The phone rang, and for some reason Jill started talking very loudly into the receiver, like she was in a construction zone.
“Yes! Yes! Where? Are you serious?” Was all I could here. I waited until she hung up a minute later.
“Who or what was that?” I wanted to know.
“Morrie, calling from Melbourne. And guess what? He was calling from a phone in his car, going over Punt Road!”
A phone in the car? What?
The 2.5-Pound Cell Phone
You can date this conversation pretty easily as taking place in the 1980s. The first call ever made from a cellular phone took place on April 3, 1973. Ten years later, Motorola introduced the first commercial cell phone, the Dyna-Tac, which weighed 2.5 pounds and cost $3,500.
Well, we all know what happened next, don’t we?
But this post isn’t really about cell phone technology or miniaturization. It’s about the future of book publishing and distribution.
Meet the Espresso Book Machine
At the end of this article you’ll find a link to a short video that demonstrates the Espresso Book Machine (EBM), pioneered by On Demand Books. The first EBM was installed and demonstrated in June, 2007 at the New York Public Library’s Science, Industry and Business Library. There are now about 25 of these machines throughout the US and Canada. Here’s how it works:
A user sits at a terminal and connects via wireless internet to a server where digital files for a book’s interior and cover are stored. She selects the book she wants from a list of over 1 million titles. She gets up and walks over to the coffee bar to order a latte.
While she’s waiting for the barista, the EBM downloads the files from the remote server, prints them, glues the bookblock (interior pages) onto the cover, and trims the whole thing to size. The finished book drops out of a slot on the side of the EBM. The earliest version of the EBM produces a 300-page book in about 7 minutes.
The OnDemandBooks website tells us that:
The new EBM Version 2.0 is measures approximately 2.7 feet deep, 3.2 feet wide and 4.5 feet high, comes with high speed black and white and color printers, and will print, bind, and trim a 300-page book in less than four minutes. Production cost is a penny a page and minimal human intervention is required for operation. The trim size of a book is infinitely variable between 8.25” x 10.5” and 4.5” x 5.0” and the EBM Version 2.0 can bind up to 830 pages.
Sound (or Look) Familiar?
What will this machine (or its descendants) look like five or ten years from now? Perhaps a kiosk, like those found in malls, with a screen and a keyboard. You won’t need a seat, because by that time the books will probably drop out of the machine in a minute or two.
Or perhaps the “bookstore” of the future, recognizing that people like to look at an actual book before they buy, will become “showrooms” with the top 5,000 or 10,000 titles available for examination only. When you find the one you want, you just wander over to the “book machine” and push a few buttons on the touch screen. Your card is charged, your book is printed, and you’re on your way.
I mean, all we’re talking about is copier technology, toner and paper, and a wireless broadband connection. Much simpler, in a way, than cell phone technology. It’s a mashup of a couple of copiers with a computer stuck to the front.
Future, Here We Come!
And it isn’t science fiction. As noted, these machines are already in operation even though few people have seen one. But then, in the 1980s not many people had seen a cell phone either. It was very exotic and exciting to get a call from a friend in his car half a world away.
And while we argue about discounts, “gatekeepers” and print-on-demand brokers, the future is happening around us. Don’t you think there’s something incredible about this? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Here’s the link to the video I promised:
Espresso Book Machine video (3:03 min)