Insta-book machine to debut in Boston today with E.L. Doctorow’s help


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The independent Harvard Book Store is gearing up for this afternoon’s unveiling of its new Espresso instant book machine, which can print a library-quality paperback book in just 4 minutes. Author E.L. Doctorow -- who is doing a reading later in the evening -- will be on hand to celebrate the machine’s debut, and to give it a new name.

Sadly, he won’t be cracking a bottle of Champagne over the Espresso’s bow -- the bookstore decided a ribbon-cutting would be less sticky.


The Espresso machine, still fairly rare, heralds a possible new direction for bookstores. It addresses two of the boggy areas of the publishing business. First, publishers have always had to print and ship books to stores, which is costly and time-consuming. With a machine like the Espresso, all that needs to be shipped is a digital file. And at the end of book’s shelf lives, those that go unsold are returned to publishers, who, according to the traditional business model, buy them back. Again, this is costly, and for years authors’ royalty statements will show the cost of returns deducted from the money earned from sales of their books. With an Espresso, the bookseller would only print a book when a customer was ready to buy it, and returns would become moot.

That’s still largely hypothetical, however. Only a few publishers have signed with OnDemandBooks, the company that makes the Espresso, to deliver digital files to its bookstore machines. But its offerings expanded significantly -- to the tune of 2 million public domain books -- when it signed an agreement with Google earlier this month.

One of those public domain books is ‘Facsimile of First Edition of The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre.’ Commonly known as the Bay Psalm Book, it was the first book ever printed in the American colonies, in Cambridge in 1640. Honoring that history, it’ll be the first book to roll off the Espresso machine this afternoon.

‘The level of response from our community has been amazing,’ Heather Gain, the bookstore’s marketing manager, told Jacket Copy on Monday. ‘We received over 500 entries in our machine-naming contest.’ In that phone interview, as the machine was going through its final calibrations, she admitted that the staff was excited about the machine. ‘We’ve been playing with it all day,’ she said, ‘and it’s absolutely fantastic.’

-- Carolyn Kellogg

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