My Local Library Has an Espresso Book Machine
The Espresso Book Machine is several years old but is still something of a rarity (it’s an expensive piece of hardware), so I am always pleased when I hear of a new one being installed.
Last night I learned of a new EBM being installed in a public library in Loudoun County. The EBM is located at the Rust Library in Leesburg, which means it is about 43 miles away from me. That is not actually local, though it is close than the the EBMs in bookstores up in DC (Politics & Prose, for example).
This particular POD unit been given the name Symington Press in honor of the late library patron whose bequest made this and other tech projects possible. It’s one of about 80 that have been installed in libraries, universities, and bookstores around the world.
It was installed in May and is currently operational. If you want to have a book printed your options include 5 million public domain and publisher-supplied titles listed in On Demand Books' catalog. You can also have a self-pubbed book printed, but it will need to be formatted and laid out before sending the files to the staff at the library. That latter option is quite popular, with most EBMs spending 90% or more of their time producing self-pubbed books instead of books from On Demand Books' catalog.
I’ve been following the rise of the Espresso Book Machine for the past several years, most recently with Books-a-Million installing an EBM in a store in Maine, and as I read about this latest installation I’m reminded that EBM is disappointing in several ways.
I’m not just referring to the fact that thecore component of the EBM looks so kludged together that the engineering school at Carnegie Mellon could probably build a better device, but also to the missing pieces of On Demand Books' platform.
For example, there’s no way to go online and simply order a book printed, pay for it, and then choose a location. Instead you have to email the details to whoever owns the EBM that is going to print the book you want, and then you have to pay in person.
This is 2013; even my local Chinese carryout lets me order online now. The fact that the EBM lacks such a basic online platform is frankly a sign that this is still merely a hobbyist solution and not a commercial or professional platform.
Hopefully the ongoing partnership with Kodak will fix that. A deal between On Demand Books and Kodak was announced late last year which has a goal of adding more POD features to Kodak picture kiosks. The technical details are still being worked out, but I have high hopes that one day you’ll be able to order a POD book via a website in much the way you can now order a photo via the Kodak picture kiosk website.