I got to the Missouri State University Bookstore in Columbia, Missouri in the early afternoon, and went downstairs to where they kept their Espresso machine. As I had a book made, I spoke with Heather Tearney, the manager of the Mizzou Media section where the machine was kept, and Nic Maglio, one of the operators.
The book I picked out was The Extraordinary Adventures of Arsène Lupin, Gentleman-Burglar, by Maurice Leblanc. (Here’s the Project Gutenberg version.) I’d hoped to get another Arsène Lupin book that I had myself contributed to Project Gutenberg, but they didn’t have it available from the catalog—though they told me that if I had called ahead they could have prepared a package for me from the Project Gutenberg version.
Tearney explained that the machine sees the most use for printing out course packets for professors. A sign on the machine itself advertises its services for printing out dissertations. Producing physical copies of public domain titles seems to be one of the relatively minor uses of MU’s Espresso, though there is at least one professor who often has that done.
Tearney also said authors of original books could bring them in to be printed out and bound, as well. For these PDFs, or public-domain books that are not part of their catalogs, they simply need to create a package to tell the machine how large to bind and cut it. (I didn’t ask whether they would be willing to do the same for third-party PDFs such as RPGs or other e-books customers had purchased elsewhere. I suspect not, due to copyright issues, just as with more traditional copy shops.)
The cost for this production is a standard price per page. My 168-page Lupin book ended up costing $10.95 (though undoubtedly part of that fee goes to the publisher who repackaged the Lupin book into print-on-demand form).
As I waited for my book to be downloaded and ready for processing, I watched them create another book—a color children’s book. This book had been printed on a separate heavy-duty color printer elsewhere in the department. Tearney explained that the color inkjet that was part of the Espresso unit was most suitable for light jobs like doing individual covers; printing whole books from it would exhaust the ink too quickly. As I saw, the binding and cutting portions of the machine worked just fine even if the book itself had been printed elsewhere.
When I asked if the machine had been profitable for the university, she said that the university viewed its purchase as a capital investment, but that it was profitable on a per-job basis. She also said that, now that Xerox has partnered with On Demand Books to sell and service the units, she expects to see them show up at more and more places.
The MU Espresso runs off a Mac Mini, which sits on one corner of the binding and trimming cabinet. It has a simple interface for creating a book, right down to a “Make Da Book” button to start the process.
When it came time to print out my book, the printer spat out five sheets (ten pages) at a time, then had to process about thirty seconds before it could produce the next few pages. Some books, I was told, printed out without a pause; it just depended on how much processing they needed. Meanwhile, the inkjet produced my cover and it slid down into place for the pages to bind in. Then, once all the pages had printed, I watched as they slid down to be bound onto the cover, and then the cutter trimmed the excess paper away. Finally, my completed book slid down a chute to me.
I took a couple of videos of the process, and have been uploading them to YouTube. They will appear below when they are finished processing.