Soon buying a book should be as easy as buying a pack of gum. After several years in development, the Espresso vending machine from On Demand Books is nearly consumer-ready and will debut in 10 to 25 libraries and bookstores in 2007. The New York Public Library is scheduled to receive its machine in February.
Unlike most vending machines, the Espresso does not have an inventory of books inside the device. Instead, it is connected via a high-speed internet connection to the company's database, where tens of thousands, perhaps soon to be hundreds of thousands, of books are stored in electronic format. When a purchaser inserts money or a charge card into the vending machine and selects a book, the book's contents are downloaded to the vending machine. Then the vending machine will print, align, mill, glue, and bind the book in less than seven minutes, including full-color laminated covers. It prints in any language and will even accommodate right-to-left texts by putting the spine on the right. It will print any book up to 550 pages. Even larger books can be printed as multiple volumes.
Prices for the finished product will vary, depending on locations. Regardless, the production cost is about a penny per page. A 500-page for $5.00? Well, that is the claimed production cost although I am sure the company will add a significant markup for their profits. Even at $10.00 for a 500-page book, this could become a very popular way to obtain a book you want, whenever you want.
Some 2.5 million books are now available, including many genealogy books. About one million books are in English and no longer under copyright protection. On Demand Books accesses the volumes through Google and the Open Content Alliance, among other sources. The company behind the Espresso, On Demand Books, predicts that within about five years On Demand Books will be able to reproduce every volume ever printed.
I see this as a great source for genealogy books. Many such books, especially the older books out of copyright, have already been digitized. Making them available via vending machines at your local library should be easy to accomplish once the vending machine is installed.
Niko Pfund, a publisher at Oxford University Press, says the evolution away from traditional bookstores is only natural. "For hundreds of years the industry was unchanged," Pfund says. "Then audio came out. Now it's time for digital."
More information, including a video of the Espresso in operation, is available at http://www.ondemandbooks.com.