Alerted by my friend Tom to the presence of the Espresso Book Machine at Blackwell's bookshop on Charing Cross Road, I rushed out to it this past weekend to give it a go. I’ve been hearing about the Espresso machine for a while now, and was eager to befriend this thing that would print and bind books for me while I wait. The store offers two prices: about £8 for shorter books and £15 for larger books (the page limit is about 800, I was told). The machine doesn’t otherwise distinguish among titles, as the used books market does. And it doesn’t, of course, print off books that you can buy, for more money, elsewhere in the bookstore. So I went in armed with a list of out-of-print books that I’ve been wanting but are a little expensive on the used-books market, at the moment. Unfortunately, the Espresso failed me—because the books it currently prints have to be both out of print AND out of copyright. (Try thinking of a book that meets both of these criteria, one that you’d like to buy on the spot, one that you can’t already access online for free. I couldn’t do it, and so the book machine had nothing to spew out for me.) The staff says that arrangements with publishers will soon allow out-of-print books still under copyright also to be printed in store. In the meantime, you can check out what’s available for immediate printing at this site.
I looked at a few copies of books that had been created by the Espresso Book Machine, and they were fine, but not great. The interiors were nice and clean and looked like regular paperback book pages, but the color covers were not as sharp and expertly trimmed as “real” books. You would buy an Espresso book, I think, if you needed the text and didn’t care about its package, if it was something you couldn’t access online for yourself, and if it was a book you couldn’t find used for a few pounds (or dollars).
The staff at Blackwell’s was very friendly and helpful with my whole aborted process, however, and even took the name of an out-of-print (expensive) book I’ve been wanting for years and promised to call me when it becomes available on the Espresso. Which, when it happens, will be wonderful.
(Over in New York, I thought there was an Espresso Book Machine at the New York Public Library’s Science and Technology branch, but their website doesn’t say anything about it.)