Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Espresso Book Machine dubiousness

I keep seeing libraries and library blogs get excited about the Espresso Book Machine, but you can count me among the unconvinced. Let me preface my comments by saying that I tend to be a bit of a pessimist so it is certainly possible that I am underestimating the public's desire for a machine like this.

I am going to sum up my thoughts by comparing my dream book machine to the product that Blackwell actually seems to be making available.

Would I like to be able to go to any corner store or nearby book store and be sure that I could get a good, cheap copy of any book I wanted? Hell yes! Would I like that book to be accurately printed with any original images and/or charts in it? Once again I would have to say yes. Is this what Blackwell says they can give us us? No. Not even close.

What struck me most about the Gizmodo article that I linked to above was that the cost of a 300 page book is estimated to be $43. This is the first time that I had seen any actual cost estimates. That price seems way too high. Actually, it may be appropriate for textbooks and other reference-type books, but since most of the current titles that are available are out-of-copyright and out of print books I find it hard to imagine that anyone is going to fork over almost $50 for a copy. I am also concerned about images. I'm going to assume that the machine only prints in black and white, although it's possible I'm mistaken there. That will work for a lot of books, but it is going to exclude a lot of illustrated works. What I can maybe see it being useful for is if I'm gift shopping or in desperate need of a book today and there are no local shops with a copy. How often does that happen, though? Most of the time I can go to Amazon and find even an out of print title and get it overnighted, usually for less than $50. Still, it wouldn't hurt a book shop to keep an Espresso Book Machine around, at least not if Blackwell rents them out or licenses them at a reasonable rate. Somehow the $43/book charge makes me doubt that.

What seems extremely unlikely is that these machines will see much use in libraries. What is the main benefit of getting a book from a library? It's free and that's about it. Sure, there are some titles that are only available at libraries and they let you browse a large number of titles before selecting one, but the primary reason for going to a library is to pick up a book without paying for it. A $50 book machine simply doesn't interact well with that advantage.

My final verdict is: might kinda sorta work in bookstores, but not a chance in hell for libraries. We'll see if the market can prove me wrong.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Espresso book system claims to print faster than you can make coffee. Its been a week and the University of Washington Book Store still hasnt printed my book. I could have hand written it by now.