How do you take your Espresso? Medium-dark with a hint of Dickensian workhouse? Or perhaps you prefer something lighter, like Mark Twain’s Library of Wit and Humor. Whatever you choose, it can be ready in minutes at the Espresso Book Machine?a device I was lucky enough to see in action.
The Espresso I saw sits in a sunny corner of the University of Toronto bookstore (the branch in the gorgeous Beaux Arts building on College Street). I have to confess, the machine looked nothing like I’d expected. With its historic location in mind, and my own vague notions of bookmakers, I’d envisioned something in a grand wooden cabinet; maybe something reminiscent of the Victorian era, with its moving parts discreetly hidden.
The Espresso Machine is anything but. Instead, It’s a complex piece of modern engineering that blends an industrial printer, book-block maker, inkjet printer, and proprietary software to create books from digital files?on demand, in any language, in as little as 10 minutes.
On Demand Books, the company behind the Espresso, offers a video of the machine on their site. But the truly creative part is the way people have been putting it to use, and our U of T guide had dozens of stories. (The university calls its Espresso service the BookPOD.)
One Espresso customer was a self-published author in Australia. Her books are part of a popular presentation she gives?and it just so happened that one speaking engagement was in northern Ontario. Rather than having her books printed in Australia and shipped halfway around the world, the author simply uploaded her PDFs to the U of T bookstore. They loaded them into the EspressNet software and printed her books, and she picked them up on her way through Toronto.
Other writers, many of them academics, use the Espresso a little closer to home. One book our guide showed us was by a specialist who writes a series about forests in different areas of the world. When he’s getting close to a final draft, he’ll use the Espresso to print a few copies for his beta readers, other specialists in the field. Instead of a bulky stack of papers, they get to see a book That’s close to the finished product, and can give him feedback on everything from the cover to chapter breaks.
Then there’s the man who’s recording over 80 decades of personal knowledge about Toronto’s history in his memoir, preserving it for family and friends. And several professors who developed a textbook used the Espresso to present their idea to faculty?and had it approved as a course text.
The Espresso’s a boon to readers, too, since it allows them to print copies of hard-to-find books from one of the many publishers working with On Demand Books. You can also send a PDF of public domain books, like those at Project Gutenberg, and print your own copy of a work that would be next to impossible to find anywhere else.
There are, of course, detractors?like those who say that, unless a book is part of a publisher’s print run at a traditional printer, It’s not really a book.
Which is ridiculous. The Espresso can’t produce hardcovers or special touches like coloured endpapers and deckled edges, but the paperbacks it produces are just as much books as anything sitting on Chapters? shelves. In fact, as I compared a still-warm copy of an Espresso book with one from the U of T bookstore’s stock, there was virtually no difference at all (an embossed title and slightly thicker cover stock were the only things I could spot).
And the price is definitely right, with an average-sized paperback costing about the same as it would in a retail store?though prices will likely vary from one location to the next.
So whether You’re in Manila, Abu Dhabi, Fairbanks, or one of the dozens of Espresso locations in between, stop in and pick up a good book to go.
S.D. Livingston is the author of several books, including the new suspense novel Kings of Providence. Visit her website for information on her writing (and for more musings on the literary world!).