The early tests of the Espresso Book Machine have had been promising. The installation at the bookstore of the University of Alberta has been particularly impressive. (See this link.)
But there are plenty of unanswered questions. There are less than a dozen machines in existence, all custom-assembled prototypes. The economic model hasn’t been clear. There haven’t been many books available for printing. There have been questions about how maintenance would be handled.
Over the next few months, it looks like all of these questions will be addressed. On Demand Books is starting to roll out version 2.0 of the Espresso machine, the first real production model. The installed base should grow rapidly. The cost structure is becoming clear (bookstores will pay On Demand Books a penny per page click charge and will pay a “royalty” to the publisher). There has not been an official statement on field service, but a deal is apparently in the works.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, On Demand Books now has a large catalog of books that can be printed on the machine. The company has struck a deal with LightningSource and 12 publishers (mostly big ones) to get access to the files of 85,000 titles that LightningSource currently has on its POD system. All of these titles will be available for in-store printing. More detailed information on this deal is here.
So the real test of in-store printing is about to begin. If it is successful, it could disrupt a lot of things in the book industry: the competition between large and small bookstores, the balance between offset and POD book printing, the viability of “micro-publishers” in local niches, and the dependence of the publishing industry on the “returns” system. It will be an interesting process to watch as it unfolds.