image_thumb[1] A few days ago, Book Business ran an interview with Chief Operating Office Tom Allen of On Demand Books, the manufacturer of the Espresso Book Machine (EBM) “ATM for books”. We have covered the Espresso a number of times already; it has the potential to bring the full effect of “print on demand” publishing to local bookstores, libraries, and other institutions everywhere.

As of the interview, Allen said, there were 51 EBM devices either installed or pending installation—39 in the USA and Canada and 12 overseas. This was up from 9 installed at the beginning of 2009, and On Demand Books expects demand to accelerate in years to come.

Allen cites partnerships with major corporations such as Xerox, Google, and Ingram as one factor in this growth, and another is the network effect that comes from each additional device spurring more demand for other devices like it. He also cited the rapid growth of the self-publishing industry, which saw a 30-fold increase in titles available between 2006 and 2009, as a factor.

When asked what types of outlets have installed EBMs, Allen said that any place that could benefit from the ability to print books on demand was a good potential venue, and that to date key market segments have included “university bookstores and libraries, independent bookstores, some chain bookstores, and public libraries.” Allen said On Demand was open to the idea of a partnership with a major bookstore chain such as Borders or Barnes & Noble.

When asked whether Google Editions might affect demand for the EBM, Allen said

Yes, we see this increasing demand for our technology. Perhaps counterintuitively, the growth of e-books is a net positive for us, as more digital content available to e-readers means more available to our EspressNet catalog of content. In addition, as publishers release books in both e-format and print-format, the overall impact of e-books (if it reduces print books) will be to drive more titles into POD or digital-print platforms, and by extension, our network, because run lengths will get shorter.

He also pointed to a recent article in The Economist that said 6% of books in the US were being printed on toner-based or inkjet machines (which is to say, print-on-demand technology), and that figure was expected to rise to 15% over the next five years.

I found it interesting that the rise of e-books and potential “death of print books” would actually lead to an increase in demand for the Espresso, but it does make sense. Print runs of traditional books cost money, and the smaller the run, the fewer units there will be to split the run’s fixed costs among, and so the higher the prices will have to run.

But with an Espresso, printed books could be produced one unit at a time without the traditional print run setup costs. It could mean a better deal for the consumer, and also overall savings for the publisher. And it could also offset a lot of carbon from book shipments that no longer need to be trucked from printers to warehouses to stores and back.

Of course, the quality of the books is a concern. I’ve heard that the quality is not quite as high as a traditional mass-market paperback. But on the other hand, a paper book that does exist is still better than one that does not, whatever the quality, and many of the titles that EspressoNet contains will undoubtedly be impossible to find in traditional print versions.

I will continue to look forward to the time when an Espresso arrives in my own neighborhood.

Related: Previous Espresso Book Machine coverage on TeleRead


  1. Will we perhaps see a future where a bookstore consists of browsing copies of books (or even just cover art and blurb) and then you choose between a hard copy printed on a machine like this or a digital edition? Perhaps a way for small bookstores where they still hand sell books to have more of a future?

  2. Not only would I–as a consumer–use this device in a walk-up setting, but it sounds like an excellent opportunity for eBook writers to provide their piece to the ExpressNet catalog. Many of my readers like paper books more than eBooks but due to cost they read ebooks. If the Espresso book machine can offer them printed books at a reasonable rate, (and the added bonus of helping the environment by eliminating delivery and mass publishing waste) then I think many folks would actually use the machine.

  3. I think this is an idea that will have it’s day. I am sceptical about that day being now though. Maybe in about 5 -7 years or so, when books stores have shrunk to about 20% of their number. I can see the book die hards using this.

  4. Self published books have jumped to 764,448 titles per year, all print. Amazon releases about 50,000 titles per year for Kindle. The numbers of titles published each year exclusively to either electronic(1%) or print format(over 50%) is only about half available in both formats. Amazon did sell as many e-books as hard backs lately, but remember that that is only a small portion (10%) of all print. The self-publish sector is almost exclusively paperback.

    E-books are still a small factor in new titles and there is no evidence that print is not prospering with digital technologies.

  5. If they’d been able to work out the bugs five years ago when they started talking about this product, they might have a chance. As it is, it’s too little, too late. I just don’t see a big machine in every bookstore being the solution–any more than a record presser in every record store would have saved that technology. Unfortunately, it’s probably too late to save the bookstore as we’ve known it for the past decade.

    Rob Preece

  6. Yes, change is possible. Printing is now fully digital and electronic (including “3 dimensional printing” or prototyping). The imaging is electrostatic in the same category as electrophoric (e-ink) display of dedicated book readers. The invisible infrastructure revolution here is the displacement of off-set printing which required long runs.

  7. Rob I don’t follow your rationale. A few years ago why would anyone bother using this machine when the many bookstores were chock full of books already printed ?
    In 5-10 years there may well only be a couple of bookstores left in city centres and they may be unable to stock large numbers of books. Surely it is then that this product will thrive, either in those bookstores or in libraries or elsewhere…

    Also five years ago it may not have been so easy to maintain the full library in the cloud, ready to download and print in seconds. Hence an uptodate library ready to print.

  8. This type of technology has it’s place in the self publishing ultra short run print market but don’t take it so far as it displacing offset printing. That is ridiculous. Both have there place and both fill a niche. Offset may be flat to slowly declining and this type of machine may fill a niche that is growing presently fast but look at the % or $ amounts of this type of work vs offset and we are a long way off from offset being dead. We do both digital and offset and both have their place in the printing business.

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