We now at last have an Espresso Book Machine in New York City. McNally Jackson, 52 Prince Street have installed one. Congratulations! This is what the Espresso Book Machine looks like: click on the arrow in the middle of the screen to see a video about it.

Now, if they have a copy of the book you are looking for on the shelves, you are unlikely to insist on their printing one for you on the Espresso machine. The book will look different — not bad, just different, and if the picture you have in your mind is the one on the shelf in front of you, that’s probably what you are going to go for. But of course no bookshop can have a copy of every book ever published, and if your book isn’t there, having a copy printed up for you in a few minutes may be an enticing offer. The page-printing part of the machine is made by Xerox, and will print a perfectly acceptable paperback book. The quality will depend on the quality of the input files: some are scanned from old library copies and will come with library markings, annotations, and thumb prints all faithfully reproduced, but many will be every bit as “clean” as the copy on the shelf. The cover will print in color on a coated paper and will not be laminated. The content may come from Google Editions, which will tend to be books scanned by Google at many libraries around the world; or more recent stuff originating from the digital holdings at Lightning Source Inc. The book at the extreme right on the photo accompanying the post below on Consistency of Appearance is from an Espresso Book Machine.

Shops that have the Espresso Book Machine have tended to report satisfyingly vigorous demand: there’s an obvious charm to watching the book you want being printed in front of your eyes.  As they have to finance the machine as well as provide floor-space and an operator for it, demand is an important factor. Books stores are businesses and have to be able to pay their way. Self-published works have been an important segment of the market, and as more people get more familiar with the holdings of Google Editions, which actually represent a huge and invaluable resource of almost all older books (published in English mainly), the treasures which are available only this way will become more known and Espresso demand will escalate.

In spite of all the buzz about e-books etc., things are pretty slow to change in our business, but soon the idea of having the book made for you as you wait will become familiar to more and more people, and more machines will be installed.