A new device may threaten book stores as we know them. Or, as another way of looking at it, a huge book store stocked with tens of thousands of titles could be available in the back corner of the local 7-11 store.
The Book Machine looks like an oversized photocopier. It is ten feet long by three feet wide by four feet high. Unlike photocopiers, the Book Machine can print entire books, including bindings and paperback covers. The Book Machine is self-service; even the typical 7-11 store clerk can handle that. All he or she needs to do is insert paper from time to time. Best of all, the books are stored on a central server at a different location and transferred to the local Book Machine only at the time of need.
The customer uses a touch screen display on the Book Machine to select a book by author, title, subject matter, or publisher. After making a selection, the order is transmitted via a satellite dish to an orbiting satellite that beams the order to the main computer library in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
The content of the selected book is retrieved from the main computer library's huge servers and sent back to the in-store Book Machine via satellite data links. The customer can now view the device’s display screen to inspect the contents of the book and "open" a few pages to see if it is the right book. Once the customer determines that this is the correct book of interest, he or she swipes a credit card in a slot within the Book Machine to pay for the book.
The Book Machine contains two high-speed laser printers that print text and a full-color printer for the paperback covers. Covers and pages are then bound together, with the entire process taking five minutes while the customer stands by waiting for the output. By eliminating shipping and storage costs, the book can be sold at a fraction of its normal price.
I can see these devices used for many things. Photocopies of old, out-of-print genealogy books could easily be stored on central servers in Tennessee and then printed upon demand on any Book Machine anywhere in the world. College bookstores could be "downsized" to fit in the back corner of the snack bar. Indeed, this could cause a major change at your local Barnes and Noble or Borders Book Store. In effect, this is a marriage of the online bookstore and the "brick and mortar" bookstore. Customers can receive their books within five minutes instead of waiting several days.
The Book Machine has just been announced and will not be appearing in quantities for a while now. Then there is the issue of acquiring rights from publishers and authors to produce books in this manner. However, if the idea catches on, the costs of printed books could drop significantly as availability skyrockets.