Espresso Book Machine Print-on-Demand

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Espresso Book Machine version 1.5

The recent announcement by the University of Michigan Libraries about the first-in-a-library installation of an Espresso Book Machine from On Demand Books has caused quite a stir in the blogosphere. And rightly so. Given Michigan’s leadership in the area of digitizing books in the public domain, it is little wonder that they would take the next step towards a print-on-demand solution for students that want to own a hard copy of their own.

The Espresso Book Machine (EBM) might also of interest here in Ohio. OhioLINK is building a repository of recent current-year books that we license from publishers. One wonders, with the addition of an add-on license fee to the copyright owners, whether we could use such a machine to print on-demand books from current titles. On Demand Books is obviously thinking along the same lines; in April they entered into a partnership with Lightning Source Industries, which enables the EBM to print from Lightning Source’s catalogue of over 500,000 in-copyright books. The EBM can also access nearly 400,000 public domain books through their relationship with the Open Content Alliance.

So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at the technical specifications of the EBM.

About the Espresso Book Machine

Much of this is taken from the On Demand Books website and in correspondence with staff at On Demand Books. The Espresso Book Machine can automatically print, bind and trim on demand at point of sale perfect bound library quality paperback books with 4-color cover indistinguishable from their factory made versions. The inside pages of the book are black-and-white.

The EBM will print bind and trim a 300 page book in about 7 minutes with a one printer model and in about 3 minutes with a two printer model. Production cost is a penny a page. Consumables used by the EBM are paper, cover stock and toner suitable for laser printers, glue and charcoal filters. The first three are commonly available consumables. The glue for binding will cost less than $100 and can be used for roughly 10,000 books. The charcoal filter is replaced about once a month and costs about $1.

The trim size of a book is infinitely variable between 8.5” by 11” and 4.5” x 4.5” and the EBM version 1.5 can bind up to 550 pages. The shearing blade has to be sharpened about every 5,000 – 10,000 books; sharpening by manufacturer is recommended.

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Conceptual Drawing of Espresso Book Machine version 2

Espresso 1.5 is modular in 2 parts and measures about 9 feet long, 5 feet high and about five feet deep with printers. The version 1.5 EBM draws up to about 30 amps at 220 volts. While the 1.5 model is a limited production model, the version 2.0 designed for mass production is in development and will be available first quarter of 2009. Cost estimates for the machine are not yet available.

The file formats accepted are the exact same files as one would use in traditional book printing: a PDF for the book block and (ideally) a PDF for the cover. The machine will print (and then bind and trim) anything a laser printer can print. The software on the machine itself does not combine individual files into a single book; it must be “pre-made” before being delivered to the Espresso machine.

How the machine actually behaves is a bit unclear to me. The publicity says that all interaction with the machine is performed via a standard browser. The decision of how broadly to expose that interface (local network only, campus-wide, internet-wide, etc.) is reportedly up to the owner of the EBM. It is also unclear as to how the content repository works. The promotional materials speak of a world-wide content repository for Espresso machines and that content can be restricted to a particular location, but then it also goes on to say that a site can manage its own content repository or that the manufacturer of the machine can do that function for an added fee. If I learn more, I’ll update this post. If anyone knows anything about how the content repository works, please comment or get in touch with me privately.

(This post was updated on 13-Jun-2014.)