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Lately I’ve been reading a lot about the Espresso Book Machine (EBM) – the print-on-demand machine that, essentially, spits out books in 4 minutes flat. (Says the EBM website: “Espresso: something made to order, one at a time, at point of sale, quickly.”) Owned by On Demand Books, the EBM was one of Time magazine’s “Inventions of the Year” in 2007, and today there are a handful of EBMs in bookstores, universities, libraries and newsstands around the world.

According to the EBM website, books from the machine are identical to factory-made books:

“Put simply, the EBM is an automated book-making machine. The operator selects a title to print, and within a few minutes a book emerges, with a full-color cover, trimmed to an exact size, and indistinguishable from the publisher’s version. As we say, ‘Hot off the press!’”

On Sept. 17, Google gave EBM customers access to 2 million books no longer protected by copyright from its digital library (a.k.a. “public domain” books). On Demand Books may gain access to even more titles from Google, depending on the outcome of the Google books settlement

And if you're wondering if a vending machine book costs less than the real deal (OK, OK, I should put my snark in check; the machines are really nifty-looking, supposedly they cut down on CO2 emissions, plus it would be great to gain access to out-of-print books)... The Associated Press reported recently that EBM books will have a “recommended sales price of $8 per copy, although the final decision will be left to each retailer.” Google and On Demand Books both get $1 from each book sale. (The EBM also tracks payments to authors, publishers, etc.)

Looks like a few bookstores are hoping the EBM will contribute to sales. A week ago, the bookstore at the University of Missouri-Columbia got a machine.

From Mizzou’s student paper:

“Bookstore spokeswoman Michelle Froese said she sees a great deal of potential in the machine, which cost University Bookstore $75,000. Froese said it would allow the bookstore to reproduce course materials, such as out of print books and course packets at a lower price for students.”

And today, the folks at Harvard Book Store unveiled their own EBM. E.L. Doctorow was a special guest at the event.

What do Book Case readers think about the machine? Has anyone seen the EBM live? (For a video, click here.) Does a “book ATM” represent the future of publishing? Would you buy a made-to-order book?

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