts.

Not just short-term transitional

While e-books have their place—the name of this blog, after all, is TeleRead: Bring the E-Books Home—I see one as well for print on demand as a transitional technology. And I don’t mean short-term transitional. We’re talking about a decades or two or maybe more.

Paper books are not going to vanish overnight, given the number of baby boomers and others fond of paper; and as I see it, Lurch or at least his descendants will be staying busy for a long time to come.

Detail: Some have complained that On Demand Books, the company behind the Espresso machine, has not fully leveled with publishers about book sales happening through the machine. I have no idea who is right or wrong in the controversy. Any publishers or others with fact-based opinions on this issue?

Related: Court Merrigan’s thoughts on the Espresso.

 
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